Jess Walter: The Urban Outdoors

Recently I was challenged by a poet in Lycra bike shorts to write an entire column about bicycling without making fun of the way people look in Lycra bike shorts (which, by the way, I believe should be regulated no less strenuously than, say, automatic handguns-with permits, 5-day waiting periods and restrictions on public display.) Given my leanings toward humor that could sometimes be described as “sophomoric”-if this description weren’t so offensive to actual sophomores-this has proven to be somewhat difficult for me. The very same day, two people said to me, independent of one another, “I thought of you when I saw that raw sewage had leaked into the river,” no doubt, assuming that I am incapable of resisting brown trout jokes. (It’s catch and reflush season on the Spokane River.) But since I was planning to write about bicycling anyway, I decided to take my friend’s challenge and write an intelligent and tasteful piece about bicycling without once mentioning how men in bike shorts look like hairy boars being swallowed by Lycra snakes. And that one doesn’t count because it was in the introductory section to this column and not the actual text of the column, which begins immediately below, with these words: One day a bicyclist drafted off my car.

One day a bicyclist drafted off my car.

This has probably happened to you-blithely tooling along on some vital mission (it was visitors day at my brother’s rehab clinic) in your “polar-icecap-destroying motor vehicle” when an FOE (friend of the environment) suddenly settles in behind you, perched over his handlebars, gliding in the slipstream of your car.

For me, it was a moment of pure camaraderie, the bicyclist recognizing a fellow FOE temporarily encased in aluminum, and I welcomed him as though he were wearing the yellow jersey and I were the pack at the Tour de West Central. Settle in, my pedaling friend, I thought, and let my combustion engine do the work for us both. I even felt a burst of ecological pride: my car gets only twenty miles per gallon, but between the two of us we were getting forty.

Then the light changed and I had to stop.

Done with me, my bicycle buddy quickly veered around me, went up on the curb and zipped across the crosswalk. This is something I occasionally do, too. I bristle at the way drivers in Spokane don’t treat me as a legitimate vehicle on my $10 bike, but then, when it suits my interest, I don’t hesitate to become a pedestrian. This is known, in the bicycling world, as bad form.

It turned out this bicyclist was stopping at the same coffee shop as me. He came in wearing a pair of Lycra shorts that were…um…well, they looked…um…just fine. Really …aerodynamic.

“Hi,” I said.

And bike guy said, “That’s a pretty crappy car for someone so famous.”

I was driving my wife’s newer Subaru, so I wasn’t sure where to start, with his flawed definition of the word “crappy” or his complete misunderstanding of the word “famous.” But I let it go because he was a fellow bicycling enthusiast and we had a nice conversation about bikes. And that’s all I have to say about bicycling.

“Hey buddy,” I yelled as he pedaled away. “Nadia Comaneci called. She wants her leotard back.”

Jess Walter’s novel, Citizen Vince, is available in bookstores.

Share this Post

Scroll to Top