Dirty Words: A Short History of Long Bike Socks

A weekly Bike rant by Sal Ruibal.

By Sal Ruibal

Other than the bike, helmet and jersey, the most visible part of a moving cyclist is their socks. That’s because the pedals go round-and-round, in case you have never seen a bicycle. In that case, you probably aren’t reading this in your ice cave in Antarctica.

Bike socks are probably the least-expensive part of riding a bike, next to free air at the bike shop. Though I’m sure some trendy shop in Aspen sells special air from Lance farts for $100 a pop.

Does anyone really pay for bike socks? I have about 500 pairs stuffed into drawers, mostly from race goodie bags, press release kits, McDonald’s Big Kid Happy Meals and IMBA. I have a pair of Peloton One socks that President George W. Bush gave me when I rode with him at the Texas White House.

But those are not the most powerful socks in my collection. I snagged a pair of POLICE socks from Revolution Cycles’ Georgetown D.C. shop many years ago. Blue, with POLICE in big white letters on the band. They came in handy during a major protest march on Pennsylvania Ave. with a huge crowd filling the space. We couldn’t get through the hippies and police until I started yelling, “Make way, Police Socks! Make way, Police Socks!”

The mob parted and the cops backed off. We suddenly found ourselves in an open space between the two factions. Then they all had a Coke together and sang “God Bless America.” Well, actually, they were all kind of deflated and went home.

Bike socks have grown along with our national waistlines. In the early days of bike racing, riders mounted their penny farthings with weird socks that buttoned up the side. By the time the true hard men of the early Tour de France hit the roads, they seemed to ride with no socks. Many had hooves instead of feet.

But the one constant for many years was that bike socks, if you wore them, were short and made of wool.

During World War II, nylon and cotton were in short supply because of the need for millions of parachutes and bandages, so sexy women would use an eyebrow pencil to make a line along the back of their legs, simulating nylon stockings (which had a seam then).

Bikers did their best, writing “SCHWINN” on their ankles, or maybe “Hitler Sucks.”

The early mountain bikers wore hiking boots, probably with thick wool socks where they hid their stashes.

But now, in the amazing 21st Century, bike socks are getting longer. That must have something do with the great wealth our society is enjoying these days from the top to the tippy-top. I had “BIKE” tattooed on my ankles but the idiot put it on the inside of my ankles. Good thing I didn’t use “USA TODAY.”

Since 1950, there has been a direct correlation between a man’s sock length and his hipness factor. The longer the sock, the smaller the … you get the picture. But as men age, a part of their brain dries up and they can no longer perceive that they look like total dorks with their socks up to their knees and their bellies over their belt.

My kids probably think I’m a dork because of my long mountain bike ‘shorts’ and upside-down “13” jerseys. But I kick their butts on the bike, so shut up and quit whining about your allowance.

There seems to be no stopping the growth of bike socks, with the experts predicting the U.S. Supreme Court will give police the right to probe your socks without a search warrant. The Justices must have been hippies before their lobotomies.

I will admit to wearing long bike socks, but not in public. In my darkest hours (usually after a long bike ride) I crawl into my closet and pull on some 2XU super compression socks. These Pippi Longstockings slowly work their way up my firm, 14.5-inch calves, squeezing them into taut mounds of muscle and hot, lactic-saturated blood. Then I post my measurements on Strava. King of the Mounds, bro.

I can only blame Rebecca Rusch for this. She gave me my first pair of SKINS compression socks and my habit just kept growing, gnawing at my taut Achilles’ tendons.

Thanks to a 12-step program, I’m working my way back to anklets. But recently I slipped back: Beer socks. I’m so ashamed.

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