By Sal Ruibal
Let's face it, when it comes to attracting the opposite sex, mountain bikers just don't cut it, not even the female ones.
We have shaggy legs and stubbly faces (well, not the girls) and scars on our knees and knuckles (from dragging them on the ground). Our hair is either too long (Joe Parkin) or not enough (any dirt jumper), too greasy or too much to bother with.
When Ned Overend is our poster boy, that poster belongs on the post office wall. Even Shaun Palmer, who is now more of an ex-snowboarder than he ever was a mountain biker and is not much of that anymore, is more gruesome than handsome. That's what happens when your role model is the late wife-murderer Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols, for you culturally deprived wonks who think Talking Heads was punk).
I came to this conclusion while at the run-up to the Amgen Tour of California. There were so many pretty boys preening in the reflection of their high cheekbones in the shiny team busses that I thought had taken a wrong turn at the Chablis factory. I hadn't seen that much hair gel since Mario Cipollini competed in the nude synchronized skin diving finals in the 1999 X Games.
I figured that was just a by-product of the "little plates" cuisine craze that's going around in fashionable circles. "Little plates," for the uninitiated or just plain really hungry folks, are what we used to call tapas. Think of it as looking at your dinner plate from the wrong end of a telescope.
Road racers, because of their professional need to be aerodynamic at all times, must scrape every hair off their bodies—and I mean EVERY hair, even inside their ear canals—because every nanosecond counts. Look, if Ryder Hesjesdal hadn't carpet-bombed every follicle below his forehead, he would not have won the Giro d'Italia by .00004678654 of a second over that guy named "Purito," or "Little Cigar" in English.
[I don't know about you, but as a man, I would not want "Little Cigar" as my nickname, even if it were the truth.]
Road cyclists have to be prettied up because they get a lot of close-ups during a race. Like high-end fashion models and racehorses, they are subject to extreme scrutiny at times of great stress. Long telephoto lenses used from three-feet away by photographers sitting on the back of a vibrating motorbike expose every nostril hair and uvula curve, with spittle drops caught in mid-flight like breaching salmon.
Mountain bikers are rarely seen on television unless they are in a commercial for some type of rad-bitchin-gnarly deodorant for 13-year-old asthmatics. Even then, they are seen from afar, catching air and a few bugs in their misaligned teeth.
We don't even catch a break from our own folks. SPY eyewear ran a TV commercial every day of the ATOC purportedly showing 2011 U.S. National road racer champ Matthew Busche ripping some berms and jacking a backflip on a Specialized road bike. It turns out the real trick rider was freestyle mountain biker Mike Montgomery and the "road bike" was a one-off rig made by Specialized for the commercial. Perhaps Montgomery was too ugly to get some real face time.
Even our bikes are ugly, with big greasy chains and mud spatters covering logos for brand names that sound more like Neanderthal grunts than sleek racing machines: Yeti, Moots, Titus, Surly, Vicious, Misfit.
In a world of true lies and ugly truths, we must stand as misfits or fall as Un-American idols. Like Popeye the Sailor Man, we am what we am and that's all what we am. And Popeye was some pug ugly dude for sure.
We may not have the bee's knees or perfect teeth (or even any teeth), smooth shiny man-legs or magical Indian running socks with individual toes, but beauty is as beauty does. And what my mountain bike and I do is a beautiful thing, a soaring match made in Heaven that just looks like Hell.
P.S. – This week an acquaintance saw a photo of me on Facebook and commented that I "looked like a Congressman." Man, I gotta get out on the trails more.