Worcester, Mass. 
July 8, 2001 

Mountain bikers should hit the road

By Lynne Tolman 

  My normally sane colleague Mark Conti, mountain biking columnist, disgraced this space last Sunday with his list of "top 10 reasons why mountain biking beats road cycling." It took some nerve to insult us roadies that way during the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic and practically on the eve of the Tour de France. 
  Despite shaved legs, pink jerseys and other traits that Conti saw fit to ridicule, road cyclists are not the type to let fighting words go unchallenged. (It's the mountain bikers at the Naked Crit at Mount Snow, after all, who turn the other cheek, so to speak.) And wasn't that  Conti himself at the Longsjo on Sunday wearing a pretty pink T-shirt and cheering the skinny-tired racers? No wonder lightning struck. 
  We're sorry Conti finds riding his road bike such a chore, and for his wife's sake we hope he gets his saddle adjusted properly to prevent what he calls "prostate punishment." 
  We'll break the truth to him gently, in a simple format he can understand. The top 10 reasons road cycling really spins our wheels while mountain biking just drops our chain: 

  •  No. 10 -- Chairlifts. What kind of so-called sport -- involving a human-powered vehicle, for heaven's sake -- lets you kick back in a swinging loveseat to get to the top of the mountain? Next they'll be hiring sherpas to carry their Gatorade.
  •  No. 9 -- Tattoos and body piercing. Witness all the racing wannabes with their names inked across their hairy backs like Shaun Palmer. As Tom Swenson of Boylston puts it, "Don't mountain bikers mutilate themselves enough when they fall off their bikes?" 
  •  No. 8 -- Heritage. Roadies have a rich history spanning more than 130 years of European racing, the American good roads movement, and a key role in women's emancipation. Swenson again: "Mountain bikers have a vague recollection of a couple of hippies riding old Schwinns on the West Coast 20 years ago." Roadies have the classic movies "Breaking Away" and "American Flyers." Mountain bikers have Kramer's green Klein, with the fork backwards, on the wall in "Seinfeld" on TV. 
  •  No. 7 --  Mud. The bike trail signs at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center read "DDUH," which is not a stuttering Vermont version of "I'm with Stupid." Well, close. It stands for "Down and Dirty, Up and Hurty." What really hurts is spending hours after every ride cleaning the mud out of your bike, your shorts, your hair and your mouth.
  •  No. 6 -- Supply and demand. Sure, mountain bikes outsell road bikes. But off-road biking ranks a lowly 30th among the sports, recreation and fitness activities in the annual National Association of Sporting Goods participation survey, while bicycling overall ranks fifth. Last year's survey showed 7.1 million Americans do off-road biking, while 14.3 million people ride mountain bikes on the road. That's out of 42.5 million cyclists of all kinds. You do the math.
  •  No. 5 -- Going nowhere slow. If you have any practical destination, you'll have to use the roads sooner or later. And, you don't have to get special permission to do so, points out Mark Wysocki of Worcester. You might as well make it easy on yourself by riding a lightweight bike made for the pavement instead of a heavy, sluggish trail shredder. Or were you planning to drive your gas-guzzler to the trail head? Swenson's remark: "That dual suspension MTB looks good parked on top of your SUV. Too bad it never gets ridden."
  •  No. 4 -- Lack of Lance. Who do mountain bikers look up to, Hans Rey? No way. All of mountain bikings's stars put together cannot outshine cancer-surviving two-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
  •  No. 3 -- Bug bites. You're guaranteed to finish a mountain bike ride dehydrated, Swenson says, not from perspiring but from having a pint of blood sucked out of you. If we wanted to be "meals on wheels," as Kevin Motta of Hubbardston puts it, we'd volunteer at the senior center. Mosquitoes can't draft a roadie. While we're on the subject of wildlife, Rich Whalen of Framingham asks, what about hunters? Point of etiquette: Yield the trail to anyone with a shotgun. 
  •  No. 2 -- Bike parts. Technical singletrack trashes expensive mountain bike components the way army worms chew up lawns. You don't have to carry a spare derailleur on a road ride, points out Ken LaMura of Holden.
  •  No. 1 -- Body parts. These get bashed and broken all the time on mountain bike rides. Mountain bikers are so prone to injury, they are on a first-name basis with the emergency room staff. My ex-roommate's boyfriend initiated her into mountain biking by cheering when she drew "first blood" on a ride. LaMura's own off-road injury list includes a torn biceps tendon and broken left shoulder, "not to mention innumerable cuts, bumps and bruises, the most memorable being a stick up my nose resulting in profuse bleeding." Ouch. We hate it when that happens.
  All kidding aside, there's plenty of room in the cycling world for both roadies and mountain bikers. Many riders, including those quoted here, do both types of cycling. Then there's cyclocross, and even Spinning in the gym. It would be easy to make a longer list of all the reasons any kind of pedaling beats being a couch potato. Moreover, cyclists are a minority in most places and need to stick together, not divide into warring camps, to achieve goals such as improving road conditions and trail access. So Conti and I are calling a truce. See you on the road or trail. 
  The Bicyclists' Bill of Rights and Responsibilities received a favorable report from the Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation last month. The bill would consolidate and clarify traffic laws pertaining to bicycles -- essentially, "same roads, same rules" for cars and bikes -- and require police training in bicycle safety enforcement. 
  Rubel BikeMaps has updated its Eastern Massachusetts and North Shore/Cape Cod road maps and has added trail information for hikers and mountain bikers. The maps are available in bike shops or by mail order from Rubel BikeMaps, PO Box 401035, Cambridge, MA 02140 ( Rubel also has excellent bike maps of Central Mass., Western Mass., Boston, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. 
  TIP OF THE HELMET to Joe Rano of Millbury, who won the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic in the masters division (age 35 and up). It was the second Longsjo title for Rano, 41, this year riding on the Leominster-based Gear Works team. Second-place finishes in the time trial and road race vaulted Rano into first place overall. He also won the four-day stage race in 1999, riding for Rhode Island-based Arc-en-Ciel. 

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