Lashings of Lycra


Image by LUEK.

Angelo Pricolo, mindful of his safety, joins the ranks of men in Lycra

Two of the most eye-catching images in the sporting world are the middle-aged hirsute male in undersized Speedos… and the overweight rider challenging his carbon fiber bike and wearing white Lycra.

I am guilty of taking up bike riding, minus the Lycra, conscious that high-impact sports were increasingly becoming a younger man’s domain. I did consider other sports, but something about riding appealed to me. Maybe it was due to years of being on my Honda VFR750 motorbike before it got stolen for a joyride, but that’s another story.

I was warned off being a pharmacist and playing a game like squash, even though it evokes something very 60s and a more intense workout than almost any other sport. Apparently the combination of years of minimal physical activity and compensating with occasional strenuous effort is a formula for a colossal heart attack, as many colleagues can unfortunately attest.

So having exhausted my desire for the crash and bang sports, the fluid motion obtained while sitting on a bike was calming and meditative. It is probably only rivaled by swimming where you can even be on your back and exercise.

But as inspiring as the V-shaped bodyline created by years in the pool is, the reality of getting to the local pool then changing and showering, all for a 20 minute swim does not appeal. Pools are for splashing and summer fun and are best designed with an island bar on a tropical holiday resort.

Golf entered the mix but was just too restrained, and try as I might, I couldn’t get the old quote attributed to Mark Twain out of my head… golf is a good walk spoiled. There was an element of frustration too as the coordination required to hit a ball off the tee, hundreds of metres down a fairway is beyond my skill set. It’s that hip thing that gets me!

And besides, golf courses are purposely designed to humiliate with water and sand strategically placed to encourage your ball to enter. Then there is the fashion that accompanies the designer clubs and the course etiquette that stretches me beyond my comfort zone.

Then there is football (aka soccer), which I played in parallel to riding for many years, until injuries started mounting. Soon my physiotherapist became my best friend. This is not a good thing even though he is a great guy and an equally skilled practitioner, I was seeing way too much of him.

Nothing can rival the combination of skill and strategy that is required to play with the round ball at the highest level. The pure brilliance of the Argentine superstar Diego Armando Maradona is the stuff that keeps young boys playing and older boys dreaming. It’s the stuff that he put up his nose that most worried me.

But alas without years of skill training, the best way to enjoy this sport is from the grandstand. Here, enthusiastic supporters can be heard encouraging their chargers with illuminating advice like “Kick it with your head.”

But my first love was AFL and although any thought of pulling on the boots sends a shiver up the collective family spine. About 18 months ago at the tender age of 55 I did play a game. My friend Paul Krassaris and I represented Monash University staff and played in the annual match against the students at Princes Park, the home of the Carlton Blues. Too good an opportunity to miss.

We both lived to tell the tale and the stories are already approaching mammoth proportions as we relive the glory days of defeating the students by nine points. I for one was extremely careful and remember starting my warmup about two days before the game. I dodged a bullet, that’s for sure.

Seriously, any sport that requires the routine use of a mouth guard sounds a warning bell to old bones. And the recent press highlighting concussion testing and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) only diagnosable after death through brain tissue analysis is another red light. It challenges one’s commitment to Australia’s favourite sport.

It was one year at the APP conference, sitting at a coffee shop and enjoying the ‘people watching’ when a group of mature ladies at an adjacent table caught my attention. Great to see them out, I thought, but then I was even more impressed when their partners dismounted fancy road bikes and joined them.

It was at this juncture in my life that I could picture myself jumping off my bike to join friends for a drink in my latter years. How civilized. A sport you can keep enjoying at the ripe age of 70 plus is worth pursuing, I thought!

Bike riding combines so many facets of a healthy lifestyle. It enables you to meet up with friends and talk while exercising. Try doing that after a couple of kilometers of jogging or while swimming freestyle at the pool! It also allows you to cover vast distances perusing the real-estate while searching for new coffee shops that welcome riders.

It enables you to go shopping for the latest gear, as unsightly as some can be. Even if you are not into Lycra there are so many “essential” purchases that need to be made to make your ride comfortable and safe. From the essentials like helmets and the bike itself to clip-on shoes, jackets, gloves, eyewear and even the very eighties leg warmers for those in the southern states.

With the introduction of rider apps on phones, all sorts of new riding locations have been uncovered. Once the secret of a few locals, now some tracks and destinations are over run with enthusiasts awash with their custom bikes.

So the option of riding to work on my old steel frame Bianchi has become more attractive by the minute. Steel has the advantage of being the most forgiving frame, absorbing some of the impact and lessening the wear and tear on fragile bodies.

So if the condition and availability of bike lanes and the behaviour of motorists was to improve, it would be a signal to riders to get back on their bikes. That’s not to say all cyclists behave like saints on the road, but being on two wheels means safety is always your number one priority, and some car drivers forget that.

Bike lanes often disappear at intersections… are cyclists supposed to dismount and carry their bikes? And road works most frequently appear in bike lanes, which then make for very bouncy uncomfortable travel. Drivers get so close to bikes (notwithstanding laws in some jurisdictions) that many riders either hang up their helmet or ride in fear.

Drivers should appreciate that every rider represents one less car on the road and thus they benefit in travel time nearly as much as the rider gains in fitness. If bike lanes and drivers improve, so many more riders would be in the saddle and we could all enjoy the kaleidoscope of tight fitting Lycra racing down our streets on the way to work every morning.

Angelo Pricolo is an addiction medicine pharmacist and former National Councillor of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

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