Not too long ago, a friend linked a brilliant blog post called (“The Spandex Theory”)[http://ernestgagnon.blogspot.com/2015/01/fall-2013-updated-spandexplanation-my.html]. If you haven’t read it already, you really ought to take the time to do so. I admit that when I first read through it, I thought it was a great human interest story, but the idea behind his Spandex Theory didn’t sit very well with me, probably not for the reasons you would think.
So first let us discuss the theory itself. It takes him a couple of rambling paragrapsh to get to the point defining what the theory is, but the crux of it comes from the following:
While wearing spandex on my bike, I started to love myself and fix my self. It also helps me deal with my depression because spandex is honest. It makes me honest with myself and with others. This is why I think the cycling world is so open; when people can accept themselves for who they are they can also accept others and help them to be their self. You can’t help others if you can’t accept and help your self. You make the spandex what it is, not the other way around.
Taking from that, I get this this:
The act of wearing spandex in public removes layers of protection and exposes a level of physical honesty that is reflected in the mental and emotional state of the wearer.
On the surface, it sounds good. So why did it not sit well with me? Because when I looked at it, I did not like something I saw in myself. It exposed an aspect of my behavior that I don’t particular care for, and in typical fashion the gut reaction was to dismiss the theory because I didn’t like what it showed. Fortunately, it sat there in the back of the brain and percolated over a couple of weeks, and eventually I circled back to it, and concluded that not only is there remarkable merit to the theory, but when you really get down to it, you also start to see some really deep truths tucked away in to the idea and concept.
What did I not like that made me dismiss this? Turns out, I am a judgemental ass. Probably not in the way you think though. Turns out, it’s not the spandex that makes me judge you, but it may be the choice of the spandex that triggers something in me. Show up in pro gear on a pro bike, and you better have the skills to ride at a pro level. When you fail at basic riding skills, decked out in pro gear, there is a really good chance I may judge you to be a pretentious ass. That judgement may be true, but it is not my place to make that jugement. This really hit home for me this year. I showed up to a group ride that I had not ridden before. It was early in the season and I knew the ride was tri bike friendly, so I grabbed the tri bike, and whatever kit was at the top of the drawer. It happened to be one of race kits, and when I started prep for the ride, one of the other riders walked over and asked if I was aware that this was not a fast ride. I knew, I wasn’t out for a fast ride, just a casual spin with some other people. The route was one I wanted to hit, because on the tri bike, it would present some good work at low speeds, and it was a chance to get to know more of the community in the area.
The question though, made me ask myself what triggered it. It wasn’t until I was out an spinning along that it gelled. I looked “Pro”. I was rocking a team tri kit, on a bike that looked to someone not deeply in to the triathlon bike world like a very high end bike ( it is and it isn’t. high end frame, mid-level components, low end wheels ). Early on, I would have made the same snap judgement, and I would have been wrong. It turned out to be a great ride, and an even better community of cyclists, and I blended right into the group, despite my tendancy to ride off the back of groups because I am basically a mother hen in a group, nobody gets left behind or isolated.
As the season went on, I kept circling back to this idea that cycling is the way it is because of the spandex effect, and that outsiders that judge cycling so harshly do so, also because of the spandex effect. The more I watched, the more I started to believe, and I started to see another dynamic that just fascinates me.
It Is Not The Activity
At first, I really wanted to ascribe the behavior to the bonding that people with a shared activity do. We all ride bikes, so that is the common ground. Runners have these bonds too right? Swimmers? Team Sports? Interestingly, not so much. In fact many of the communities for these activities are quite the opposite. If you look at cycling itself, you find that it can be quite the same, with some petty nastiness going on between the spandex wearers and the non. The mountain bike cyclists and road cyclists have some long standing issues, and not surprisingly, spandex is one of them.
Though I have cycled for a long time, I am actually fairly new to running, and very new to triathlon. I have only been running for about 4 years now. Runners, particularly male runners, are not spandex wearers. Even amongst female runners, there seems to be two distinct groups, the spandex wearers that run in spandex shorts and sports bras and the non-spandex wearers that seem to operate under the belief that only the hyper-fit rock hard bodies can wear spandex and the sports bra. When you get to know a lot of runners, you quickly learn that the line is not about the body, but the mind. It is a confidence thing, which circles back to the spandex theory.
But then came triathlon, and the wake up call that is the triathlon age group community.
Age groupers come in every shape, color, size and skill level. They all train for this crazy support, and you know what? the age group community is beyond welcoming. Judgement is left on the outside, and supportive is the only thing brought in. Yeah, on the race course, they race hard while still finding time to encourage others along the way, but before the start, and at the finish line? It is game on for some hard core support and cheering.
The runs over the last 4 years where the the runners gather up in the start corral, chat a bit about past races and food, and then when the gun goes off, shove to the front and off they go. At the finish, most of the runners get thier freebie, and many only hang around if they have a shot at an award, otherwise they are done and gone in their cars within minutes of finishing.
I can’t tell you how many bike races I’ve done over the years where the athletes show up, spin on trainers or rollers with headphones on pre-race, gather in the start and then go full gas until the finish line, throwing elbows if needed to get there. They’ll hang around at the finish line, but there isn’t much cheering going on. There will however be drinks and foof afterward for the friends that knew each other pre-race day. The thing is, not many cyclists race, but a huge number do organized events like Grand Fondo’s and Century Rides, and these are where the real spandex theory starts to show.
The more I looked, the more I concluded that he is on the right track.
But what really cemented the idea, and warranted the expansion of it for me? the realization that I know literally hundreds of triathletes, and cyclists around the area. People that I can identify from a hundred yards away out on the bike or run. Out of those hundreds, the number that I could identify from 5 feet away in street clothes probably numbers in a number I could count on my fingers, perhaps with the assistance of a couple of toes, and that stems from the other side effect of the spandex effect.
Once you shed the layers of disclosure, you create communities, clubs and active groups, clubs and those groups become very welcoming, and that is what led me to conclude that the spandex effect is real. Locally, we have a couple of medium sized running clubs, that will typically have 4-10 runners show up to a given week. Within the same community, I can name 6 different cycle clubs with upwards of 20 active riders at every event, and they just keep growing.
So here is my addition to the Spandex Theory.
The level in inclusivity of a group is directly proportional to the amount of spandex being worn during group activities.
I have an additional addendum though.
The same effect does not apply to a remove of clothing. Quite simply put, nudity increases sezual tensions that are usually erased in the cycling communities, not because they don’t exist, but because the “creeps” of both genders that make it uncomfortable are weeded out pretty quickly.