No strapping the loose bits to the pelvis. No reserve shield for this starship, no backup guardian of modesty, no one on duty just in case the outer shield falls down or tears open or burns off. Just a single, immeasurably thin strip of shoddily made black stuff.
I'd like to say my first sensation on a road bike was a spiritual one, the road flowing up through the humming steel and possessing me with warmth, awakening my heart long dead to the miraculous, freeing my soul to wander without direction, a return to emancipated childhood.
All that Deepak Chopra crap.
My first sensation on a road bike was not spiritual or sentimental; it was childish.
It was this: Hey, I'm not wearing any underwear.
My brother, also without underwear, fiddled with my derailleur on our parents' driveway, there on the ridge in Upstate New York, a land of rolling near-mountains. I joined him, both entirely void of undergarments, listening to him tell me about how tires on these kinds of bikes blew up frequently and you had to carry patch kits; how Lance Armstrong aged his tubular tires like wine but we were using clinchers because they were considered more user-friendly.
Dude, when was the last time you and I stood around in our parents' driveway without underwear on?
Everything was just hanging out there, exposed. The bike seemed as vulnerable as I was--ready to deflate, collapse, be run over, tossed aside.
It was a bit cold and, I say again, I wore no underwear.
Finally, we climbed on the bikes and placed the built-in pad (what the Hulk called a chamois, and which I later learned was spelled in a French and not phonetic way) directly on the cruel seat (the notion of a saddle was new to me, as it is to most Americans) and descended into the valley and paraded out into the community, the one my father was a prominent member of, on a drizzly March New York day.
This was all done without a stitch on underneath the one layer. If that outer layer had blown out, which was a possibility considering the poor quality of that, my first pair of black, Performance-brand Fredshorts, I could have easily been arrested and/or condemned to hell for indecency. Definitely it would have shamed the family.
And a razor had never ventured below my neck at that point, so the hair not only bloomed where my skin was showing, but it actually sprouted through the shorts. In lots of places.
"You have a good high cadence," my brother remarked. It was, he said, a lot like Lance's cadence. That made me feel good. We were going, my speedometer said, 14 mph.
A phrase came to mind, The Incredible Lightness of Being, supposedly a great piece of literature, and one I'll never read. The wind blew down into the ridge and the pickups blew by and we put in an effort and passed a tractor. I nearly lost it on the edge of the road where the shoulder was simply a drop-off.
The bike was light. I was light. Everything was stripped away. None of the bric-à-brac in our normal transportation devices--the upholstered big gulp holders, the lambswool steering wheel covers, the Baby On Board notices, the heavy backpacks and industrial strength ass landing pads built for a society of homeo sapien walrusiniusses. None of that bullshit. Only a bird-like crotch-axe to perch upon and tiny bars to wrap the fingers around and a machine that insisted on making you a part of itself for it to work.
The wind blew through my torso just as, I imagined, it would feel if I was naked.
And for the first time in a very, very, very long time I felt like a naked toddler on the run, laughing as mom gave chase with a worried look in her eye and a diaper in her hand. (This is more a constructed re-enactment of a memory, since I can't, in fact, remember such a moment, but I've seen it happen so many times I'm assuming I did the same thing and enjoyed it.)
I'm far too Midwestern to want to actually show a bit of skin in public, and the last thing I'd get from Kardashian-ing myself would be a thrill; yet, I admit that part of the joy of being on a bike is the unclothing part of it, of removing layers of separation that keep me from touching the world.
The climb up the ridge back to the driveway was a monstrous effort for me, and yet I was astonished by how it felt so fast and I felt so light that I seemed to throw myself upward with each stroke.
How amazing that I could go ten miles in an hour and make it up this ridge--all under my own power! All this amazing power required was for me to be naked. To me, it seemed like a grand bargain. Still does.