As a cyclist, I am used to sudden, intense bursts of effort. I know how important it is to be prepared, steel myself, and then make that all-out-dash that can result either in victory or — if not done properly — abject humiliation.
I am talking, of course, about changing clothes in a public parking lot before a ride.
Why Change at the Parking Lot?
I have perfectly good reasons for why I change into my riding clothes in a parking lot. Specifically, I do this because I don’t want people at work to know that I am blowing them and their group lunch invitations off in favor of some saddle time. In the name of stealth, I leave the office in my work clothes, and I return in my work clothes, too.
It’s possible, I suppose, that I leave a few clues. For example, when I leave the office I’m carrying a couple water bottles and a large sports bag full of clothes, helmet, and shoes to my truck, which has a bike locked in. Then, two hours later, I return, smelling terrible, with dried mud on my arms and salt formations on my face. Depending on how the ride went, there’s a reasonable chance I’ve got a little blood seeping through the knees of my pants, too.
But I’m sure nobody’s figured out what I’m doing when I leave on those long lunches.
My lunchtime rides usually begin from one place, whether I’m riding road or mountain bike: the parking lot of the city zoo. On one hand, this is very fortunate, because this large, open, high-traffic parking lot is unlikely to attract thieves.
On the other hand, it is a large, high-traffic parking lot generally full of children. A man caught undressing here at the wrong moment might be . . . shall we say . . . misunderstood.
So I always park at a far corner, close to another car — the largest one I can find. The more protection, the better. And then I always say a little prayer to the gods of bicycles that nobody will return to this large car while I’m changing.
The Changing Room
Once I’ve parked, I set up my changing room. Now, I used to try to use the inside of my car as the changing room, but this is extraordinarily dangerous. Without proper stretching exercises beforehand, the act of getting out of trousers and into tight lycra shorts can cause serious injury or even death. Probably.
And don’t even get me started on the difficulty of working around the steering wheel.
So: I change outside. I open both the front and rear doors on the side closest to the car I am using as a shield. Cleverly, I have constructed a nicely enclosed changing room, using nothing but cars. Unfortunately, there seem to be an awful lot of car windows in my changing room, but I’m working with what I’ve got here.
Once I’m in place, I lay out all my bike clothes. Then it’s time to change. Hopefully, in record time.
First, shoes off. The only thing worse than being caught with your pants down is being caught with your pants down and your shoes on.
Next, off with the pants and underwear, in one smooth motion. Or at least, it’s supposed to be one smooth motion. Usually, for a reason I can’t quite figure out, there seems to be quite a bit of hopping and tugging involved, as if I have somehow been magically transported into the Benny Hill show.
Why pants off before shirt? Because I like to think that my shirt partially covers me up during this most crucial of moments.
This may be wishful thinking.
The temptation is, at this point, to fold up my pants. This is not a great time for this neatness impulse, seeing as how I am showing my gloriously shaved legs and everything else for anyone who cares to look.
So instead, I jump into my shorts. Except this is the moment I generally discover two problems. First, my bib shorts are inside out. And second, when you’re naked and panicked in a zoo parking lot, bib shorts suddenly are the most inscrutable article of clothing on earth. Turning them inside out somehow produces a gordian knot.
I take a breath, undo the snarl, and jump into my shorts. This is when I discover — for the seven thousandth time (I’m keeping count) — that if you’re in a hurry, your feet will get stuck in lycra shorts every single time. And the bibs will get twisted, forming a 20% chance that you’ll put your left leg through the right chest loop.
Once — and I promise I am not making this up — I got into such a panic that I put my shorts on backward and inside out, and did not notice this until I got on my bike.
At that point, I noticed something did not feel quite right.
Once — finally — in my shorts, the worst is over and my chances of being arrested drop significantly. Off with the work shirt, into the jersey, and on goes the rest of the gear.
With any luck, I will have conserved enough energy that I am not too exhausted to go on the actual ride.
Elden “Fatty” Nelson blogs most weekdays as The Fat Cyclist. He has never been arrested.