Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lingo lesson for the masses: saddles, seatposts, clipless & lycra...

I know, I said I would give a new term each week leading up to the Tour of California. I have been negligent, and had a lapse last week. To make up for it, since I know you all depend on this so, so much, I will present you with four terms this week. For the most part these terms fall into the category of misnomers, a wrong or inaccurately used name or designation. Correct use of these terms will help you fit in, or at least make it sound like you possess, at the least, a more than rudimentary cycling background.

So, remember these: In official cycling parlance a seat is a saddle, but a seatpost is not a saddlepost; we clip into clipless pedals; and lycra, not spandex, is the generally accepted term of what we wear.

The first term, saddle, is relatively easy to understand. The connection to horses is an old one, and other examples of this connection continue to this day. You may often hear riders referring to their bikes as steeds, with each new bike they purchase being added to their stable. When bikes were developed and first became widespread, the view was that they would replace horses, especially in urban areas; they did not require food, maintenance and care was minimal, there was nothing to clean up after, they were fast and efficient. Differences aside, it was easy to perceive the saddle on a horse becoming a saddle on the bicycle. Early bicycle saddles would have been made of leather, as many of the most sought after to this day continue to be made of that material. Beyond this, though, is a more technical reason: Saddles, be they on horse or bike, only support a portion of the riders' weight. Other contact points provide weight support roles as well; pedals and handlebars on a bike, stirrups on a horse. Seats, on the other hand, are intended to support the full weight of a person.

Second term: So why then to we call the part that connects the saddle to bike frame a seatpost? If the thing we perch upon is a saddle and not a seat, why seatpost and not saddlepost? I confess, I have no authoritative answer for you. It just is. Who knows, languages are in constant states of flux, and any number of years down the line we may figure this out or gain some enlightenment, and the two terms become aligned. For now though we have to accept that saddles and seatposts go together.

Third term: How can one clip into a clipless pedal? Doesn't really make much sense. The confusion, I think, has to do with the fact that there are two different things going on here. The first is an action, whereby we clip into our pedals using cleats attached to the bottom of our shoes, in order to maximize pedaling efficiency (see Turning Circles). The second refers to an object. Before technology changed the game, the goal of pedaling efficiency was accomplished through the use of toe-clips and straps in order to secure shoes and thus feet to the pedal. Same goal, just different means. Anyway, once ski boot technology was applied to bicycle pedals, it rendered the old toe clips obsolete (at least within the racing world). Certain sub sects in the cycling sphere continue to use clips and straps. Excluding them, however, pedals used by racers lack toe clips and are thus clipless. So, you see, you really can clip into clipless pedals. 

Fourth term: Lycra vs Spandex. If you search to internet for the difference between these two terms you will find something saying that for all intents and purposes they are the same thing, same material at the least. The difference being that spandex is the generic term, and lycra is a brand name. I have taken this opportunity to examine some of the bibs I have to compare what is noted on their tags. 
nylon, elastane (European name for Spandex)

nylon, spandex, polyester

nylon, lycra

nylon, lycra, polyester

Naturally, and as you can see, they are all composed of multiple materials; two use the generic Spandex, two the brand name Lycra. Anyway, what has happened in cycling is that the brand name has become the accepted term, much like the brand name Kleenex has become the defacto term for all nose tissue. I am sure this makes the Lycra people happy, just as it probably makes the Kleenex people happy. You will have to kind of take my word on this one, or listen around for yourself. Most of us who actually wear the stuff will use the term lycra. Spandex has been relegated to the past, 80s disco dancers, glam rock and roll, and to certain non-cycling applications in more recent times. 

Until next time, when I tell you what a bib is, choose your words wisely.

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