Cycling for health: The gateway to spandex and latte addiction

Despite initial reluctance, cycling became a source of sanity, fitness and community during challenging times 

ONE of the legacies of the terrible Covid pandemic of 2020 is my bourgeois addiction to lattes. The other is my tolerance for spandex pants. 

Two years ago, these two things would be as alien to my proletariat sensibilities as a Kim Kardashian tutu (whatever that is). But today, I embrace these symbols of the arty-farty class. 

I have more spandex than a superhero convention and a coffee habit that keeps several baristas employed. 

And I blame the bicycle. 

Like millions of others, I took up cycling again as a means to escape the stifling imprisonment brought by the many Movement Control Orders (MCO) meant to curb the Covid-19 virus. 

Cycling was one of the activities allowed under the MCO, and before the home minister could finish his announcement, I was already on looking for a bike. 

It started innocently enough, the bike was just something to get fresh air and exercise. 

But this is not the cycling to school I used to do a long time ago. This new cycling feels like gearing up for a space mission. First, you must achieve the delicate art of not falling down and killing yourself, or bike skills.

Once you’ve done that, you need to look like a cyclist.

At first, I could fend off wearing the cyclist’s quintessential uniform — spandex pants. But that changed after a fall where my jeans got caught in the saddle, resulting in several fractured ribs. So spandex it is. 

Yes, it may cling to my pear-shaped body, and reveals more than I or anyone else want to see. But it also whispered promises of aerodynamics and safety, protecting you from the treacherous jaws of saddles and chains. 

And then I found out that after putting on skintight pants, cyclists also need lubrication…down there. This is known as crotch cream, the unsung hero in the saga of the cyclist. A dollop of this, strategically applied, and you’re ready to glide through the kilometres without the dreaded crotch chafe, which will take you quickly to a world of hurts, believe me. 

And did I mention that after all this, there is one more kit you need to really become a bona fide cyclist? Any serious cyclist worth his salt needs “clipless” shoes which actually tie your feet to the pedals. 

The oxymoronic “clipless” pedals are meant to increase efficiency but I was convinced they were a death wish waiting to be fulfilled. 

All very daunting, but before I knew it, I was fully into it. I had a bike each for mountain biking, road “racing”, gravel riding and of course one “culture” bike to ride to the coffee bar. 

I was waking up at the crack of dawn to hit the trails and having long arguments about aerodynamic socks (yes dear, they exist.) 

Weekends are consumed by long rides that somehow always end at a coffee shop, where alike-minded cyclists compare gear and sip on fancy lattes. 

The coffee shop is a place to decompress after a ride of many kilometres. The air is thick with the scent of espresso and the sound of “clipless” cleats. 

And then there are the endless hours browsing bike shops and resisting temptations to buy more bikes. 

My family started to wonder whether I’d joined some kind of cult. 

But despite the spandex hate and side eyes, I can’t deny that cycling helped me go through the pandemic with sanity intact, not to mention the improved fitness, the sense of community and the sheer joy of gliding down the road on two wheels. So, I embrace the spandex, indulge in the lattes, and pedal on. 

May everyone in the world cycle where the air is fresh, the coffee is strong and the pants stretch in all the right places. 

  • ZB Othman is an editor of The Malaysian Reserve. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition