You can find them in every nook and cranny of my apartment: on the bathroom floor, in a big pile in the corner of my study, strewn all over the coffee table in my living room. No, Iím not talking about old running shoes, although thatís a very good guess. Iím talking about magazines. And not even old Sports Illustrateds or National Geographics, like a normal person. Iím talking about cycling catalogues.
It seems like I get a new catalogue at least once a day, the late-summer issue, the really-late-summer, the ok-weíll-pay-you-to-order-some-of-this-leftover-summer-stuff issue, etc., etc. Even though these catalogues are basically all interchangeable going back thousands of years, for some reason I can never bring myself to throw the old ones away. I suppose you never know when you might want to research the sale price of marble handlebar tape back in August 1998. The result is that theyíre strewn in piles all over my apartment, like some bizarre neon-colored high-gloss mineral deposit. This can be a major health hazard, because the cycling catalogue is one of the slipperiest objects known to man, hit one of those babies on the floor in your bare feet and itís all over. Forget Pam at your next race, just slip a couple old catalogues up the leg of your wetsuit and itíll slide right off.
But I have to admit that the cycling catalogue is a uniquely entertaining piece of American literature. First of all, have you ever studied the models in the typical bike catalogue? Iím guessing that this has to be the single lowest rung on the fashion modeling ladder. They all look more or less embarrassed to be there. And who can blame them? It is extremely difficult to look anything other than absolutely ridiculous posing in a pair of bib shorts. I can just imagine an agent having to break the news to her client:
Maybe theyíre not models at all, maybe they just round up a bunch of cyclists out for a Sunday ride and ask if they can borrow an hour of their time. That would explain a lot. And I canít imagine itís all that exciting being a photographer for cycling catalogue either. Itís not exactly like landing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit gig. I mean, how much can you do with a pair of thermal fleece gloves . . . maybe airbrush out the lint stuck in the velcro strap? Just once, I would like to open my mailbox and see the new Victoriaís Secret cycling catalogue. Personally, I think the Miracle Tri-Suit would be a top seller.
My favorite part of the cycling catalogue is toward the back, when you get into the real hard-core gear, the hubs and forks and headset spacers and bar ends and whirlygigs and gizmos of every shape and description. I love the helpful charts they put in there to explain the subtle variations between the models. Iím convinced they make most of the categories up. A typical chart looks like this:
|description||vertical weight||viscosity||sdp||itch gradient|
|A. HP7-AX||13.4g||427 pdi||under||6 LEQs|
|B. HP7-AY||13.6g||6,987 pdi||over||10 LEQs|
|C. 12LCX||12.3g||548 pdi||over/under||7.5 LEQs|
And this is just for a pair of running socks. They get a little carried away with the trademarks in the catalogues as well. I understand that it can be difficult to distinguish one taillight from another, but really, ďSuper Nebula Cosmic Whitelight XRay 5000 XL2001Ē? Isnít that maybe just a little overdone? Youíd think it was built by NASA, not Trek.
But I will give the catalogue companies credit for one thing, they have the purchasing process down to an absolute science. They know the normal cyclist (now thereís an oxymoron) cannot resist buying something when the new catalogue arrives in the mail. So they streamline the process to make sure they lock you in before you change your mind. They seem to know who you are even before they answer the phone; the second you tell them what you want, they ask you whether you want that in slate, olive or cinnamon; and the package seems to be on your doorstep before you even hang up the phone. For example, they were able to deliver this column just in time to meet my deadline. I just wish I wouldíve spent the money to buy a funnier model.