Santa Claus vs Hairy Catalog Guy

Tales from the Lardbutt Peloton, November 12, 2004

Team Lardbutt isn't the fastest team in the US, it isn't the best-equipped team, and we sometimes wonder if it exists at all outside the imaginings of Chief Lardbutt Greg Taylor. With Christmas fast approaching, planet Lardbutt is home to a different kind of festive feast...

Write this down: the Christmas Season officially arrived at 12:56 p.m. on November 9, 2004.

Yes, the harbingers of the holidays began arriving Tuesday afternoon, the first warning signs of impending festive behavior and increased consumer spending. I'm not talking about bits of tinsel, sprigs of holly, or herds of those plastic reindeer that sit out on your front lawn. It's still way too early for that. And I'm not counting the sudden appearance of a very fine selection of winter ales in the beer aisle at the grocery store, although that particular development is most welcome indeed. And I haven't yet caught anyone humming Christmas carols, so it isn't that either.

No, the Christmas Season officially arrived yesterday when the postman delivered the first of many 'holiday' mail-order catalogs to my doorstep. The winner of this year's Christmas In November Sweepstakes is World Cycling Productions (WCP), purveyors of Tour de France videos and high-end bike gear.

If you are like me, you receive a constant barrage of bike-related junk mail all twelve months of the year. The major mail-order houses are brutally efficient at identifying their target audience and then unleashing a rolling 'shock and awe' advertising campaign designed to pound our mailboxes and fiscal self-control into submission. If it's not a catalog in the mail every other week, it's a mailer announcing a 'Special 24-Hour Half Price Sale' on all 26in Schrader-valve inner tubes (factory seconds, limit five per customer).

You can't hide from these guys: if you own a bike, they know where you live. If Osama Bin Laden rode a Schwinn, Colorado Cyclist or Performance Bicycle would have been able to give the coalition of the willing his home address.

Of course, no card-carrying bike geek ever throws any of this stuff out without looking at it first. Ever. From the lowliest sale flyer to the most lovingly produced, professionally-photographed high-end catalog, some cyclists spend hours pouring over every page, pawing at the pictures and fantasizing about piecing together a credit card-melting wonder-bike. "Hmm…I see that Excel Bikes has a sale on those Campy Record all-carbon cranks…that would demand the matching full carbon bottle cages and a Wipperman titanium chain…Nucleon or Zipp wheels? I can't decide…it will have to be both."

This flood tide of catalogs crests around the holidays. For the average bike geek this means one thing: sensory overload. The torrent of images of shiny bike parts will eventually merge into one big blur of titanium and carbon fiber. Components and clothes that once seemed to be utterly exotic and fabulous become commonplace, and even the keenest shoppers grow jaded.

That's when you start noticing the other stuff, the odd little things unique to each retailer that give their particular catalog a flavor all its own.

For me, it's the people that inhabit a particular catalog that I start to pick up on. With one or two notable exceptions, most catalog retailers in the bike industry don't bother to hire buffed and beautiful professional clothes models to show off their gear. You won't be seeing Brad Pitt or Naomi Campbell in a Bike Nashbar catalog any time soon. What you are more likely to see is Bud from down in shipping and Wanda from accounting trotting around for the photographer in the bike clothes that they push out of the door every day for a living.

Let's just say that the results of this approach are decidedly mixed.

For example, one well-known-and-somewhat-beloved-retailer-that-I-won't-mention-by-name is home to the Hairy Catalog Guy. The Hairy Catalog Guy resides in the shorts/tights section where he apparently spends his days having his torso photographed while clad in a variety of bicycle shorts. No jersey. No socks. No head. No feet. Just shorts. And hair. Lots of dark belly hair.

Just why this particular company decided to select Hairy Catalog Guy to be the spokesperson for their line shorts and tights is frankly lost on me. I don't know if they teach you in business school that belly hair = big sales, but the simple fact is that he's all over the catalog; an unidentified hirsute male torso clad only in bike shorts, a shaggy man of mystery. Who is he? Does he ever wear a jersey? Will he eventually branch out into bib shorts? What chamois cream does he prefer? We'll never know.

Unlike Hairy Catalog Guy, we outsiders are invited to glimpse a bit more deeply into the life and loves of Castelli Girl, a catalog model rather more successfully employed in the Women's Clothing section of another-high-end-retailer-who-dare-not-be-named. The allure of Castelli Girl is simple: Castelli Girl is pretty, and she wears ONLY Castelli. Flipping through the catalog you see that this is true; she's nothing if not loyal to her brand. It's Castelli for her or nothing at all. And why only Castelli?

Because Castelli makes her smile.

The dramatic high point of any appearance by Castelli Girl is The Glance. For the last dozen or so editions of the catalog from this particular company, we have watched with utter fascination as Castelli Girl coyly looks over her left shoulder to check and make sure that the eerily-glowing scorpion logo plastered across her rump is visible to the paying customers. "See that? That's gen-u-ine Castelli, baby. That's the GOOD stuff. Nothing but the best. And you see that bug? That frickin' little bug on my ass pays the bills around here."

And then she smiles.

If you are a guy, this is excellent marketing. Castelli Girl receives 30-40 unsolicited offers of marriage every day from her legions of devoted fans.

As one might expect, I've hardly scratched the surface here. I'd be remiss if I didn't pay my respects to other catalog "regulars" like Underwear Safety Man ("For safety, we recommend that you carry an ANSI-approved helmet whenever wearing polypropylene underwear"), the Pneumatic Jersey Babes (is an explanation really necessary for this one?), and at least one former member of the Village People.

But I shouldn't worry about it too much as I will be seeing them all again very soon. Now that the Holiday Season is officially upon us, I will undoubtedly get the chance (whether I want to or not) to reconnect with each and every one of these dear, dear friends when I get a chance to settle down, pour a nice tall glass of Christmas cheer, and peruse the stacks of bike catalogs that the postman is sure to deliver between now and Christmas. That is, if I don't throw them out first. After all, this is the time of year when it is important to stay in touch with old friends, even if they are wholly imaginary.

Now if Bike Nashbar just carried some of those plastic Santas for out in the yard…

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