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Tales from the Lardbutt Peloton, August 11, 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. Here's some Lardbutt philosophy on a subject we've all pondered - life's contradictions and ...

Send In The (Evil) Clowns

You just knew that it was going to be one of "those" training rides from the moment that my buddy Doc showed up in his Evil Clown jersey.

Evil. Clown. Jersey. Three words that probably should never be strung together in a single sentence. It's a piece of bike gear that was destined from the start to inhabit the back pages of the Nashbar catalog. Doc picked it up for $10 in the bargain bin at Performance.

He paid too much.

Good lord, what were these people thinking? This thing is just pure nightmare fuel. Picture a nice quality blue jersey emblazoned with a huge image of a clown on the front. Not just any kind of clown, mind you. A leering, psychotic clown. A "Gee, Honey, let's keep him away from the kids" kind of clown. A John Wayne Gacey, bodies-buried-under-the-foundation-of-his-house kind of clown. An Evil Clown.

Which was, as it turned out, totally in keeping with the unstated theme of this week's training ride, a theme that quickly became apparent before we had even left the parking lot: send in the clowns. Or, more accurately, send in the Evil Clowns. Send in the Clowns who have a bit of an attitude. The Clowns who guarantee that someone will get an eye poked out before they are satisfied. The Clowns who will gleefully throw a pie in your face, spritz you with seltzer, and then set your pants on fire.

Yes, send in the Evil Clowns, and give us all an excuse to join in the fun and throw pies, spritz seltzer, and set other people's pants on fire.

Oh, don't try to fool us with that innocent look. We know you. You're a cyclist. It's why we all show up on Sunday morning to go for a ride together, isn't it? It's all about getting out in the fresh air, seeing new and exciting places, and inflicting a little gratuitous pain on friends and strangers.

It's not wrong. Really. It's expected. They understand. And, if left unwatched, those vicious bastards will try to pull the same sort of thing on you at the first available opportunity. So you shouldn't feel too guilty or fight too hard when the urge for a little anarchy comes over you. Just follow the Evil Clown Golden Rule: do unto others before they do unto you.

And the urge will come over you, eventually. Because deep down in the soul of virtually every cyclist who has turned a pedal there is a small and rather bad neighborhood where the Evil Clowns dwell. They just bide their time, waiting for the opportunity to claim their next victim. It is the Dark Side of Cycling, the dirty little reason why a fair percentage of us show up week after week to ride and train with our friends. Because the truth of the matter is that once you get past the initial squeamishness and acquire a taste for it - and, trust me, you do acquire a taste for it - there's nothing in the world so deeply and disturbingly satisfying as getting away with some good, clean, painful, cruel, Evil Clown Fun.

Pop psychology gurus might call this process getting in touch with your inner sociopath. I'd just say that it goes a long way toward explaining the unrestrained enthusiasm that some people have for things like the Fox television network or cannibalism.

Out on a training ride, Evil Clown Fun can translate into all sorts of interesting behaviors. It's trying to make everyone's heart rate monitors explode by sitting in and then launching repeated "surprise" attacks from the back of the group any time that the road points up. It's suggesting that "special" short cut down a gravel road that has everyone all asses and elbows merely trying to stay upright. Or it can be as simple as going to the front of the group and then ramping up the speed to the point where your compatriots start losing their breakfast. And it's very definitely complaining loudly that no one waited for you when you inevitably blow up spectacularly and fall off the back.

In short, it's being everyone's worst nightmare on two wheels.

As for my buddy Doc, clad as he was in that hideous jersey, it was simply a matter of time before he too heeded the Call Of The Clown. We were not disappointed. Twenty five miles into the ride the kind and benevolent Doc had his own Evil Clown moment in the sun when he decided that our fast paceline should really be making much better time, despite what everyone else's bike computer or heart rate monitor had to say on the subject. I'll spare you the details, except to report that it all ended predictably. You could almost see that damn Clown on Doc's jersey smirk maliciously at the mayhem that was left in his wake.

The survivors, and there were only a few of us, quietly headed for home as the last of the day's attacks and counter-attacks and counter-counter-attacks faded with our ability to turn a pedal: it's hard to stay seated on your bike when you are curled up in the fetal position.

I'm sure that, if you worked hard enough, you could craft a profound and beautiful life lesson to be drawn from the events of the morning. Perhaps it would be an insightful lecture about human nature, or an admonition about the dangers of appeasing that evil darkness that can reside in men's souls. Maybe it would be some wise observations on the untamed predator that lays coiled just beneath the surface of even the most civilized among us.

Or it could be just a friendly reminder not to run though the house with scissors and to floss after meals. I don't know and frankly I'm too tired to care right now. Damn Evil Clowns.

Sure was a fun ride, though. Don't worry, I'm sure that I'll be recovered enough to make next week's session. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

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