Friday, May 2, 2014

What Makes a Thing Lucky?

A Touch of Houndstooth
The cyclists I know who take part in any sort of events, will often have objects which they deem lucky and therefore must have with them when attempting a ride of importance. Usually, though not always, this item will be a pice of clothing - which means it gets worn a lot, and as a result might be faded, discoloured in the wash, threadbare, torn and patched up repeatedly, or perhaps too small or too big for the rider, having been acquired at a time when their body was differently proportioned. No matter.  In preparation for the event, this lucky thing will be sought out with manic determination. And it will be worn regardless of condition, replacing the rider's anxiety with a sense of familiarity and calm. It is, after all, lucky.

Ah but what makes it so? Is it having worn the thing during multiple race victories or completions of tough events? Is it having received it as a gift from someone special, or on a special occasion? Was this item worn by another rider, whose skill or strength might rub off on us, if only a tiny bit, if we wear it too? Does this thing happen to be our favourite colour, or stamped with our lucky number, or manufactured on the date of our birthday? Does it contain some secret message of significance that makes sense only to us, and sin this secret way signifies luck? Any of these things it could very well be.

It was only recently that I realised that I too have a lucky cycling item. I knew it when I began to search for it in preparation for an upcoming brevet, and, even though it was by no means the only item of its kind that was suited for the task I wanted it for, I began to get flustered when I did not immediately find it. It is a woolen cap with earflaps, in a houndstooth pattern. It is half a size too big for me and, by the end of a long ride sits lopsided under my helmet. Its 3-panel design does not flatter my face. It has not been washed in 2 years and smells like the soured strawberry Yahoo I spilled on it in a previous encounter. And it just so happens that I've worn it on my longest, coldest, dampest, dirtiest, hilliest, most uncomfortable rides - which, in the end, also left me with the loveliest memories. I did not win anything during these events. I did not do particularly well time-wise. I don't know what exactly makes this silly hat lucky. All I know is, when I finally found it, ran my fingers over its wooly texture, caught a whiff of its absurd but familiar scent and tucked it into my pocket, I let out a sigh of relief and relaxed.  Finally, I was ready to go. 

24 comments:

  1. There are certain articles of clothing or objects that I rarely mount a bike without. Never really previously giving it much thought, considering them to have some talismanic, or lucky quality is appealing . I like that idea better than the alternative thesis that its just a mindless compulsion.

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  2. Lovely Odor, y'all are nasty.

    "Hey I wanna take pictures and have no desire to do more than 200k"

    Hah.

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    1. 300k no pictures = training for 200K with pictures

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  3. Luck had nothing to do with it, but you know that already. Comfort, yes.

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  4. I don't know if for me it's that I find the thing to be lucky, but more like it's my adult binky, or something. My bike itself is one of my adult binkys and if I travel without it, I feel a panic. My 2nd cycling cap I made is my other binky. I wear the darn thing every time I leave the house. It's brown and plaid wool, never been washed, and I just feel naked if I get on the bike without it!

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  5. I don't think there is one thing that I consider "lucky" as in "if I don't have it, things will go wrong" but... I do get pre-ride jitters and have a set routine, which if interrupted, re-ordered or curtailed, makes me worry I might have to bail - for unspecified reasons that have nothing to do with whatever the disturbance to my routine may have been. As to clothing, I usually have a range of suitable things to choose from for each ride but there are certain things that make me go "ahhh!" inside when they are clean and available. My Rapha shorts are one. My Pearl Izumi gillet is another. And my Vulpine socks yet another. Put them all together and I know from the outset that whatever may befall me, at least I'll be comfortable.

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  6. Daily I ride with a Karrimor saddlebag I bought new in 1966. The other bike has a Karrimor bought new in 1965 (that was already ten years NOS). My pump has a Campy pump head I bought new in 1964.

    Tried riding modern stuff for 25 years. Never let go of the saddlebags or the pump head that worked. There are reasons some of us use good old bikes. Pretty much every piece of any of my bikes is lucky like your hat.

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  7. Funky Hat Blues , Hat luck and trouble been my only friend , Ain't broke down since I don't know when . And so it goes , the hat finds the person and then collects all that energy and sends it back to the Giant Head . The luckiest hat in the world goes to the legendary Tilley Hat that went through the elephant 3 times . Thanks for the hat chat .

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  8. Yuck.

    This post makes me very glad that all my cycling caps are either washable cotton or synthetic.

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    1. Oh the hat is perfectly washable. But that would CHANGE it.

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  9. I've got an old pair of thin summer riding socks that I view as being rather lucky. It's the one pair of socks that I don't crash off the bike (any of em- mtn, Dh sled or road bike) while wearing. I've managed to wear holes in the heels and toes and I can't get another pair since the shop I got them from ran out years ago.

    Still gonna wear as they ensure a good, crash free ride even when pushing myself beyond my limits- like taking my steel rigid 29'er downhilling the day before knee surgery.

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  10. Replies
    1. It's a Waltz winter cap made for HoundsToothRoad, a bike shop in Atlanta.

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  11. Looks like the hat worked ;)
    Congratulations!

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  12. I don't have lucky clothes but am occasionally plagued by anxiety dreams about clothes, actually the inexplicable finding of oneself standing on the starting line or somewhere similar, "out of uniform". Maybe if I had had a totemic "lucky" pair of bibs or socks in my backpack I could have slept more peacefully in hotel rooms or on the livingroom floors of friends of friends without waking up every few hours and freaking out a little tiny bit before making myself calm down and go back to sleep.

    Is it like how when our bodies need rare minerals we've never heard of, we crave something that bears that very thing? It has to be that the comforting power of these "lucky" things comes from within ourselves but we manage to prevent our knowing to preserve the effect. We need it, we know it, and we know how to pull the worsted wool over our own eyes to allow us the shield we must have to climb into the saddle, the Ring, or the Spitfire another time.

    I still have the Brooks Professional, Campy G.S. brake and shift levers and Campy crank dustcaps from my first good bike, they're spread out over an old Trek 970 I bought used in 87, the Mercian I had built last year and a 40 year old Raleigh International that I think is going to be my new favorite all-day bike. I try to figure out how to best shuffle those old parts around to as many bikes as possible because it makes me feel more connected and comfortable to still be using bits of the bike that made such a big difference to me when I was 15 years old. The things that weren't right about my Mercian stopped bothering me quite so badly after I put that saddle on it.

    Maybe I should be on the lookout for a nice smelly old hat...

    Spindizzy

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    1. Never had an anxious dream about cycling clothing. But I did dream a few days ago that I was pedaling through the most beautiful misty landscape, pulled my camera out of the hbar bag without breaking stride, went to take the most perfect shot… and realised I'd forgotten to put a memory card in. The panic jolted me wide awake.

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  13. Hmm. The closest thing I can come up with is my trusty pocket knife. Because sometimes, you need to create your own luck.

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  14. Nesquik for me please

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    1. Beggars can't be choosers in the only country store within 50 miles; if it's milky and pink I'm drinking it

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    2. That wouldn't exclude Pepto-Bismol. Now THERE'S a beverage of last resort...

      Spindizzy

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    3. you don't know the half of it (give me a minute for the 300k ride report)

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  15. modern day magical items. i don't think I have anything like that for riding, though sometimes I wish I did. i'm still waiting for it to find me.

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  16. I don't have a particular lucky item, except maybe my bike. My favorite bike is a 1974 Raleigh Professional fixed gear with a 42x16. I've done all my longest, most memorable rides on it, and it has always served me well.
    I know very well that a geared drivetrain could take hours off of my brevet times, but somehow I'm reluctant to change so I just keep riding all my brevets on a fixed gear year after year. The bike just feels like home just the way it is.

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