La Vie Velominatus: Saleté Sacrée

Sacred Flemish grime covered our bikes.
Sacred Flemish grime covered our bikes on Keepers Tour.

A Velominatus maintains their machine with meticulous care, doting over it daily. A bicycle is a tool, but it is also a work of art, and serves us loyally in pursuit of our craft. We love them as though they were alive; as we grow together, the cracks and lines formed upon both our skins signifies the journey that has passed beneath our wheels.

A clean bicycle with a boastful luster inspires pride; I find myself constantly fighting the urge to carry mine upstairs to sit by the dinner table each time it has been cleaned, the bar tape freshly wrapped, or any old component swapped for a new one. I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a thing or two to say about it; I know the VMH does.

And yet, there are times when it pains me to clean my machine. After our first day on the Cobbles of Roubaix on Keepers Tour 2012, I left my bike dirty for two days because I couldn’t bring myself to rid her frame of the sacred dust that had accumulated after a day’s hard riding over some of the most hallowed roads in the world. A week later, I suffered the same condition the day after riding the route of De Ronde through hail, rain, and wind which left our machines covered in mud, manure, and Merckx knows what else. I think some part of me hoped the Flemish spirit held within all that grit would somehow be absorbed by my bike, that it would somehow help complete her soul.

But this kind of sacred dirt, the kind we don’t want to wash from our steeds, isn’t found only on the holy roads of Northern Europe. I found myself with the same reluctance to clean my Graveur after riding Heck of the North this year; a race held outside a small Northern Minnesota town nearly half a world from Flanders. I also serendipitously found photos Pavé William took of his Rosin after riding the Strade Bianche, documenting the covering of white dust upon its tubes. This condition afflicts us all, it would seem.

Any dirt becomes holy when we’ve suffered through it, when it took something from us in order to find its way onto our bikes and clothing. Sacred Dirt it is created spontaneously after prolonged exposure to The V.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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169 Replies to “La Vie Velominatus: Saleté Sacrée”

  1. Wow.  Well done.  This one hits me and reminds me of two different stories.  Bear with me if you will.

    My Uncle was born and raised on a farm in Northern Vermont in 1926 and became a carpenter after leaving the family farm (which my Dad still has) in his twenties.  He worked outside year round in Northern New England and had a face like you see in old pictures of Native Americans:  Hard as nails, made of leather and creased with laugher and just plain hard work-lines around the eyes.  I loved that face.  I had an Ocluoplastic professeur one time tell me that if I did not stop smiling all the time that I would have crow’s feet by the time I was 40 and that he purposefully tried not to smile so much so that his face would stay looking younger for a longer time.  I compared him and my Uncle and guess what, I am 41 and have crows feet.

    The other memory that really hit me when reading this excellent article was when I returned from Afghanistan in 2006 I was wearing my tan combat boots one day and someone looked at them and said, “Man, what the hell is that stuff all over your left boot?”  They were blood stains from two different days while in-country.  I said that they were just some old stains that I had not gotten around to cleaning off yet and he told me that I really should clean them up as they were out of regulation.  The next day I bought a new pair of boots and still have the others in my closet.

    Strong stuff, Frank and well, well written.

  2. Damn Frank, how did you get photos of my wheels after the London Cogal?

    …Pavé William…

    Does this prefix denote a Velominatus of the Secret Order of the Enfer du Nord?  

  3. Great stuff, Frank.  Brings to the surface so many memories of rides, both dusty and Rule #9.  Sometimes the Rule #9 rides send me to the chest for a towel to wipe down the poor steed and keep her from seizing up – allows me to warm up as well after soaking in the elements. But, this weekend I put my No 1 up on the rack and gave her a thorough cleaning.  It was actually the first time I had ever done that with the proper equipment.  I felt remarkably good afterwards and, of course, took her out for ride. I will likely never be a mechanic – the LBS will be my venue of choice for actual work on the steed.  But, the cleaning is indeed a labor of passion – not so much love – but sheer joy, pride and anticipation for the next ride on a pristine machine.  Thanks for bringing up those sentiments

  4. For someone like you to leave your bike dirty, it has to be some very important dirt.

    The winter riding on the north shore of Maui guarantees some rain, grit and some sun. It’s almost not worth giving the bike a complete gleaming wash knowing it’s going to get covered in grime the next time out. So I admit to sometimes returning from Sunday ride quite spent, hose off the majority of shiet, dry off chain and wait until later for a foamy wash. Forgive me Eddy, I’m a bad man.

  5. Aside from the bicycles, what about our own bodies. After some particularly wet or muddy rides I find myself reluctant to wash my legs, enjoying how the Guns look from lower thigh to lower leg, the grit contrasted against my clean feet and upper thighs.

    Daily attention is right! Every time I think, we’ll that’s the end of bike work for a few months…something needs a replacement, a tuning, a rejigging.

    That’s the way it is, says Pedale!

  6. @Buck Rogers

    your story has given me a lot of relief. I used to think that really hot chicks often looked disinterested when they were around me because they weren’t interested in me.

    Now i find out that they were just trying to delay their crow’s feet.
    I got some phone calls to make.

  7. I wish all I had to do to my bike after this year’s Heck was to choose between washing it right away or not. The race trashed it this year. It’s clean now but still doesn’t work and I haven’t found the time to strip it down. I know it needs a re-cabling but it probably also needs some BB bearings, a chain, and a rebuild. It’ll be a good winter project.

    And I like to think that somewhere in the nooks and crannies of #1 there lies a fleck or two of Flandrian mud and cow shit from KT12.

    Once our machines have seen that kind of duty and put us through our own versions of Hell, or Heck as it were, we never look at them the same again. For me it’s usually a slight head-shake followed by a wry smile and even a little chill up the spine when recalling past rides of import.

  8. @Buck Rogers Forgive me if this comes off as comparing my experiences to yours in service as mine do not compare. That said, I can relate to the boot story. I bought a new pair of Red Wing classic mocs this spring before this summer’s expedition. They were my wet boots, every day, for 70 days, and 1200 miles. They will never be the same again and I can’t bring myself to try to bring them back. They’re shriveled and worn and tell many stories. Now they sit.

  9. Photo above ( from iPhone @frank ) iss of my grandfather in his racing days (left side as you look at picture ) before being hit by a car during a race from Adelaide to Goolwa (South Australia).

    I often wonder now what stories the dirt on his bike and clothes would tell.  Hard men back in those days.

    The Fuji doesn’t see much dirt, but on the odd occasion it has, its quite liberating, and a sense of even more freedom prevails

  10. @Marko It was nothing like the Heck but I had to overhaul my BB after Eggtimer’s Gran Fondo, due to the unpaved portion of the ride.  It was a most rewarding bit of wrenching.

  11. The British Government have announced that in the 2011 population census will be the last. This is all a great shame: I would have been proud to have listed my religious beliefs on future census papers as ‘Velominati’. Let’s face it: it fits the bill of an organised religion. Monty Python would be able to make a worthwhile parody of our activities (Life of Eddy?) It’s a way of life that is frowned upon and/or laughed at by some and considered worthy by others. We have fundamentalist factions, we have enemies. We have places (some more holy than others) we have religious icons and artefacts and methods of worshipping them. Now it would appear we have holy mud.

    All hail the holy mud! it’s a miracle!

    Excellent stuff.

  12. As keeper of the Heck of the North, I am beyond honored to share gravel in the same sentence with the truly great events of this sport. Thank you for witnessing what we have in this corner of the world.

  13. @jeremy kershaw

    As keeper of the Heck of the North, I am beyond honored to share gravel in the same sentence with the truly great events of this sport. Thank you for witnessing what we have in this corner of the world.

    What you have done with the Heck is such a fun contribution to cycling. Plus, it gives sods like us shit to write and talk about. So thanks again. But let’s not talk about this corner of the world, we don’t need any more people.

  14. @Marko

    @Buck Rogers Forgive me if this comes off as comparing my experiences to yours in service as mine do not compare. That said, I can relate to the boot story. I bought a new pair of Red Wing classic mocs this spring before this summer’s expedition. They were my wet boots, every day, for 70 days, and 1200 miles. They will never be the same again and I can’t bring myself to try to bring them back. They’re shriveled and worn and tell many stories. Now they sit.

    Not at all!  It’s the imbued feeling that one has from experiences like this that Frank captured so well that I had to share it.  I know I can sound like an ass some of the times around here (most of the times?) but I am not trying to enter any dick measuring contest of who is cooler or who has done more, better, longer, etc.  It’s all about the experiences and I totally get yours.  Some things just become sacred secondary to their associations.  Your shoes, my shoes, it’s all in the same vein.

  15. @Marko

    @Buck Rogers Forgive me if this comes off as comparing my experiences to yours in service as mine do not compare. That said, I can relate to the boot story. I bought a new pair of Red Wing classic mocs this spring before this summer’s expedition. They were my wet boots, every day, for 70 days, and 1200 miles. They will never be the same again and I can’t bring myself to try to bring them back. They’re shriveled and worn and tell many stories. Now they sit.

    What are you doing, buddy? Don’t you know boots like that are only to be worn to the bar with pricey denim, rolled up just right? Who uses boots or outdoor gear for…the outdoors? You gotta reappropriate that stuff, workwear is now high fashion.

    Right on, Buck! It’s bizarre what has become “attractive” in the modern woman. All those weird reality shows on t.v. (which I don’t have), but they’re hard to ignore with the internet, grocery line magazines, the liquor store…they have “signature” boozes now!

    Signs of life, those are what make people unique and women attractive.

  16. Is it still sacred if it’s more on your face than on your whip?

    @gaswepass (l) @scaler911 (r). hangers on in the background. Photo by J.L. (used without his permission, but he probably won’t care or will make me suffer on his wheel at a later date)

  17. Hit the nail on the head as always Frank! I have just completed a 160km charity ride at the tail end of  last week. Encountered roads full of twigs, wet leaves, grit, stones and cow shit pretty much the entire route. Took me until yesterday to bring myself to clean it off, such was the sense of pride in getting it to that state.  Once done though I must say that I felt a deep love for my trusty number one once more…

  18. @Marcus

    @Buck Rogers

    your story has given me a lot of relief. I used to think that really hot chicks often looked disinterested when they were around me because they weren’t interested in me.

    Now i find out that they were just trying to delay their crow’s feet.
    I got some phone calls to make.

    Off to tell my missus that I have discovered her secret – its not me at all!

    @Frank another great piece of writing revealing yet another fundamental truth about how our brains work.  I have similar experiences with smeared and stained kit that seem to miss the wash that subconsciously I must consider battle scars.

  19. @Gianni

    For someone like you to leave your bike dirty, it has to be some very important dirt.

    The Roubaix dust ranks right up there.

    Its hard to photograph dust in a meaningful way, but the same thing happened again this year.

    [dmalbum: path=”/velominati.com/wp-content/uploads/readers/frank/2013.10.22.11.20.51/1//”/]

    The winter riding on the north shore of Maui guarantees some rain, grit and some sun. It’s almost not worth giving the bike a complete gleaming wash knowing it’s going to get covered in grime the next time out. So I admit to sometimes returning from Sunday ride quite spent, hose off the majority of shiet, dry off chain and wait until later for a foamy wash. Forgive me Eddy, I’m a bad man.

    I admit to doing the same when commuting by bike in winter; a full cleaning just seems to pointless. But none of that dirt or grit is sacred, it’s just nasty crap that should be pulled off the machine as soon as you can get to it.

  20. @Buck Rogers@Chris

    @Buck Rogers Powerful contrasting stories about the value we place on things. Chapeau.

    Seconded. Amazing. While nowhere near the same level of importance, I do hold this same philosophy with most of my gear that I use; stains and tears and scrapes and scratches all serve as reminders for the journey, especially if the journey was meaningful or took something dear from us. Its a shame to wipe those memories away for the sake of keeping something pristine.

  21. @Marko@Nate

    @Marko It was nothing like the Heck but I had to overhaul my BB after Eggtimer’s Gran Fondo, due to the unpaved portion of the ride. It was a most rewarding bit of wrenching.

    I’m still waiting on my headset bearing after Heck (the shop didn’t order the right one). I even lost my chain to the cause. I had to pull the brakes apart and clean out the grit and grease the bushings. Amazingly destructive.

    @Ron

    Aside from the bicycles, what about our own bodies. After some particularly wet or muddy rides I find myself reluctant to wash my legs, enjoying how the Guns look from lower thigh to lower leg, the grit contrasted against my clean feet and upper thighs.

    If the ride was cold, I’ll clean up immediately just to keep from getting sick, but I will proudly stare at my Flemish Tanlines as the water washes them away.

    @Pedale.Forchetta

    That’s the way it is.

    High praise. Thanks.

  22. @Marcus

    @Buck Rogers

    your story has given me a lot of relief. I used to think that really hot chicks often looked disinterested when they were around me because they weren’t interested in me.

    Now i find out that they were just trying to delay their crow’s feet.
    I got some phone calls to make.

    Not so fast. It is also difficult to smile while holding back the gag reflex.

  23. @frank I think it is the same feeling of attachment that makes me completely incapable of throwing away worn out or crash damaged bike parts. My garage has a growing collection of chain ring, disc rotors and handlebars adorning various nooks and crannies. Those things were there for me on the journey and have earnt the right not to be consigned to the bin.

  24. @jeremy kershaw

    As keeper of the Heck of the North, I am beyond honored to share gravel in the same sentence with the truly great events of this sport. Thank you for witnessing what we have in this corner of the world.

    It deserves its place there, not to mention that it speaks to the true spirit of Cycling.

    @Marko

    @jeremy kershaw

    As keeper of the Heck of the North, I am beyond honored to share gravel in the same sentence with the truly great events of this sport. Thank you for witnessing what we have in this corner of the world.

    What you have done with the Heck is such a fun contribution to cycling. Plus, it gives sods like us shit to write and talk about. So thanks again. But let’s not talk about this corner of the world, we don’t need any more people.

    Don’t worry, the shit winters will keep the riffraff out. Same goes for Seattle, to a lesser extent.

  25. @Buck Rogers

    @Marko

    @Buck Rogers Forgive me if this comes off as comparing my experiences to yours in service as mine do not compare. That said, I can relate to the boot story. I bought a new pair of Red Wing classic mocs this spring before this summer’s expedition. They were my wet boots, every day, for 70 days, and 1200 miles. They will never be the same again and I can’t bring myself to try to bring them back. They’re shriveled and worn and tell many stories. Now they sit.

    Not at all! It’s the imbued feeling that one has from experiences like this that Frank captured so well that I had to share it. I know I can sound like an ass some of the times around here (most of the times?) but I am not trying to enter any dick measuring contest of who is cooler or who has done more, better, longer, etc. It’s all about the experiences and I totally get yours. Some things just become sacred secondary to their associations. Your shoes, my shoes, it’s all in the same vein.

    Marko, you weren’t getting shot at, but you paddled a canoe from your house to the Hudson Bay, navigating your way along in the wilderness with little if any support. You could easily have been hurt or killed. I think your experience fits very high on the Scale of Awesome.

  26. Two words: ritualistic washing.

    These is much more to this than meets the eye. I too obcess over keeping a pristine machine. I scoff with some indigntaion over the popular notion that you shouldn’t use high pressure water to clean a bike, because “the pressure will force water and grit into places where lube goes.” Well, just get the dirt of out those places, and put new lube in where it belongs. Yes, this can take a while. Clean, yes. Destroy functionality, no.

    However, dirt in mechanisms degrades their performance, and shortens their lifespan. But news flash – all the moving parts will need to be replaced eventually anyway. Ride your Fucking Bike, and accept that parts can be replaced. The memory of those rides is *forever.* The dirt, as you say, is a badge of sucess.

    There is no such thing as an uncleanable bike.

  27. @scaler911

    Is it still sacred if it’s more on your face than on your whip?

    @gaswepass (l) @scaler911 (r). hangers on in the background. Photo by J.L. (used without his permission, but he probably won’t care or will make me suffer on his wheel at a later date)

    You’ve done well with your Pedalwan there; @gaswepass doens’t look nearly the tit he did on the Cogal a few years back. Strong work.

  28. @eightzero

    Two words: ritualistic washing.

    These is much more to this than meets the eye. I too obcess over keeping a pristine machine. I scoff with some indigntaion over the popular notion that you shouldn’t use high pressure water to clean a bike, because “the pressure will force water and grit into places where lube goes.” Well, just get the dirt of out those places, and put new lube in where it belongs. Yes, this can take a while. Clean, yes. Destroy functionality, no.

    However, dirt in mechanisms degrades their performance, and shortens their lifespan. But news flash – all the moving parts will need to be replaced eventually anyway. Ride your Fucking Bike, and accept that parts can be replaced. The memory of those rides is *forever.* The dirt, as you say, is a badge of sucess.

    There is no such thing as an uncleanable bike.

    Awesome post.

    One point, the problem with the pressure washer is that for the most part, the bearings are sealed and the water molecules are smaller than the dirt, so the pressure washer doesn’t remove any dirt from the bearings (because it wasn’t in there) but the water pushes in past the seals and rusts the balls inside.

    But you’re in good company; the pros use them all the time – although they swap bearings more regularly than we do.

  29. @frank

    @eightzero

    Two words: ritualistic washing.

    These is much more to this than meets the eye. I too obcess over keeping a pristine machine. I scoff with some indigntaion over the popular notion that you shouldn’t use high pressure water to clean a bike, because “the pressure will force water and grit into places where lube goes.” Well, just get the dirt of out those places, and put new lube in where it belongs. Yes, this can take a while. Clean, yes. Destroy functionality, no.

    However, dirt in mechanisms degrades their performance, and shortens their lifespan. But news flash – all the moving parts will need to be replaced eventually anyway. Ride your Fucking Bike, and accept that parts can be replaced. The memory of those rides is *forever.* The dirt, as you say, is a badge of sucess.

    There is no such thing as an uncleanable bike.

    Awesome post.

    One point, the problem with the pressure washer is that for the most part, the bearings are sealed and the water molecules are smaller than the dirt, so the pressure washer doesn’t remove any dirt from the bearings (because it wasn’t in there) but the water pushes in past the seals and rusts the balls inside.

    But you’re in good company; the pros use them all the time – although they swap bearings more regularly than we do.

     

    Concur: because the pros get all their bearings (and everything else) free. And when you don’t have to spend your own quid on replacements, you spend more time Working For The Man, less time riding. Unless you’re loaded, and then you can ride all you want, and you don’t care that you’re destroying functionality. But hey, all the pros had to start somewhere, right? I mean, nobody who is rich just becomes a pro? She put in all her dues as a working girl first, right?

  30. One of the best things about my new house: a back yard where I can hose my bike off with the “mist” setting and then dry it off. Cleaning my bike takes waaaaay less time than it used to when I lived in a apartment.

  31. @frank

    @eightzero

    Two words: ritualistic washing.

    These is much more to this than meets the eye. I too obcess over keeping a pristine machine. I scoff with some indigntaion over the popular notion that you shouldn’t use high pressure water to clean a bike, because “the pressure will force water and grit into places where lube goes.” Well, just get the dirt of out those places, and put new lube in where it belongs. Yes, this can take a while. Clean, yes. Destroy functionality, no.

    However, dirt in mechanisms degrades their performance, and shortens their lifespan. But news flash – all the moving parts will need to be replaced eventually anyway. Ride your Fucking Bike, and accept that parts can be replaced. The memory of those rides is *forever.* The dirt, as you say, is a badge of sucess.

    There is no such thing as an uncleanable bike.

    Awesome post.

    One point, the problem with the pressure washer is that for the most part, the bearings are sealed and the water molecules are smaller than the dirt, so the pressure washer doesn’t remove any dirt from the bearings (because it wasn’t in there) but the water pushes in past the seals and rusts the balls inside.

    But you’re in good company; the pros use them all the time – although they swap bearings more regularly than we do.

    My LBS always say that the love people who use pressure washers.  Work creation for them!

  32. @frank When can we (I) get that photo of the sacred-soiled golden ticket as a VVallpaper? I don’t ever want to stop looking at it but I either have to a.) get back to work b.) go ride a bike or c.) pay attention to the wife.

    @Buck Rogers You, and your giant swinging dick, are on my list of people to whom I feel obligated to buy a drink.

    And you paddled to fucking Hudson Bay from Minnesota?? @Marko I need to add you to that list too.

  33. Sacred dust in 2014 TdF?

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/five-mountain-finishes-for-2014-tour-de-france

    Stages in northern France are expected to remember the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war, while also remembering Tour de France riders Octave Lapize, Francois Faber and Lucien Petit Breton who all died in the conflict.

    Up to six sectors of pave could be included in the stage according to Tuttosport, possibly including the terrible long section of the Forest of Arenberg.

  34. Back in the 90’s (1998?) when MTB racing, one event was rainy and course was muddy as. The pot holes were so deep you did lose your front wheel in it. The race was more of a challenge/obstcle course. Heaps of fun. After the race looking at our bikes and we loved the build up of bog all over, but it wasn’t going in the car like that. No hoses, no high pressure cleaners, only a fast running river running fast. We rode down into the water, full kit and submerged the steeds in the water. Came out clean as, dissappointed the mud had to come off. I still haven’t taken the MTB apart. Kept the chain lubed though.

    Forgive me for my Rule #65 sin, but it was fun and we still talk about that race to this day! The mud sticks in our minds!

  35. @frank

    I admit to doing the same when commuting by bike in winter; a full cleaning just seems to pointless. But none of that dirt or grit is sacred, it’s just nasty crap that should be pulled off the machine as soon as you can get to it.

    My usual winter cleaning amounts to just clearing the ice/slush off of any moving surfaces (drivetrain and wheels mostly).  I do also do complete frame-off overhauls periodically with degreaser baths and such.

    @frank

    @eightzero

    Two words: ritualistic washing.

    These is much more to this than meets the eye. I too obcess over keeping a pristine machine. I scoff with some indigntaion over the popular notion that you shouldn’t use high pressure water to clean a bike, because “the pressure will force water and grit into places where lube goes.” Well, just get the dirt of out those places, and put new lube in where it belongs. Yes, this can take a while. Clean, yes. Destroy functionality, no.

    However, dirt in mechanisms degrades their performance, and shortens their lifespan. But news flash – all the moving parts will need to be replaced eventually anyway. Ride your Fucking Bike, and accept that parts can be replaced. The memory of those rides is *forever.* The dirt, as you say, is a badge of sucess.

    There is no such thing as an uncleanable bike.

    Awesome post.

    One point, the problem with the pressure washer is that for the most part, the bearings are sealed and the water molecules are smaller than the dirt, so the pressure washer doesn’t remove any dirt from the bearings (because it wasn’t in there) but the water pushes in past the seals and rusts the balls inside.

    But you’re in good company; the pros use them all the time – although they swap bearings more regularly than we do.

    This is why cup and cone is better than  cartridge.  I actually enjoyed redoing the BB and wheels on my old bike.  If I ever get around to wheelbuilding, it is going to be cup and cone for me.

    @eightzero

    But hey, all the pros had to start somewhere, right? I mean, nobody who is rich just becomes a pro? She put in all her dues as a working girl first, right?

    But she has crow’s feet, which I learned from this discussion makes her real!  Seen here in this photo where she is obviously foreclosing someone’s house.

  36. During the Monsoon we had a few weeks back, some ‘cross racing happened and some gear got destroyed.

    (photo by Matt Lasala)

  37. after every ride on my mountain bike I contemplate putting it in the shower for a wash. never happens and the thing is filthy. I do clean the chain and cables though.

  38. Me on the right and my friend Karl on the left. We had just completed the first stage of the Oklahoma MS150 – 85 miles on Saturday (9-21-13) and got dressed to impress and drink some well deserved beer. I finished the ride the next day (my longest weekend to date 150 miles) But I made certain to represent.I just started road cycling this year.

  39. @MDB

    Me on the right and my friend Karl on the left. We had just completed the first stage of the Oklahoma MS150 – 85 miles on Saturday (9-21-13) and got dressed to impress and drink some well deserved beer. I finished the ride the next day (my longest weekend to date 150 miles) But I made certain to represent.I just started road cycling this year.

    Good for you! Keep up the good work and the strong sense of fashion.

  40. @Barracuda

    This is one of the greatest photos pasted up here in a long time. Merckx forbid your house ever burns down, but if it does, this pic is at the top of the rescue list.

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