Sacred Flemish grime covered our bikes.

La Vie Velominatus: Saleté Sacrée

La Vie Velominatus: Saleté Sacrée

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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.

// La Vie Velominatus // The Bikes

  1. That’s the way it is.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

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

  5. Suffering and servitude. Common currencies of the cyclist.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. @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.

  10. 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.

  11. @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.

  12. Incredible stories of cycling and life from the Velominati. Chapeau.

  13. 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

  14. @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.

  15. @Marko how is that seat tube holding up?

  16. @Barracuda

    That photo of your grandfather is amazing in its own right. But for it to be a part of your family history is truly a treasure. Thanks for sharing it.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

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