I got up at 4:00 so I could be out the door with my bike in the car at 4:30 so I could be at the office before 5:00 so I could go ride for 90 minutes so I could be suited up by 7:30 so I could be in court by 9:00. As I pedaled down Del Amo I felt the cold air try to chop through my long-sleeved jersey, but the jersey was insulated, and in addition I was wearing my latest winter cycling acquisition: a beard.
Beards never really caught on in cycling until cyclocrossers and hipsters began spreading the gospel about beer. The only other time a seriously bearded person raced a bike was the Russian in American Flyers, and he was the villain. No, it took skinny pants, mud, heckling, and beer (did I mention beer?) to finally get the attention of the sheeplish, conformist, baah-baahing road racing crowd. And even now beards are mostly frowned upon because, aero.
For me, beards were always unattainable, or so I thought, because I didn’t have a thick chest rug or a matted carpet of back hair. Growing up in the Burt Reynolds – Tom Selleck era, we learned the fundamental junior high equation: Man = Hair. Big Man = Hair x ShitTon. So, I was always a girl among gorillas because I just wasn’t hairy. My chest was smooth and sleek as a well-oiled bald head. My back sported nary a tuft of coarse man-hair. In fact, the only significant follicle activity I ever had on my chest was this long hair that grew out of my left nipple. I named him “Stan.”
Stan began growing when I was about fifteen, and he wasn’t in the least bit perturbed by the absence of fellow follicles. He grew steadily until I was about forty, when he reached the length of six inches. I could curl Stan around my finger so many times that he looked like a coiled spring. I loved that hair, and you can imagine how I felt when one day while twirling him I yanked him out by mistake. It was “Ouch!” + “I’ve just amputated a leg,” and now I don’t even have that one lonely strand.
Of course one time I tried to grow a mustache, but it wasn’t very successful. It looked like a big hairy caterpillar that someone had run over with a truck and then glued to my upper lip. I finally cut it off.
One day, though, several months ago, I decided to have a go at sideburns. These didn’t work out very well for the same reason that the chest hair thing didn’t succeed. But once I shaved them off, I decided to try and grow a little tuft on my chin. Imagine my surprise when it sprouted! Not just the four-or-five strand equivalent of my left nipple, but a genuine tuft of chin hair took root. More incredibly, the longer I left it alone, the more it grew until, a few months into the experiment, I wound up with a very solid clump of beard on my chin.
My dad always had a beard, ever since I was old enough to know what a beard was. And it wasn’t just any old beard, it was a left-wing, pinko, anti-establishment, nonconforming, Vietnam War hating, dope smoking, rabble rousing communist beard of the very first Karl Marx variety. Dad’s college students all had beards, except the women, who didn’t have bras. I would come to appreciate that earlier than most children my age. I suppose part of the reason it took me almost fifty years to grow one (a beard, not a bra) is because if Man = Hair, then Dad = Beard, and I grew up with serious authority issues.
Another anti-beard incentive was my brother Ian. He was a awash in testosterone by age eleven, and at fifteen was shaving twice daily. He didn’t work hard to grow a beard, he worked might and main not to grow one. His facial hair was so thick that the one time he went “commando beard” it made dad’s look like the scraggle on a Jack Russell terrier’s chin. And he grew it in, like, twelve hours.
But more than anything else, it was the bike. Eddy had mutton chops maybe, but Eddy didn’t wear no beard. And neither did Roger, or Bernard, or Sean, or Greg, or Fields. Men, especially bike men, were clean-shaven, lantern jawed specimens who wore their chins like they wore their shins: shaved and smooth. If it was good enough for Eddy, it was more than good enough for me.
As recently as two years ago I had no idea what a hipster was. The first time I heard someone say the word I thought they were talking about black dudes from the 70’s like I used to watch on Soul Train. I remember learning with incredulity that there was a class of bike riders who other bike riders disliked because they dressed in weird clothing, had bizarre affectations, were social snobs, took drugs, and were fanatical about their bike styles and brands. “That sounds exactly like roadies,” I remember thinking.
Of course I learned that hipsters had NOTHING in common with roadies, that they were completely and forever different and, like, totally opposite because … facial hair.
So, not so much out of solidarity as out of curiosity I grew some face fuzz. People went out of their way not to comment on it and I figured it was going to escape censure completely until one morning on the Kettle Ride, when Pretty Boy from San Francisco pedaled up. Pretty Boy is famous for being rich, pretty, single, and Rapha. He owns a fancy villa in Tuscany, trains in the summertime by doing swathes of the Tour (watches all the Alpine stages, natch), and has one of those cush doctor gigs where he doesn’t have to look at or talk to or touch sick people but still hauls in the dough.
“Hey, Wanky,” he said, staring at my raggedy patch of beard, which was now long enough to be streaked with big runs of gray. “You’re the last person I’d have ever expected to show up with ironic facial hair.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I kept on pedaling, but I thought it was a funny comment until I came home and saw an FB post about “ironic facial hair.”
“What in the world,” I wondered “is ironic hair?” So I Googled it and there it was in the Urban Dictionary: Ironic Facial Hair.
But was my facial hair ironic? Can hair even be ironic? And if it could, would a grown man use his beard as a literary device? Perhaps, because according to Professor Google, irony “is a statement in which the meaning that a speaker employs is sharply different from the meaning that is ostensibly expressed.”
By the time all these thoughts had crossed my mind I was whizzing down the bike path. The cold morning air was trying, and failing, to chill my face. Although it wasn’t much, the moderately dense outcropping on my chin broke the cold and warmed my face.
Is a face warmed by a non-Rapha beard ironic? I think not.
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