Once upon a time there was a mythical epoch in cycling called Back in the Day.
BITD everything was halcyon and good. Bikes were steel therefore real, rims were aluminum, tars were called sew-up because they were sewed up, people rode for the pure love of sport, no one ever doped, there were no computers or Stravver, a cell phone was called a mobile phone and weighed thirty pounds, and custom clothing meant your pants had a leather chamois that chafed your parts into blistering, oozing sores which you hardly minded, or, after 100,000 miles, transformed your undercarriage into a tough leathery hide suitable for making boots.
BITD the people were all Hard Men, especially the women, century meant a hundred Imperial miles, fondo was spelled with a “ue” at the end instead of an “o” and meant “melted cheese,” and everyone all the time rode in the harshest of conditions on primitive equipment which they enjoyed, cherished, and knew how to rebuild from the forge up. Helmets were worn by astronauts and it was more important to have a jaunty cotton cap than a full set of functioning brains.
And wool. BITD everyone wore wool, like sheep, only more colorful.
But what made BITD riders truly different from the spoiled, whiny brats of today was the food. BITD people ate real food. It had common names like “banana” (50 miles or less), and “peanut butter sammich” (50 miles or more). There were other kinds of food, but you ate them at dinner seated in a chair with your family. Inside your water bottle was a special elixir that always combined, exactly, two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen atom. When it was all gone you filled it from a spigot or a hose.
It is true that there were convenience stores but they were inconvenient stores, never located anywhere near that point of 20 miles past your last drop of water and swallow of banana, i.e. “bonk.” When you had a 50-mile ride or longer, you packed your own food, that, is, a peanut butter sammich. Some people tried fancy things like rice crackers because they were on a cyclist diet, but they never did that more than once or twice because of bonk.
BITD people bonked all the fuggin’ time. Bonk was like the curse of the Hope diamond, following you around waiting to smite you dead the minute you miscalculated and ran out of sammich.
Some people carried large pieces of fruit like apples but never more than once or twice because of weight, the round bulge that pushed against your back, the difficulty of swallowing, and the unbearable painfulness of ridicule. BITD ride food was a careful and primary consideration. There was nothing you could scoop a handful of at the bike shop and jam into your water-bottle-shaped toolkit because no one had invented a water-bottle-shaped toolkit, second, and no one had invented Barbie food, first.
No one ever offered you any food when you bonked because that smushed up, sweat soaked, stinking lump of sammich was going to get them home, not you, and why should they be the one who bonked just because you were a poor planner? In the late phase of BITD was invented the granola bar, a revolution and the first true Barbie food but one that never caught on too much because it was expensive, about twenty cents a bar, for which you could make six PB sammiches, so why would you spend more to get less?
BITD, less didn’t only mean money although that is mostly what it did mean. BITD, less also referred to “not worth a shit.” The granola bar was less than the PB sammich because it evaporated in the metabolic furnace of your gut like straw in a steel smelter, whereas the pb sammich stayed around like a 200-lb. sandbag in the bottom of your outdoor burger grill. Why would you spend more money to get less energy?
That’s easy. BITD, you wouldn’t.
Enter the Barbie
I don’t know when Barbie food was invented, the proper kind that comes in a squeeze tube, jolts you for fifteen minutes, then leaves you on a jagged crying breakdown like a cruel ex-girlfriend who sends you photos of her and her new guy, but one day there wasn’t any Barbie food and the next day everyone was sucking it up with less thought and more eagerness than Internet news.
But I do remember who named it “Barbie food.”
That was Dan Seivert, a/k/a “Bull.” We were slogging along PCH one day, a hundred miles into a ride whose end was nowhere in sight.
“Fuck, I am hungry,” he said.
I reached into my back pocket and handed him a gel.
Bull shook his head. “Dude,” he said, “that Barbie food ain’t gonna do the trick.”
Shortly thereafter he bonked, and because he was a good friend I ate the gel and left him.
When I got home I went into my drawer and threw away all my Barbie food. It was like throwing away two hundred dollars, me, a guy who has never thrown away a dime except for that one time I bought a Felt whose front was aluminum and whose rear triangle was carbon. I still remember the sight of it bouncing along the shoulder of the freeway as I tossed it out going 85.
That probably makes me a litterbug. It probably also means that if we’re on a long ride and you run out of food, you can ask for a bite of my pb sammich. But you aren’t going to get any.
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