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Dear Frank : Nature breaks

Frank Strack
8 May 2015

Frank Strack: arbiter of cycling etiquette from the Velominati and curator of 'The Rules' considers the mid-ride call of nature.

Dear Frank toilet break

Dear Frank

After a horrifying incident involving a guy on our club run attempting to relieve himself while keeping pace with the group, I wonder if there is a Rule regarding ‘natural breaks’ on a ride? Ben, by email

Dear Ben

One evening in July 1986, Greg LeMond, his wife and Andy Hampsten stole off to the kitchen of a dingy hotel somewhere in France and set about making themselves a Mexican dinner. The Tour de France can be a lonely place, and having food that reminds oneself of the comforts of home can be a tremendous boost to morale.

Twelve hours later, LeMond rode up alongside a team-mate and demanded his casquette. Not for shade from the sun, mind – the improvised dinner the night before was proving to be a gift that kept giving. He pulled his bibshorts down and let loose into the cap. It overflowed and the mess went where messes go when you’re riding your bike at full speed in the peloton.

Once at the finish line, LeMond searched hurriedly for a latrine and, unable to find one, relieved himself into a box of promotional banners for his team-mate Bernard Hinault. The fallout was eventually cleaned up and LeMond went on to win the Tour de France that year, no worse for the experience. When the stakes are high, we sometimes need to sacrifice our dignity for the sake of the greater prize. When General Washington defeated the redcoats, many a soldier soiled their pantaloons for the cause. And when Caesar took Gallia, there must have been a centurion or two who crapped their tunic. History records the end, not the means.

I have to admit, I am grateful to have been born in an era where the stakes are sufficiently low that shitting my pants for ‘the greater good’ is rarely required, although there was an unfortunate incident on a plane ride from Bangalore to Delhi where I was unable to live up to that standard. The wonders of indoor plumbing have been mastered, and toilet paper has evolved beyond a wad of leaves or, barring that, a bare left hand.

Cycling is a tough sport; a race waits for no one. History recalls the victor, not the rider who pulled over and politely relieved themselves behind a hedgerow. But even in the Tour de France, the race generally slows down and waits for those who have to filter some of their morning coffee. The riders will pull off in droves while the bunch slows to a crawl in order to afford fellow competitors an opportunity to catch back on. But pity the rider who needs to answer the call of nature when the race is afoot; tough choices will need to be made.

I will take a moment to note that at no point have I made mention of ‘the club run’. There is no circumstance under which any rider of any category in any club of any stature cannot afford to pull to the side of the road to perform this basic task. Any group gallop that involves a mid-ride espresso break surely can afford a few minutes to ease off while a sampling of desperate riders takes a whizz. Most clubs even manage to coordinate the two.

A Rule for nature breaks on club runs?
I am horrified at the need to even address the matter, to be honest. Nature breaks should be taken in nature or in the latrine, unless the Tour de France is at stake, in which case you should try to crap on your team leader’s smiling face, if you can manage it.

Frank Strack is the creator, and curator, of The Rules. For futher illumination see velominati.com and find a copy of his book The Rules in all good bookshops. You can email your questions for Frank to cyclist@dennis.co.uk

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