I looked down in disgust. This always happens. Every time. I can’t avoid it. It was the last nice pair of pants I owned. They were light khakis from the sale rack at Patagonia. 80 bucks marked down to 20. They fit well. They looked sharp with a sports coat. They were the last shroud of stylishness that I had left in my wardrobe. Now, they had a big, greasy chainring stain on the lower left leg.

Words: Andrew Juiliano/Image: Balint Hamvas

I’d no intention of ruining the garment. Can’t say I ever do. The task had seemed harmless enough. No need to change clothes merely to swap pedals. Plus, I was headed to a meeting and pressed for time. But some over-tightened threads had me standing on the Allen key (mechanics, please refrain from judgment). When the pedal broke free, my leg slipped across the chainring, smearing that black goop down the leg.

While I was disgusted, I can’t say I was surprised.  Every other piece of clothing I’ve owned, at some point or another, meets a similar fate. If it’s not bike grease, it’s tubular glue. If it’s not tubular glue, it’s mud and grass. Inevitably, my Sunday best will eventually be damned to the rag bin.

It’s not just my clothes. Cycling has, in one way or another, left its mark on every aspect of my life. There’s the scar on my right knee from my first cycling induced trip to the ER. That was at the age of six. Now, wrenches keys and shift cables sit on my nightstand. Piles of riding kits spill out of the closet onto the bedroom floor. More than 50 magazines sit on my bookshelf at home–the remnants of three years of working as the editor at a now defunct cycling publication. After the magazine folded, I moved to Belgium to become a professional bike racer.

For almost three decades I denied the hold that cycling had over me. I loved the sport. I loved the machines. I didn’t want to admit that it had so consumed my life.  I scoffed at those ex-pros who worked as director sportifs or marketing managers because “Cycling is the only thing I know.”

“How could you not know anything else?” I’d think. I didn’t want to have a silly sport–with its shaved legs, tight shorts and contorted pain faces–totally define me. As a young mountain bike rascal, I’d look at Masters racers with their smooth calves what I perceived as overly serious attitudes. They dedicated every spare moment to training and racing for glory that seemed harder to catch by the year. I’d think, “I’m never going to be like that!”

Now, at almost 30, I’m totally absorbed by my life as bike racer (though I’ve managed to keep the fur on my legs). I’m not sure what aversion I had to it, but I didn’t want cycling to be the only thing. I wanted balance. I ignored the fact that slowly but surely this two-wheeled sport infiltrated every aspect of my being.

I looked down again at the pants. The frustration didn’t last long. It never does any more. I’ve come to expect it. I’ll eventually get another pair of pants, and my bike will eventually stamp itself onto them too. I no longer even fight it. I’ve been branded by cycling, and that’s never going to change.