Weeing and cycling - what up?
August 10, 2008 2:21 AM   Subscribe

What happens when marathon cyclists need to urinate during a race? Multi-part question follows.

Watching the men's marathon race in Beijing yesterday and knowing very little about the sport, I saw a bunch of male cyclists stop for a wizz on the side of the road at one point. Google also tells me that cyclists may also just wet themselves while riding, which is not fun for the people riding behind them. A friend told me that good riders know how to pee without getting their bike wet, which is apparently a bad thing to do (wetting the bike that is). My questions are:

1. Is it more common for riders to stop for a wee or just do it on the fly?
2. Where does weeing on the fly sit in the realm of okay-ness? What are the rules of etiquette in a marathon race situation?
3. If some riders stop but others wet themselves, how is this fair in the race?
4. When a bunch of riders do stop for it, how to they maintain their racing order? How do they all decide they're going to do it?
5. This is the most important question: what happens for female riders? How would they be able to stop and go on the roadside? How would they wet themselves while riding without getting the bike funky?
6. What sort of damage, if any, is done to a urine soaked bike?
posted by mooza to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
in long, multi-stage races, riders don't ride at top speed all the time. unless they're part of a breakaway or shooting for a prime they spend a lot of time in the peloton drafting and just keeping up. this is not to say they're going slow, of course - a pro cyclist going "slow" is travelling at over 40km/h - but one can easily stop for a bit and catch up again with the assistance of a teammate or by getting back into the peloton. often, you'll see riders crash or have a mechanical, and have no trouble catching up.

however, one famous story has greg lemond suffering a stomach virus. surrounded by domestiques (teammates), he grabbed someone's hat and rammed it down his shorts, trying to catch the inevitable... well, you know. it didn't work, apparently. no word on whether he gave the hat back.
posted by klanawa at 2:49 AM on August 10, 2008

of course, i didn't really answer any of your questions, so i'll answer this one:

6) top-level riders have their bikes rebuilt pretty much every day by professional mechanics. an ocean of urine won't hurt a bike in a few hours.
posted by klanawa at 2:51 AM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: I'm not a world-class cyclist -- I race at at the sub-pro level -- but I have done enough long races to be able to answer your questions with some first hand experience.

1. Both, depending on the situation. If the peloton is really going -- say, chasing down a breakaway or something -- you can roll up your shorts and hang on to a teammate and actually pee off to the side of the bike. More commonly, though, when the race is quiet and the pace not too high, a few riders will just pull briefly to the side of the road, do what they need to do, and then work together to get back into the bunch. In really big, long races, like stages of the Tour de France, sometimes the almost whole peloton will take a brief break to pee.

2. Totally part of the sport. In the US, public urination is against the rules and can get you disqualified, but the officials are usually understanding if you exercise discretion and don't do this when spectators are around. Obviously, if you pee on the fly, you need to get to the side of the road so you don't pee on other riders, which is NOT ok.

3. This doesn't generally happen and it's not really a matter of fairness. If you're in a position where stopping or not might cause you to lose the race, and you had to go badly enough, you'd just go and deal with it. But that's a pretty rare situation.

4. In a long race, racing 'order' is not relevant. If you're in the bunch it really doesn't matter if you're number 10 or number 30, it's easy to move up or move back (if, say, you want to get out of the wind and therefore do less work, you'd go to the back, if you want to challenge for a sprint or drive the pace, you'd go to the front of the bunch). You just stop, pee, then work your way back into the group.

5. This is a bigger problem for women than men, obviously. But women's races are generally much shorter than men's races, so the need to pee is less of an issue.

6. None. But bikes do not become urine-soaked because you generally do not pee ON your bike, you pee FROM your bike.

One other thing to remember is that in many races peeing is even less of an issue because it's often hot enough that it's hard to stay hydrated, no matter how much you drink. So you just don't have to pee.

ps. That story about the cap is actually about Tom Simpson: one of his domestiques when he was riding for the Peugeot team was surprised when Simpson demanded he hand over his brand new cycling cap. "You've got your own cap!" he told Simpson. Simpson replied: "I know, but I've got to take a $#!^ and I need something to wipe my ass." (Embarrassed for knowing -- and sharing -- that one.)
posted by dseaton at 3:42 AM on August 10, 2008 [7 favorites]

the longer the distance, the more inclined a runner/rider will be to duck to the side. releasing during a race isn't just bad for the person behind you, it also sticks to your legs, etc - and often you're washing away a layer of vaseline you applied to prevent painful chafing.

not all bodily functions are controlled during a race. the closer to exhaustion you get, the more likely an unexpected accident is to happen. I have seen people in races pee and crap themselves while running. bleeding, especially when you don't tape off your nipples, can also happen.

it is up to you what you do, so no racing order will be maintained. this isn't like a sanctioned yellow-flag event like you're imagining. same goes for picking up water/gatorrade. it's up to you if you want to slow down and grab some.
posted by krautland at 3:58 AM on August 10, 2008

Also in the Tour de France, it's an unspoken tradition to not attack during a bourgeois naturale. This means if the peloton (the main pack of riders) stops to pee, courtesy dictates that you don't decide that this is the most strategic moment to start hauling ass off the front. It might be a good idea tactically, but it's simply not done, and definitely won't win you any favors in the cycling world.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:46 AM on August 10, 2008

During the Women's road race for the Olympics, three or four girls broke away for a roadside pee; one girl was standing upright and lifting the side of her shorts, and the other two were squatting. All delightfully captured by various cameras as all the cars whizzed past. A small example, but at least helps to answer part of one of your questions. My boyfriend and I had been having the exact same conversations about cyclists and urinary practices this afternoon.
posted by chronic sublime at 5:01 AM on August 10, 2008

Wiki has this interesting section about the tour:
The riders temper their competitiveness with an elaborate but unwritten code of conduct and superstition. When possible, a rider is allowed to lead through his village or on his birthday. It is considered unsporting to attack a leading rider delayed by misfortune. Attacking a rider who is taking un besoin naturel ("a natural need", urinating) or attacking at all in the feed zone is not seen as sporting. Not sticking to these customs can lead to animosity. Unless the final stage is a time trial, or the gap between the top two is close, riders generally do not attack on the final stage, leaving the leader to bask in glory. Other numerous superstitions exist such as the rider who has to wear the race number 13 is allowed to wear one number 13 upside down to cancel the bad luck of having number 13 on his back. Riders will not shave on a day they expect to make a great effort though they will still shave their legs. Riding a green bike is considered unlucky.
So, I guess where they can, when they can.
posted by oxford blue at 6:29 AM on August 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Caught in the act: http://www.paperblog.fr/882761/un-petit-besoin-naturel/
posted by oxford blue at 6:31 AM on August 10, 2008

screencap from the TdF (nsfw)
posted by pjenks at 6:40 AM on August 10, 2008

Subtlety, or wearing bibs, dictates hiking up the garment leg and peeing down and to the side. It's definitely a learned skill.

Olympic triathlon (ITU) allows drafting on the bike leg. The rest of triathlon sees drafting on the bike as unfair for a solo sport. (Drafting turns the bike leg into nothing but a contest of who can ride with the front peloton, since being in the pack can save over 50% of your effort.)

There are non-ITU-rule triathletes who, upon noticing someone drafting them, let fly without warning. "Sorry, I had to pee. Why were you so close to me?"
posted by lothar at 9:51 AM on August 10, 2008

In the US, public urination is against the rules and can get you disqualified, but the officials are usually understanding if you exercise discretion and don't do this when spectators are around.

I've worked on staff for many races (Tour de Georgia, Philly race week, etc) and I can attest that this is in the Tech Guide for every event. I drove a Mavic neutral support car in a race and we had to attend a driver's meeting, where the drivers of the team cars were given similar instructions.

Also, thirding "besoin naturel."
posted by fixedgear at 12:30 PM on August 10, 2008

you don't stop, you keep pedaling, take out your dick and pee over to the side

it's a classic trick, if you stop you're a lamer
posted by matteo at 12:46 PM on August 10, 2008

It happens. The racing teams and the peloton has an etiquette to these things. If your GC rider needs to pass a bit water, then you hold his bike and he aims away from the chainrings.

The peloton does not tolerate riders who attack while someone is busy with un besoin naturel. The amusing story of French rider Dante Coccolo is a good example of why you don't mess with peloton etiquette.

In sort of related, and quite infamous, Tour de France bathroom story, Bob "Bobke" Roll tells of his misadventures with bib shorts.
posted by 26.2 at 1:01 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Whoa - what? Drafting? What's a GC rider?

So even if it's rarer, are female riders known to pee off the side of their bike (really struggling to visualise how this might work/look)?

And I'd forgot about marathon runners.

Thanks for the responses everyone!
posted by mooza at 3:51 PM on August 10, 2008

Response by poster: Scratch the drafting and GC question - read the Danta Coccolo article and got it.
posted by mooza at 3:58 PM on August 10, 2008

Someone sort of mentioned this above, but peeing isn't much of an issue for many riders. I'm not a biker, but I've run in very long distance races, and if you time things right, you pee at the beginning of a race, and then don't have to pee during the race most of the time. If you are sweating nearly all of the water you take in goes towards replacing lost fluids - not much urine is produced. It depends on the person - I've never had to stop during a race, while some people stop 2 or 3 times.
posted by btkuhn at 8:00 PM on August 10, 2008

Thanks, 26.2, that was a pretty cool read.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 9:17 AM on August 14, 2008

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