As a cyclist, there’s a feeling you get in the legs when you’ve spent 80 miles cat and mousing with you mates over hill and dale; or you’ve indulged in mid-ride coffee and cake, got a bit too cosy in the cafe, and now the road is heading upwards; or you’re trying desperately to build up some winter base mileage whilst simultaneously lavishing time and energy on family, work, and other life-related requirements?
There’s a phrase for that now:
Not a phrase I’d heard coined until it popped up as a search term on this very website (so, not coined exactly, as flung out into the ether to see what bites). In other words, someone typed “Rhubarb Legs” into Google and up popped ragtime cyclist…
…because of this post, of course.
Whoever typed “Rhubarb Legs” into the internet may well have been looking for a witty, razor sharp preview of Yorkshire’s 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart (rhubarb triangle and all) but more likely they’d had a light-bulb moment.
“My legs feel a bit funny after that ride”, I presume our mystery cycling fan was thinking, “they seem to have acquired the precise texture and shape of rhubarb.”
(i.e. bendy, wobbly, and not particularly useful.)
Our friend then surely realised they had hit on the perfect description for cycling related wobbliness in the legs: “Rhubarb Legs”.
The cycling media is full of verbose intellectual and poetic discourse on the nature of pain and suffering in our great sport, but thus far a good succinct definition of that feeling in the legs which follows 50 miles into a screaming headwind, followed by 40 minutes cradling a brew in a café, has eluded us.
And now we have it.
“It must have been coined before by one of the great sages of the sport?” our friend surely thought, assuming it was already part of the cycling lexicon. But no. A quick Google search later, and all that pops up is a throwaway piece on a cycling blog about rhubarb and mankini’s.
Not only does the phrase “Rhubarb Legs” do a good job of how the legs feel (and sometimes look) after a day long battle with the forces of physics, it is inherently comical too. To my mind there are few fruit or vegetables funnier than rhubarb.
I’m not talking laugh out loud side splitting funny – obviously, that would be weird. I would go so far as to say that if you ever see someone hanging around a rhubarb patch, alone, laughing, you should turn and walk away – madness is clearly at work.
But for reasons that it’s difficult to pin down, it’s funny nonetheless; something to do with it’s strange spelling and bendy nature, perhaps?
To further strengthen this unerring connection between cycling and rhubarb (!) I have to confess I once bought a job-lot of rhubarb and custard flavoured energy gels to keep my energy levels up mid-bike-ride.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: whatever sad consequences resulted from the purchase of a box of reduced price rhubarb and custard gels are fully deserved. There is a reason why this flavour of gel is not mainstream, and there is a reason why they were being sold by the box-full at a massively reduced price.
No one buys them.
I can confirm that, 90 miles into a big ride, when mind body and soul are in need of a little pick-me-up, a rhubarb and custard flavoured energy gel is not the answer. In fact, whatever the question is, it’s not the answer. On this particular day it almost killed off my flagging morale; particularly in the knowledge that the only alternative energy source available to me was the Bakewell Tart flavoured gel in my other jersey pocket (I know…same reason as the rhubarb one. Just to be clear, Bakewell Tart is the food of the gods…just not in gel form!)
I ended the ride with not only “Rhubarb Legs”, but an acidic rhubarb tang in my stomach and it’s sticky residue on my cycling mitts. Mercifully, the Bakewell Tart gel remained un-opened (and does to this day).
Despite the obvious unsuitability of rhubarb and custard as a mid-ride energy boost, some brief research suggests I may have got off lightly. Did you know that the leaves of this comical fruit/vegetable (the jury’s out) are, as it happens, slightly poisonous?
Sections of the British public found this out to their cost during World War 1 when advice was given to utilise the leaves as a cheap and available food source. The appalling flavour of my rhubarb and custard energy gel points to the very real possibility that a few leaves crept in there at some point; it appears that by avoiding a case of poisoning I may have got off lightly!
So there we go: depending on your point of view we either have:
a) a clear thread of the ongoing link between cycling and rhubarb, and a useful new phrase to describe the state of our legs, or
b) further damning evidence that given a couple of hours and a computer keyboard I can produce a blog post with even the most tenuous link to cycling!
Next time you find yourself propped up on the settee post-ride sporting a pair of legs which look and feel like they’ve been through a mangle, remember you are officially in possession of a set of “Rhubarb Legs”.
Just make sure you avoid those leaves.