I knew I had entered the Twilight Zone when the pilot came over the intercom to tell us the flight was running late but that he would "pedal as fast as he could to get us to Las Vegas on time."
There was something about the word "pedal" that made me look around. We were on our way to Vegas for Interbike -- North America's largest bicycle trade show.
In the seats that surrounded us, I noticed the plane was full of unusually fit and slightly weathered men who even in plain clothes screamed, "My closet is full of spandex."
Sprinkled among them were regular citizens -- making their Ameri-haj to the loudest, brightest and most depressing city in the United States.
As I ogled the plane passengers, I began to discover the talent I would hone during the rest of my trip to Vegas -- the ability to sort cyclists from noncyclists.
As the plane descended, we watched an incredible sunset over the desert, offering us the last bit of nature not made of plastic or wrapped in lights that we would see for the next few days. We dropped off our luggage and took a cab to a sushi restaurant that a former Vegas resident had recommended.
I ordered a few rolls and relaxed into my chair, thinking we were far from Steamboat. Then my pupils adjusted to the light of the room, and we saw Steamboat's finest, Kent Erikson and Katie Lindquist.
I looked around and realized the place was flooded with bike nerds from across the country. The staff of Dirt Rag mountain bike magazine (or at least a group who love to advertise Dirt Rag mountain bike magazine) was downing sake one table over. The rest of the room, I quickly noticed, was full of various tentacles of the cycling industry.
After that, I amused myself with a "Where's Waldo" search for cyclists among the masses everywhere we went.
In Vegas, this was an easy task. Most of the tourists were doughy Midwesterners wearing front-facing fanny packs and elastic waistbands or chain-smoking retirees from Arizona with skin the shade and texture of bacon.
Cyclists stood out like a K-Mart shopper in Aspen.
After seeing them out of their natural environment, I have put together a guide to help you spot cyclists in a place such as Steamboat, where they so easily blend into the general population. The difference between a bike nerd and the rest of humanity is subtle, and this list is pure amateur anthropology.
1. Zero body fat. Forget counting carbs. Living on a diet of Powerbars and Cytomax while embarking on daily rides up Emerald Mountain, along the loop from Oak Creek to Hayden or up Rabbit Ears Pass is the best way to develop that zero body fat look advertised, well, everywhere.
2. The man purse. I'm not sure what they are all carrying, but no cyclist is complete without a messenger bag or a variation of it thrown over one shoulder. What kind of stuff do cyclists need that the average man seems to be able to keep in his pockets? Copies of VeloNews? More Powerbars? Bike parts? Duct tape?
3. The tan line. This is harder to detect unless you are at the pool and see the blinding white unitard under every cyclist's clothes. They have a dark tan that extends an inch above the elbow and an inch above the knee. If clothed, some cyclists can be identified by the "dork dot" on their hand created on the area of flesh exposed to the sun by the average bike glove.
4. Ankle socks. No matter how they dress, even the buttoned-up, khaki-wearing cyclists that I saw wore ankle-length athletic socks with some variation of the sailing sandal or the cross trainer.
5. Clean cut. Unlike rock climbers, for example, cyclists tend to keep their hair short, their faces shaven and their bodies showered. Maybe it's a byproduct of leg shaving, but cyclists are groomers.
6. Untucked. Although they are clean cut (see above), every cyclist I saw, without exception and no matter the style of fashion worn, did not tuck in his or her shirt.
7. The lingo. Because I was not wearing an untucked shirt, carrying a messenger bag or maybe because I don't even own a bike, I was not hip to the slang of the cyclerati. I heard constant reference to the 29ers, and I get the feeling that if you don't mention 29ers at least once in a conversation among cyclists, you might be pecked to death, or at least not get invited to the after party.