Having to pee during or around a bike race is one of those bothersome yet necessary tasks that likely won’t improve performance, but can ruin it if you don’t address it properly. One year at a popular opening season race in Central California, the line for the porta-potties was five times longer than the registration line. As race starts neared, racers had to decide whether to stand in the outhouse line or get a warm up. So many riders gave up on waiting in the ridiculously long line that the nearby orange grove looked like a giant game of hide and seek with riders ducking behind trees to relieve themselves.
Nerves and cooler temperatures are likely to make riders in the early season races more prone to the urge to “void,” says urologist and cyclist Karl Westenfelder, MD of Five Valleys Urology in Missoula, MT. “When anxious and amped for an event, the bladder is rather contracted and holds less urine in a comfortable fashion, giving a false sensation that it’s full.” This helps explain why there are always many more pee stops during early season racing.
How do you help ensure you won’t find yourself 20 minutes into the race and having to “go?” Make your trips to the outhouse a part of your pre-race routine, whether you need to go or not. This takes a lot of stress and guesswork out of warming up. For instance, arrive, seek out the porta-potties, register, do a preliminary warm-up, and stand in the bathroom line again. By the time you get to the front of the line, you will likely need to go or at least you’ll have the peace of mind that your bladder is empty at the start. Focusing on the task of racing will also help distract from any urge to urinate.
When you gotta go after the start…
But what do you do when you find yourself in the race having the urge? Keep in mind that the first sensation to void is usually a long way from maximum capacity. Yet, holding it or leaving the race becomes more and more of a necessity as promoters crack down on public urination in order to keep from “pissing off” neighbors and businesses in proximity to the race course. So, what about holding it? “It’s pretty tough to cause any sort of damage to your bladder or urinary tract by simply putting off urinating, assuming you have a healthy urinary tract to begin with and you’re not putting it off on a regular basis,” says Westenfelder. “You can cause some generalized cramping of the bladder and other pelvic muscles if you wait too long to go which can give you that uncomfortable ‘stomach ache’.”
Next, know that no matter how much you sweat, once the bladder is full, further sweating won’t reduce the urge to urinate. If you feel a need to pee that can’t be put off during the race, guaranteed there is someone else in the pack who feels the same way. Usually, just vocalizing loudly enough that you’re going to stop will prompt others to join you. If the pace is slow to moderate, it’s likely that a group can stop in an inconspicuous place, go, and then chase back on together. Particularly if you are a woman and there are others going by on the course, you may have to adopt the “if I can’t see them, they can’t see me” attitude and pretend you’re alone. It’s either that, or you may soon find yourself alone off the back if stage fright has you taking your time! If bib shorts are your shorts of choice, a full-zip jersey is a necessity for undressing and redressing speed.
For men, peeing in the peloton is a possibility in motion. Necessities are a flat area of the course out of the main public view, consideration for the wind direction, and a willing teammate or buddy who can give you a push on the back of your saddle or hip while you stand and turn to the other (downwind) side, keeping one hand on the bars, one leg braced against the top tube, and your eyes looking ahead. Depending on the tightness of your riding shorts, you can either role up the short leg or reach through the top of the bib short. This can generally be done at the back of the pack without repercussion from officials as long as you choose an area away from homes or businesses.
The last resort … in your shorts
Peeing in your shorts. It can happen…. For most it is a last resort when the pace is high and no one else is willing to stop. It can take hurdling a huge mental barrier to pee in the saddle, but those who’ve managed to do it once usually have no problem doing it again. To try it, choose a slight downhill where you will keep some momentum. A hint is to put your weight on one foot, unclip your other foot, and bend the knee of your unclipped leg so that the flow of liquid will spill off your knee instead of running down into your shoe. It also helps prevent the undesirable liquid “rooster tail” behind you, a fact much appreciated by your pack mates, who should all be ahead of your front wheel at this point anyway out of both courtesy and safety.
So there it is, the low down on peeing in the peloton. I know what you’re thinking… I’ve completely skipped the second (or “number two”) part of the equation. For most, voiding solid waste is something they won’t have to face on the bike. It’s difficult to race without a pre-race evacuation or “PRP” (pre-race-poo), and nerves are usually enough to take care of this. It will usually be an extreme situation when you cannot hold solid waste on the bike. In this case, you usually have two options: stopping, or deciding that the race result is more important than your modesty. If it’s a National or World Championship on the line, no disrespect will be offered to the athlete who gives everything, and I mean everything, out on the course!
- Park as near as possible to the porta-potties. It’s easier to go when you are near your vehicle and can shed clothing there instead of on the ground or doing the bib-short dance in the outhouse.
- Keep toilet paper or baby wipes in your car always. Races will nearly always run out of TP, particularly if your race begins later in the day. Being prepared means less stress!
- Pin your number to your jersey BEFORE you put it on. You never want to find out in the outhouse or on the road that your number is pinned to your bib shorts.
- If you are in a stage race, approach the team of the GC leader about any stop. With GC leader’s presence or approval on the pee stop, there are unlikely to be attacks, and you will have strong riders to help chase back. This works the same way with the stronger teams in one-day races.
Remember that coffee and the myriad of caffeinated products cyclists consume increase the urgency and frequency of the necessity to urinate. If you have issues with urination timing, you may consider cutting back on your pre-race caffeine.
Head Coach Kendra Wenzel has been tackling all kinds of cycling questions since 1994.Have a question for our coaches? Ask on our Q & A Coach Forum
Originally published in Velonews. Updated for 2015.