Cyclocross Worlds in Fayetteville will be remembered for many things. Marianne Vos’s eighth World Championship in the discipline. Tom Pidcock’s Superman salute across the line. A big bloody set of stairs.
But perhaps the most unlikely star of the show was a spectator in the crowd. Throughout the men’s race, on the side of the track leaning enigmatically in front of a tree, was a bearded man with a pair of denim overalls and a cowboy hat. As the race went on, his shirt came off. Then a strap was unclipped:
By lap 3, there he stood, directly eyeballing the camera, one nipple playfully exposed, ignoring the racing and with his magnificence forcing the rest of the world to do the same thing.
By the final lap, it became clear that he was in on the joke when he struck a pose like Hulk Hogan or Usain Bolt:
Denim Overalls Guy was an instant hit on social media. My colleagues jokingly asked me to track him down for an investigative long-form feature. I joked back:
And that, I thought, would be that. But the internet works in mysterious ways. One connection to another, across different social media platforms, and somehow I was in contact with The Man, The Myth, the Denim Overalls Guy. A real person, with a real pair of denim overalls, who had heard through the grapevine that I was looking for him, and asked me to call him Big Ron.
Big Ron rides bikes, and has just moved to Arkansas, and seems to have a full and fun life. We ended up having quite a lovely conversation that started out being about jean shorts, but ended up being a gentle reflection on what it means to love bikes and cycling in your own way, to march to the beat of your own drum.
Maybe you’ll like it.
Iain Treloar: I appreciate you being willing to have what will probably be a strange conversation. I don’t know. We’ll see.
Big Ron: Alright.
IT: So obviously you were at Cross Worlds on the weekend and went low-key viral because of an excellent outfit you were wearing. I think it would be interesting to talk about that. First question is – with absolutely no judgement, because it’s a hell of an outfit and I love it – is this your normal attire, or was this a kind of costume?
Big Ron: It’s a little bit of both. Yes, I actually ride in that fairly regularly.
Big Ron: I started riding in jean shorts a number of years ago, and then Handup and all these other companies started making, like, performance jean shorts. I got a bit annoyed and thought about what I could wear that would be even more ridiculous than just regular jean shorts. And over the summer, I told my wife one day – “do you want to go to Abercrombie & Fitch with me?” She was super confused, but I went and bought some jean short overalls. And then I’ve been riding in those for the better part of the last six or seven months.
IT: So this is a riding ensemble? You rode to Worlds, and went out on course?
Big Ron: No, I didn’t ride there. I just … Cross is supposed to be weird, right? I was like, “Oh, I’ll put on my ridiculous jean short overalls and my cowboy hat and go spectate.”
IT: And this outfit – does it raise eyebrows? Obviously it did on the internet, but did it raise eyebrows on the weekend, walking around the track? Or was it of a piece with the environment?
Big Ron: Yeah, people are kind of staring at me. People are trying to discreetly take pictures of me, and I just kept staring at them waving so they couldn’t really get the photo that they wanted. People comment when I wear it usually, or are laughing, and when I ride in it, people usually give a thumbs up and say “Oh man, that’s awesome”.
IT: Which it is. You mentioned that it’s a ridiculous outfit, but there’s a level of intent behind it – it’s a knowing thing. To not be so serious about the clothing that you wear when you ride your bike.
Big Ron: Exactly.
IT: And to be non-conforming to the way that cycling clothing should be, or cyclists should look.
Big Ron: It’s a way to not take myself so seriously, and I think it just embodies more of the attitude that I want to have – when I’m out riding around and doing stuff, I want to have fun and I want to laugh and goof around. I started doing it because in the D.C. area [ed. where Big Ron used to live], there’s a lot of super Type-A people that take it incredibly seriously. So when you show up on a crappy singlespeed wearing jean shorts and just have fun and ride people down? It’s just a good way to, I think, maybe spread some of that.
IT: Yeah, I see that. It does seem to spread joy – from the weekend on social media, it seemed like there was a certain feeling of joy that the outfit brought to people … and this undercurrent of absurdity running through it, and not taking yourself too seriously – I find that quite nice.
Did you target a location so that you would be in the camera frame? Or was that just a happy accident?
Big Ron: It was sort of deliberate. I had a bunch of friends that were watching and asked, “are you going to be there? I’ll keep an eye out for you – wave to the camera.” And I was standing there during the earlier races in the day and I was like, “Oh, this is the perfect spot.” I was just standing there to make it easy for my friends to see me.
I was wearing a shirt for the first few laps but then I thought I’d take off my shirt and undo a button so there’s no way they can miss me. And then it just kind of blew up.
IT: You mentioned that you ride in this outfit. Run me through the performance properties of the jean shorts.
Big Ron: It’s guaranteed to give you 300 or 400 watts of FTP on top. And then it’s got a carrying pouch on the front, so you can put snacks in – that’s amazing. And like I said, it helps you have more fun. Hopefully if you can outride some people on incredibly expensive bikes that are out for a workout, you can make them rethink, maybe, some of their choices.
IT: Obviously it’s a strange question – a strange thing – to be fielding questions about a viral outfit you wore last weekend. And I guess one of the possibilities of this conversation with you could have been that you were some guy who was just confused, like, “uh, no… I’m just wearing my clothes.”
Big Ron: A local yokel. [laughter]
IT: Yeah. I mean, they are your clothes, and you’re happy wearing them. But it’s nice to find an interesting backstory that it’s more of an intentional choice – that says something about you as a person, that speaks to the way you live your life and ride your bike. That’s a nice little human story behind a pair of denim overall shorts.
Big Ron: The shorts behind the meme. [laughter]