Ferret Legging Vs. Cyclocross
Everything I know about the bizarre and painful sport of Ferret Legging I have learned from a 1987 article for Outside Magazine by Donald Katz on the subject of Reg Mellor – “The King of The Ferret Leggers.” Everything I know about the bizarre and painful sport of Cyclocross I have learned…while competing in two or so seasons of the bizarre and painful sport of Cyclocross. In both cases I already know far more than I would like to and shall cease any further research. What I do know is that ferret legging is not entirely dissimilar from cyclocross.
Ferret Legging is basically, as Katz describes, “the tying of a competitor’s trousers at the ankles and the insertion into those trousers of a couple of peculiarly vicious fur-coated carnivores called ferrets.”
Cyclocross is, in my definition, “ the riding of a hybrid bicycle in circles (much too hard), in a park or schoolyard, in bad weather, and the getting off of that bicycle for no good reason other than to pick it up and carry it over a couple of sideways wooden planks while drunk people clang cowbells at you.”
Both sports entail potential damage to the male genitalia. In cyclocross an ill-executed remount onto the saddle can result in a devastating blow to “the Netherlands.” In ferret legging, the ferrets or “piranhas with feet” have full access to the male bits and pieces. As Reg Mellor describes: "I had 'em hangin' from me tool for hours an' hours an' hours! Two at a time-one on each side. I been swelled up big as that!" [As Reg pointed to a five-pound can of instant coffee].
Damage to the flesh of the legs is inherent in both disciplines. Cyclocross racers choose to forego donning leg warmers or tights (or even stylish sheepskin ass-less chaps) in cold weather. Opting instead to smear “embrocation,” (essentially pepper-spray – the ointment!) on their calves and quads, creating a low-grade chemical burn which provides the illusion of warmth. Ferret leggers thighs are cross-hatched with scars left by the hypodermic needle-like claws of the dirty-white animals they choose to stuff in their trousers.
According to UCI and USAC regulations cyclocross racers are precluded from using performance enhancing substances or “dope.” Ferret Leggers too are not allowed the use of dope (in their case they would likely opt more for the pain-killing variety of dope). Reg Mellor reminds us: “The ferrets must have a full mouth o' teeth. No filing of the teeth; no clipping. No dope for you or the ferrets. You must be sober, and the ferrets must be hungry-though any ferret'll eat yer eyes out even if he isn't hungry."
One of Reg Mellor’s contributions to the sport was the implementation of white trouser use (“shows the blood better”). Many cyclocross racers in the US have adopted the style of European cyclocross champions – the wearing of all white skin-suits (“shows the mud better”).
Reg describes ferrets as: "cannibals, things that live only to kill, that'll eat your eyes out to get at your brain at their worst, and untrustworthy at their very best.” This pretty accurately describes most cyclocross racers I know as well.
Cyclocross racers trousers are tight, very tight, that is the nature of skin-suit unitards made of lycra. There is no room in there for a ferret to run around and bite the wearer repeatedly. Conversely a ferret legger’s trousers must be loose, as Reg reminds us: “it's no good with tight trousers, mind ye. Little bah-stards have to be able to move around inside there from ankle to ankle." If a cyclocross racer stuck a ferret down his skin-suit the little bugger would be pinned down with just two options:
a.) burrow out through the lycra side.
b.) burrow out through the leg side.
Maybe giving the ferrets more real estate to “de-value” isn’t such a bad thing.
Ferret leggers stand in one place grimacing and sweating and being in horrible, horrible pain. Cyclocross racers ride around in manic circles…grimacing and sweating and being in horrible, horrible pain; which is the polar opposite of standing in one place and doing those exact same things.
There is a huge disparity in the duration of the events. Cyclocross races last for 45 to 60 minutes. Ferret legging competitions (at least when Reg is there) can span upwards of five or six hours. A cyclocross racer could continue riding after the hour mark, but eventually the course tape would get pulled down, the barriers would get pulled up, and he’d find himself riding a hybrid bicycle in circles around a park or schoolyard by himself, without even the drunk cow bell clanging people to give him the false sense that what he’s doing isn’t completely, um… differently-abled.
At first glance these two sports might not seem at all alike, but under closer scrutiny it is obvious that cyclocross and ferret legging are not just “not entirely dissimilar,” but virtually identical. The only real difference between the two is the tightness of the participant’s trousers (I sure am glad we’re using brit-speak because “participants pants” would have sounded clunky); the duration of the event; and the amount of ground covered during the event. That and in cyclocross there is slightly less likelihood (barring a freak occurrence) of having your reproductive organs gnawed off by an animal.