RECENTLY I toyed with the idea of becoming a serious cyclist. I wasn't interested in the body-hugging shorts or the fancy bikes. What attracted me was the grub.
When you are a real cyclist, you get to put on the feed bag, to chow down, to eat second, even third helpings without remorse.
One morning, I visited a stop on the Cycle Across Maryland tour, an annual weeklong ride through the Maryland countryside. I arrived in the cafeteria in Frederick Douglass High School in Prince George's County about 8:30 a.m. just as breakfast - a three-hour affair - was ending. I was told that when breakfast started at 5:30 in the morning, hungry riders had been waiting in the cafeteria line, their silverware at the ready.
This was not a whole-wheat toast and cup-of-coffee breakfast crowd. Instead, the cyclists - almost 500 of them - had started the day polishing off cereal, sliced ham, scrambled eggs with cheese, hash brown potatoes, muffins, fruit cups and a variety of beverages including juice and coffee.
Rick Rogers, supervisor of a group of about 40 high school parents who fed the cyclists during the Prince George's County leg of the tour, said he had been warned that cyclists are big eaters. He had even made reconnaissance trips down to Lusby and Pomfret - earlier stops on the tour in Southern Maryland - to watch the cyclists feed. Nonetheless, Rogers was impressed by the group's enthusiastic approach to mealtime.
"We had been told that you take a normal portion and increase it by 75 percent for a cyclist," Rogers said. "We found that to be true. And then some."
He proceeded to tell me the tale of the amazingly big fajita.
To feed normal folks, you give them a fajita that contains 6 ounces of chicken and trimmings, he said. Based on reconnaissance work, it seemed likely that it would take at least 10 ounces of fajita to keep a cyclist happy.
So Rogers super-sized the fajita, bumping up the portion to 16 ounces. The cyclists, he said, lapped it up. "There were 125-pound women consuming a 1-pound fajita, then coming back for more," he said.
Moreover, he said, when cyclists hit the chow line, there are few leftovers. "There is very little waste, no food tossed in the trash cans," he said.
The cyclists were able to eat gigantic meals because they pedal about 50 miles a day, thereby burning about 5,000-6,000 calories - twice an adult's typical daily caloric burn. That is what Shawn Chalk and Tami Karwacki told me. They are Cycle Across Maryland staffers and have logged many miles and many meals.
They offered me a few tips on how to eat like a cyclist. Pancakes, they said, are popular breakfast fare because they are high in carbohydrates. In other words, pancakes put fuel in the tank of the furiously pedaling cyclist.
A few days after visiting the Cycle Across Maryland feeding site, I went to the beach with my family for vacation. There I tried to adopt the cycling lifestyle, sorta. I rode a bike, a vintage three-speed Raleigh, about a mile into town to buy newspapers. Then I rode back to the beach house and ate an enormous breakfast that included a big stack of buttermilk pancakes.
By the end of my vacation, I had mastered the big-breakfast part of the cycling routine. As the part where you cycle 50 miles a day - I am still about 49 miles short.