Inspirations

My riding is pretty routine. If I’m honest, I am more commuter (Cat II) than anything else. Two small children, a marriage, a day job, etc., eat away at ride time until there’s little left but the 45 minutes back and forth to the office.

They are 45 good minutes.

Most days I ride an ancient, steel Moser, a beast of a bike by modern standards. It has a shortish top tube that yields a strangely upright riding position. This is a bike made to commemorate the Italian’s capture of the hour record (51.151 km) in 1984, though it rides a lot more like a classics bike. When I’m riding it, I envision Francesco in his brutish posture, hands on the hoods, torso bobbing, mud spattered, his boxer’s face contorted into a grimace. I am only half the man on the bike (perhaps just a third), but the bike fills me with that crazy hero-worshipping desire to go fast.

When it rains, I’m Jens Voigt. Like everyone’s favorite breakaway artist, I love the rain. I run hot, so the minute the wet stuff starts to fall, I get a burst of energy that causes me to take turns much faster than prudence dictates. I imagine I’m out on a breakaway. I peek back over my shoulder, as if there is some marauding peloton ready to swallow me up. Mostly there are just cars and buses, occasionally a college kid on a crappy mountain bike.

I am no kind of sprinter, but a yellow light is an invitation beyond my capacity to resist. There is, after all, a stage win at stake. I channel Sean Kelly, not a pure sprinter, but a combative one, an opportunist, the sort of guy who wouldn’t shirk the responsibility of making a traffic light if it was at all possible.

When I was a kid, one of my heroes was Evel Knievel, swashbuckling super hero on a Harley. Quite why he took to jumping his bike over cars and buses I don’t know, but I do know that my eight-year-old self always imagined himself a BMX riding equivalent. I have a long history of Walter Mitty-style day dreaming.

It’s embarrassing to admit that, at 38, I am pretending to be a retired Italian cyclist for nearly an hour-and-a-half every day, except, of course, for the times I’m pretending to be a German hammer or a red-white-and-blue clad daredevil.

The truth is I have no real interest in commuting by bicycle. Commuting is mundane. It lacks sex appeal.

I would much rather turn the hill (steep bump really) that leads to my house into the Poggio, the Tourmalet or the Gavia Pass. I greatly prefer to imagine the straight, wide road that carries me down to the river is actually the run-in to the Velodrome in Roubaix. I ride the wheels of unwitting fellow commuters as though we’re running a team time trial. I take my pulls very seriously, even though, mostly, they just drift off the back, uninterested in whatever game I’m playing.

What I do, riding back and forth, back and forth, every day, all year, in all weather, year after year, is hard. In many ways, I think the commuter is more noble than the pro racer. We do what we do with no hoopla. There is no finish line to cross. Ours is a stage race with an infinite number of stages.

In order to keep going, I take my inspiration wherever I can get it. I glance down at the decals on my old, steel beast, and I ride a little harder. Francesco wouldn’t let me ride his bike any other way.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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13 comments

  1. Burns

    Amen Brother!

    At 47 I race shadows, never very fast, but willing to work hard for anyone that is slower than me. Always chasing down imaginary breakaways, looking over my shoulder for the peloton that is too close, using all my energy on the last hill home as if it were for a podium finish. Dreaming of being faster, always getting slower.

    I’d be a commuter too but there is no reasonable route to work.

    My father commuted most of his working life…even in the Upstate NY winters when roads were reasonably passable…for 30+ years, each ride ending with a 500′ climb with an old single speed Schwinn. Nearing the end of his career was hit by a snowplow and tossed over his handle bars, 20 stiches in his rear end and a chipped elbow. 3 days later when he could get out of bed, he went to check on his bike to see if it was ok. He was back riding within two weeks.

    Commuter’s are a tough breed.

  2. todd k

    I wouldn’t feel embarassed Robot. There are far far worse things for a man of 38 to be doing with his time.

    Ironically, with two kids both under 3, I found myself in the opposite position and had to actually give up commuting by bike. Every family dynamic is different and for my family it just doesn’t work currently to have me commute by bike each day and simultaneously keep the balance for the other family members. I miss it in the fall as I like riding in the dark in the rain while prepping for cross season. It is only by some grace of luck that I am fortunate to have a job that has some flexibility in how I spend my daily hours, an employer that priortizes fitness, and live in an area that provides quick accessible riding opportunities in the middle of the day. Otherwise I’d be a bit hosed at getting on the bike at all. It also doesn’t hurt that I have access to a great racing environment that affords me plenty of opportunities to race on the odd weekday evening.

    I do hear the notion of the “nobility of the commuter”. There is a lot less baggage and mental freedom when you can simply ride a bike instead of incessently planning and fretting about details that emphasize making each ride on the bike mean something from a fitness perspective. Because I spend so much time arduously shoe horning my time on the bike to fit where it can while alwasy trying to (futilely, mind you,) make every ride mean something to optimize fitness during that all too brief time, I often find that what I miss most is just riding for the sake of riding.

  3. Cat237

    At the end of every ride, I ride through the University of Miami campus where there is a stretch of pavers that I channel into the cobbles on the Champs d’Elysee. Every ride, every finish ends in a heads up sprint for the line!

  4. Champs

    My situation is much the same, except I treat myself to a fancier ride; after all, it’s my main bike. Where it differs is that I’m rarely the lone bike on the road/trail, so the “race” isn’t always imaginary. On some days you see a pair of muscular shaven calves up ahead and catch, but on others, they pass you in a blur.

    I know it’s corny, but it’s true… as long as I’ve pushed myself, it’s a win.

  5. Michael

    As mentioned in a previous post here many moons ago, most of my riding comes from commuting as well. I find both comfort and challenge in all my commutes. I see my form build over the season, from the first rides of early spring where the legs are screaming on every sharp hill (and boy are their lots of those in my neighbourhood!) to the now mid-summer rides where those very hills that I dreaded I know tackle with reckless abandon as I motor up them with relative ease.

    When i see the progress from a 39/25 to a 39/17 for one particularly long, steady uphill drag I feel pretty good about where my commuting takes me, and I vary my routes each and every day on both legs to keep it fresh. Thankfully, I live in an area where the possibilities to shorten or extend my commute, to make it either rural or to share busy roads, to choose the hilliest challenges or to keep it modestly flat are all within my range.

    So honey, I might be staying an extra hour at work tonight ;)

  6. dacrizzow

    commuting is what it’s about. TCB. commuting is how my adult biking career(?) started and that will probably be how it ends. i may have to change jobs at some point just to change up my route. sometimes i think about adding a vespa to the stable, but it really freaks me out to think i might lessen my commuting rides.

  7. James

    I commute all year but never have the imaginary race going on. I’m afraid that if I lose concentration for a minute some jackass in a car is going to make a right turn in front of my wheel and I won’t be ready to react! Commuting makes up the bulk of my miles every week and it’s stunning how they add up. In my job I sit behind 3 computers and 6 TV monitors so if I didn’t commute I wouldn’t get any exercise at all during the week. The key now is to get the idiots in their cars to respect us the way we respect ourselves!

  8. pdx velo

    I long for the rides for when I don’t have to carry a pack with my work clothes. I miss the rides where I just have a drink with me.

    I find that I now throw down on my bike more with the pack than without, I sprint with a quiet upper body, not for finesse but to keep my pack from sliding all over my back.

    The best part of the ride though is the 50 minutes of riding, rather than 40 minutes of sitting in traffic and then having to find time to ride.

  9. randomactsofcycling

    Amen. I have recently returned to the bicycle commute and it is simply the best way to begin and end the work day. Even now, in the depths of Winter, it gets me going and I have a spring in my step during the morning that is not apparent when I drive to work.
    I don’t have any imaginary races going on. Sometimes there is a red bicycle tail light up ahead that I enjoy chasing. For the most part I am a creature of habit and I like to treat my 35 minute commute as a lap of a circuit, changing gear at particular spots, finding the best line through a corner to both avoid the pothole and not delay the cars behind. Since I train in the early morning before my commute I like to take it easy and look around a little. Training is not good for that.
    I always feel particularly proud of myself when it’s raining and cld and I manage to motivate myself to not only train, but get home, throw down an espresso and then put the backpack on for the commute. Getting going again is hard this time of year.

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  11. Dan O

    At now 49 years old and being family guy, with a wife and two kids at home (11 and 6 years old), 90% of my riding time is commuting. 34 mile round trip, with a steep 500 foot climb every afternoon. Even after a few years of this, I still totally dig it. It’s one of the best parts of my day, times two. If it wasn’t for commuting, there is no way I’d get that kind of riding time in.

    I also lucky to have a killer nice commute. Most of the trip on the Burke-Gilman trail near Seattle. It’s sweet. No traffic, just other bike commuters, riders and racers. Some days are a scenic cruise, others are a personal time trial, and some rides the occasional full hammerhead drafting session. Much better then driving – no?

    The weather adds to the adventure of it all. From the rainy winter (truth be told, I do slack off some during the winter), to the Northwest perfect summers – you become an expert at what’s needed to be comfortable. My sweet spot is overcast, damp ground, in the 50s, arm and knee warmers required. Yeah, I guess I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest a little too long.

    No need to ride the beater commuter bike either. Hell, when you’re putting more miles on the bike then a car, good excuse to ride some nice bikes. Wet weather means the sweet steel old school ’97 Ibis Hakkalugi with fenders. Dry weather is the new school Ibis Silk Carbon. Everything carried in a messenger bag, no excess bags or racks needed. Add a blinking rear light and LED headlight for dark winter use. That’s it.

    I am revved when I get to work and ready to relax when I get home – no guilt required. Some days you’re toast and it feels good to push yourself for another day of commuting. Even so, okay to cheat a day or two a week and drive if needed. Still more miles piled on the bike computer then the car odometer.

    If you can figure it out, I can’t sell bike commuting enough. It makes so much sense, it’s just plain loopy. Do it.

  12. Lachlan

    my desire to commute has always been proportionate to my employers shower / bike storage situation… which unfortunately currently sucks. Which as others mention really sucks, as its the only way I’d be able to get in a decent base mileage between kids and work right now.

  13. Ron

    Good post! I actually became an avid road cyclist because of commuting. I got tired of waiting around for busses and trains, so started riding an old mtn. bike. Then I noticed I was getting dusted by other commuters on road bikes. Picked up a used Cannondale that “fit” because I could stand over it. Around seven years later, I ride my bikes everywhere, including road riding and commuting. Oh, and I have four road bikes, one dedicated commuter, and a few others.

    I know it’s coming, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my time without a wife, kids, family, etc. As it is there is always a fight to find time to get out and ride; I can only imagine how you lads with a lot of other commitments do it.

    And, I think it is awesome that you have such vibrant fantasies as you ride! Ha, isn’t the whole point of riding a kids toy to remain young at heart? I think you’ve got it down! Just because we get older doesn’t mean we should stop having playful thoughts each day.

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