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