A New Alchemy of Speed

Let’s start with an audacious premise, that just by virtue of the fact that you are reading these words, you are fast. I know. I know. “Bullshit,” you think to yourself. But maybe it’s true, last week’s post not withstanding.

These things can be self-fulfilling, the placebo that cures what ails you.

Allow me to perform the trick of the medium, the palm-reader or the gazer into crystal balls. Dim the lights. Put your credit card on the table.

You ride a bike. Oh yes, the low-hanging fruit. The obvious. But don’t you see we’re already more than half-way there. Because not only do you a ride a bike, but you ride a bike often, some might even say regularly. Wait. Wait. It’s more than that. You actually define yourself, sketch the outlines of your deep and true and core identity, in relation to the bike.

You are a cyclist, but you are more. You are a committed cyclist. In the back of your mind, at some point, you have assigned yourself a sub-identity within the cycloverse. You are a climber (grimpeur) or a rouleur. Maybe a sprinter or a randonneur. It doesn’t matter, because you know which one you are, and you know which one you are because you’ve tried to be at least one of the others and found it didn’t suit you.

How am I doing? Uncanny, right? Look, every Robot with a neon sign out front isn’t a charlatan. Some of us have true mystical powers. We see things. We know.

And so you ride. You ride a lot. Maybe you ride through the winter, or maybe you take an off-season. It doesn’t matter. Even if you use the term “winter weight” un-ironically, you remain a cyclist, and you know, even as you shovel another forkful of cake into your gaping maw, that you will return to the bike. You have faith that it will set you free from these days of excess, the license you’ve given to your id, that rotten son-of-a-bitch who doesn’t care a whit how (not) fast you are in the spring.

It’s all alright, because you’re a cyclist.

And now we circle back to our premise that you are fast. “Pfffffttt!!” you think again, “Have you met me?” And yes, I have. I know you. You’re that guy who rides a bike, by virtue of which, you are fast.

No, you are not fast relative to Steve. Fucking Steve whose muscle-y ass you’ve had to follow over hill and goddamned dale all summer long. Steve, who once won things and knows how much his wheels weigh. Steve, who, despite being faster and fitter and better adjusted than you are, is actually an alright guy, and let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for Steve, we probably wouldn’t ride as much as we do. Let’s not murder Steve, just because he’s fast. There are better ways to bend the curve of velocity back toward our own very human capabilities.

Go to the grocery store. Never mind a cart. You don’t need a cart. And forget the basket. Put it down. Just walk the aisles. Up. Down. Frozen foods. The chip aisle. Even allow yourself to wander into produce. It doesn’t matter. Have a look around. Count the number of shoppers you couldn’t beat in a two-up, town-line sprint. KAPOW! You’re fast.

Oh, but it gets better.

Leave the store. Go home. Wait for your favorite band to come to town. I know. I know. It’s been a long time. How long? Since college? Yeah. It happens. We all get busy, lose track, get older, get lame, forget what it’s like to stand for two hours or more on a concrete floor drinking beer from a cup and shouting to maintain a conversation while the sound guy juices the room with some techno crap cooked up by a Scandinavian teen that he pulled off Youtube that morning.

But now you’re at the show. As is every other adult for whom this band was significant back in the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, ’60s. Now we’re not looking at a random sampling of grocery purchasers, i.e. regular humans. Now we’re looking at your cohort, folks your age who are steeped in the same zeitgeist(s) that produced you in all your cyclorific majesty.

How about now? Anyone here you couldn’t beat to the top of a 9% incline of 1km or more? I am assuming your favorite band isn’t that bunch of dudes from the Michelob Ultra commercial.

Here we are. We have arrived at fast again. But just like Dorothy, back in Kansas after that technicolor acid trip of hers, it was inside you the whole time!

You are fast because you ride. And it doesn’t matter if you never do an interval or a hill repeat, or like me, you sprint from the hoods. You will never win Milan-San Remo, but at the school drop off in the morning you are among the elite.

It is quite possible that you can be faster, that by riding intervals and hill repeats, that by consuming a carefully considered diet, that by resting, by patience, and by dint of hard work, you can raise your performances, such as they are, to some vanishing point, an asymptote of accelerating brilliance.

But let me tell you I have clutched the philosopher’s stone in my greedy fists, and I have reworked the formulas. Take your life, add a bike, sprinkle liberally with a ruthless realism and a modest sense of humor. It’s that easy. You are fast.

Image: © Matt O’Keefe

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  1. reverend dick

    Fucking Steve.GAH! Though I have not forgotten what it is like to stand around drinking beer for 2 hours, but it is usually along some trail somewheres, I see your point. Thanks, Robot. I AM fast!

  2. Mike the Bike PT

    I can’t even count the number of times I’ve looked around and said, “I might be slow for a cyclist, but I bet I could beat 95% of the people around me”.

  3. Ned

    >but at the school drop off in the morning you are among the elite.

    You have obviously never dropped off kids at elementary school in Boulder. The number of pro athletes in their workout clothes ready to go is frankly insane.

  4. Howard

    Ex.cell.ent Robot. It all matters who we compare ourselves to, when really at the end of the day, it is compared to ourselves, that matters. The Steves out there are an ingredient in the receipe the makes us us. Enjoy yourself, you ARE,

  5. Bryan Lewis

    Creative writing indeed. It makes me realize that I am fast… compared even to my own little demographic, the all-winter bike commuters in southern Maine in the 60-65 age bracket. Some day I’ll find another one and I’ll prove it.

    But now what am I going to use for my pre-group-ride excuse chatter?

  6. Pascal

    I’m not fast compared to my team mates/cycling peers. But anytime I go for a particularly technical MTB ride or gnarly gravel epic, I tell myself: “Damn I love being fit and experienced enough to be able to do this. To be able to fly through the woods, up and down climbs that would freak out most if they were driving their cars through them, to get up and sprint for a sign – hitting 50/60KPH on a flat section (albeit briefly). No one I work with (for example) could dream of doing any of this without a ton of work. Namely, the ton of work I have put in over the past 15 or so years. It only felt like work sometimes. 🙂

    It makes me feel like a superhero among mortals, even if I’m a sidekick at best among cyclists.

    Thanks for that Robot. Particularly during this time year..

  7. steve

    I’m Steve and so is my wife!
    And yes, I am afraid to admit that I do know the weight of my wheels.
    You might be surprised to learn that I am not always fast, I am just faster than Paul (you don’t have to out-run the dog, just Paul).
    Nice to know that in some small way I am appreciated.
    Lets ride…..

  8. Jon

    A few years ago I had the pleasure to meet Greg LeMond and he autographed a photo for me with the words “Stay fast.” Well … if Greg said it, it must be true.

  9. Pingback: Wake up, wake up, wake up, yeah so tired of waiting… | The Cycling Mayor

  10. Bob

    Boy I needed this read this week.

    My Steve is a guy who used to show up for our group rides unattached and not racing. Seemingly overnight he was a Cat 1 and when he was pulling I was cursing. My Steve stopped training and now not as fast. I’m sure he’s sad that he’s no longer Steve (honestly I’m a bit sad too). But there’s always another…

  11. Patrick

    Indeed; and outstanding. You nailed me and we’ve never even met, but you know. And I do, because I’m the only one out commuting the miles to work in the middle of January along the same roads, momentarily pissed because I only get that same stretch of road and that my fingers and toes are losing feeling. Forcing my frozen face into a devilish grin on the sole downhill, or pushing myself into tunnel-vision on the same stretch going uphill at the end of the day. Either way, I can look over to the highway and observe its parking lot factor.

    If the ride of the day is harsh, I may wince a bit, and instantaneously channel Jens Voight; this is my hardman training.

    Thanks Robot, for the reminder.

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