The following post is by a contributor new to RKP readers, though he comes with quite the pedigree. August Cole is, among other things, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal. One of those other things is a dedicated cyclist. We hope you enjoy this new (to us) voice—Padraig
The months of February and March reside well within winter’s confines, but still offer the passionate cyclist a visual bounty.
There is the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, where the apotheosis of frame building is on display to the merry pilgrims who can travel to Denver to seek meaning in machines.
In Northern Europe, brute paths and farm roads that for hundreds of years were the weary arterials of Western civilization begin to coat the peloton with the requisite mud and manure that precedes the professional cyclist’s ablution ahead of Holy Week — De Ronde and Paris-Roubaix.
Our eyes feast.
Yet, for many of us, our hearts are cold. Inside, winter’s bite stings. It is a deep chill, deeper than has been felt in years. Or ever.
Maybe it is midlife. Or worst fears realized. Or a sense of betrayal, the worst kind, by legends who we knew to be our physical superiors and discovered to be our moral inferiors. The sport’s elite have pushed their bodies farther than we can legally and morally abide. Yet we still clothe ourselves just like them.
Cycling is searching for its soul at the very time when the bicycle itself approaches technical perfection. We can ride perfection for less than a committed smoker spends on their annual habit. We know what we see, and we like it. The intimate hours spent online reading about the industry’s finest work attests to it. The wink of carbon weave in bright sun. Team knee warmers matched to arm warmers matched to socks. We ride perfection for less than a committed smoker spends on their annual habit.
What we are not sure is how to feel about the heart of a sport that takes so much but can give back even more. It is like the weeks after a bad crash, when the body’s deeper aches announce themselves only after the Neosporin has done its job for the skin.
If we do not know how to feel about cycling, then how do we feel about ourselves?
Some search for answers during “Holy Week” as the cobbles of Northern Europe become the transcendent place we want them to be. The days spanning the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix are filled with delicious tension. Closer to home, our local dirt tracks and potholed roads take on new springtime significance.
Others seek to imbue their handmade machines with a soulful energy that improbably comes from welded metal, made by men and women who have mastered working with fire. Others practice a mortification of the wallet and continuously lighten aerospace-grade carbon fiber bikes to better ascend.
There is no easy path. There is no single right answer.
What is most important is that we search together, on the road or off it. The best bikes, whether laid up in molds in Taiwan or welded in Watertown, Mass., are just vessels that we use to bring us closer. The camaraderie at a bike-shop Tour stage viewing matters so much more than the lead grimpeur’s VAM. When we see the peloton riding shoulder to shoulder, fighting for each extra centimeter of room on the Oude Kwaremont, we should marvel as much at their ferocity as at their proximity. The peloton binds them as it binds us.
Once winter ends and we ride together again it will be with our hearts, not with our eyes, that we see the beauty of this sport.