Friday Group Ride #183

The kids started school this week. Backpacks. Lines. Small desks. New teachers and friends. New subjects to daunt and dazzle. They are both, of course, complete geniuses, my boys, masters of all they survey, and I am constantly amazed, both by what they know and also by what they don’t know, which is the inspiration for this week’s Group Ride.

As a card-carrying, check-drawing member of the bike industry, I am, to the average person on the street, an expert in this field. Neighbors come to me to fix small problems or for advice about how to tackle a big ride. I am regularly asked to help with the acquisition of a new bike. Conversations with acquaintances often begin with, “Hey, you’re the bike guy, right?” And I listen and give the best information I can.

And yet, as the years tick by I find that I know both more and less about bicycles and their use. As much as I am adding to my knowledge-base, I am also constantly discarding misinformation, received wisdom, and preconceived notions. I unlearn as much as I learn.

The bike seems to be bottomless. You can’t know it all. Even if you were able to convince yourself that you knew everything there was to know about frame geometry for example, the ride resulting from a given geometry would still be massively affected by materials and construction method. Fork rake, tire width (and volume) and brake style would all intrude on the party. Is there a graduate degree in Cycology? There should be.

As a rider too, I am no great shakes. I am neither very fast, nor very slow. My handling skills are good, but not remarkable. And I have been riding thousands of miles every year for the last twenty or so. I see so much room to be a better bike rider that I almost want to jump out of this chair, shove aside the keyboard and run for the door now.

I read books and magazines. I talk all the time with bike designers, bike builders, and riders of exceptional ability. But I have so much to learn. I’m still a beginner in so many ways.

This week’s Group Ride asks, what is it you can learn about cycling? What can you be better at? What fascinates you about the bike or riding it? At the same time, what did you once believe that you no longer hold true? What have you unlearned?

Image: Matt O’Keefe

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  1. Ransom

    I think most any subject can bit a bit… fractal. By which I mean that whatever level of curiosity and time you have to indulge, the topic can probably show you new levels of detail to sate that capacity; each facet branching, and each branch splitting again as many times as you care to look.

    I’m fascinated by the technical details. Materials properties, advancements in tires, wheels, brakes, suspension. Rapidfire Plus changed my mountain biking life at a time when much of my life was mountain biking. And I didn’t know until recently how little I knew about Mavic freehubs…

    And what have I failed to learn? My lesson. I often let life’s churn get in the way and have stints off the bike. In 25+ years of cycling, I’ve had so many “first ride since XXX” episodes I couldn’t begin to count them. Whether that ride leaves me giggling and grinning or feeling like Sisyphus back at the bottom of the hill of fitness, it’s always good to start, and it was almost always wrong to stop.

    So fundamentally, I’m still learning to ride.

  2. andrew

    I have unlearned how to take tight right turns on the mtb. This is not a deliberate action on my part.

    I’m also learning to not get annoyed when family ask for advice and then completely ignore it.

    Everything else is just ‘stuff’. 😉

  3. ScottyCycles

    I have learned to not underestimate what I can do in so far as gaining more power on climbs and that your only limits (assuming you are already fit) are the voices in your head arguing about how much it hurts and whether you should ease off.

  4. SusanJane

    I am reading “Racing Tactics for Cyclists” by Thomas Prehn and “Roadie: The Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer” by Jamie Smith and Jef Mallett at the moment. My budget does not allow those expensive novels and coffee table books… although I’ve got a wish list should some relative need suggestions. I’ve even started scanning the tech sections and actually reading the nutrition articles in my two cycling magazines. My goal is to become a more _informed_ fan with a deeper knowledge of what goes on in the sport I love.

  5. Full Monte

    I have learned that whenever my bike needs attention beyond basic cleaning and maintenance, I should bring it to my LBS where the professional bike tech will fix it properly.

    I have learned that while I can find cheaper prices on the internets for cycling gear, it’s better to buy what I need at my LBS, even if it costs a few bucks more.

    I have learned that when people ask me what kind of bike they should buy (type, brand, etc), I should listen patiently then direct them to my LBS, where they can get better advice than anything I can offer. And actually experience all those bikes first-hand.

    I have learned that it’s nice to occasionally bring a six-pack of IPA or a coffee gift card for my friends at the LBS, because they’re mostly overworked, underpaid, and doing what they do because they love bikes. A little appreciation goes a long way.

    I have learned I have a bike that’s better than what I deserve as a rider, but not beyond what I can appreciate.

    I have learned it’s all relative: I’m not a great rider, but better than more cyclists than I realize. And once I start to get smug about that fact, someone magnificently fit and/or experienced blows me into the weeds.

    I have learned that there isn’t much a bike ride can’t make better – stress, anxiety, depression, worry, anger all subside during the course of a ride.

    I have learned bike accidents happen when you least expect them, and occur blindingly fast. And in retrospect, each accident was a series of events which made the crash entirely predictable.

    I have learned it’s fun to start a new riders – to rediscover the bike through their eyes. And that it’s more fun for them to keep quiet and let them discover most things for themselves (unless specifically asked, or if/when they’re putting themselves in danger).

    I have learned all The Rules and tried to apply them to myself and my riding. Then realized most of The Rules were elitism and bike snobbery and have tried to forget most of them.

    I have learned that a minority of car driving anti-cyclists are nearer their boiling point than ever and that some of these drivers are becoming downright hostile. All while the majority of drivers are becoming more accepting and courteous to riders.

    I have learned not to take the bike too seriously. It’s supposed to be fun, a hobby, a break. Not a job or chore or duty.

    I have learned that fitness is a byproduct of cycling, not the goal.

    I have learned that serious roadies will hardly ever acknowledge a wave or nod or “hello.” But just about every level of mtn biker will always smile, nod or wave back.

    I have learned guardian angels must be real and among us, since so many parents let their small children ride bikes or in bike carriers without helmets.

    I have learned that my lone wolf rides are my therapy, but shared rides are a bigger joy.

    I have learned that Map My Ride, Strava and even cycling computers can suck all the fun out of riding if you let them. And it’s better to let the ride come to you as it is without making it into some sort of contest.

  6. kurti_sc

    Way to go FullMonte. I wish your list was numbered. I got about 15 / 17 correct.
    Some realizations I had forgotten; several brought a chuckle.

    And really, why is it that so many ‘serious’ roadies don’t acknowledge a hello? I find it quite rewarding to be riding strong, taking good pulls, and still having the presence to give a proper hello to a passing cyclist – even a kid with no helmet or the one that wears a helmet that somehow stays perched on thier head even at an incredible angle due to such poor adjustments. I can only hope to keep riding long enough to tuck in one day behind them…

  7. Patrick O'Brien

    I have learned when asked about what I have learned about cycling to consult with Full Monte. One exception stands out. Whenever I ring my incredibell at a rider, road or mountain, they always wave back.

  8. Gene Rosa

    Training, nutrition and hydration information can enhance and prolong a cyclists career. It never dawned on me in the mid seventies when I got involved in this sport that you should include “recovery days”. If I didn’t crawl into the house I figured I was dogging it.

    Carbon fiber. After riding steel bikes for nearly 40 years I broke down and got a carbon fiber frame. They are everything they say they are. I have not ridden dogs either. You go faster with an equal effort. It’s that simple.

  9. Derek

    I have learned that someones words can bring out the best in other folks as expressed above and don’t forget to check your tires.

  10. Lesl.Bo.

    One of the great things about this web site is some of the great comments. That means you, F. Monte.

    One point that does not relate to my experience however is that other roadies almost always acknowledge my nods, and usually ask if I’m OK when I’m stopped.

    Maybe this is because I’m on skinny tires, but any MTB’ers I pass completely ignore me.

    About the guardian angel thing: I had just completed the grueling Breathless Agony century and had got in my car drove one block when a young girl on a bike (with no helmet on) swished in front of me, directly across my path. ABS brakes stopped me in time. Then another girl swished by. The third girl bothered to look and she stopped. Were the timing a little different…

    Thanks, angel.

  11. Kublai

    A paceline is a beautiful thing. Especially when nobody says anything, it just comes together and the group flows as a unit. Even better on a low traffic country road when it goes 3D in an echelon. Oh so sweet.

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