The fastest I have traveled on a bicycle is somewhere between 51 and 52mph. That’s somewhere north of 80kph for our metric friends. It was on Ed Clark Road during D2R2 five years ago. Ed Clark Rd. winds down from Pennel Hill Road, a crushing dirt road climb that breaks many and leaves the strong gasping for air. Ed Clark is paved, and it takes every bit of gain from Pennel Hill and turns it into velocity.
I was riding a Surly Cross Check with only moderately effective cantilever brakes, and in order to achieve that top speed I had to both tuck and scream aloud at myself NOT TO TOUCHING THE F&$%ING BRAKES. I left the top with a largish group and quickly distanced most of them. I found myself on the front with one other rider, going hell-for-leather, and recognizing that he was even more reckless than I was, I tapped my hapless cantis to let him have the pointy end of the descent.
Ed Clark is not a wide road. It’s narrow, and while some of its pavement was fresh and new and good that year, there were sections that were less so. With my chin down by bars I had a unique vantage for assessing the quality of the surface, and at one point, very near the zenith of my downward plummet, I saw an oblong pothole, a short trench cut into the centerline of the road. My daredevil companion didn’t even notice it. In fact, he passed inches from it without deviating from his line at all. I confirmed at the bottom, where we’d both just about locked up our brakes to keep from barreling into oncoming traffic on RT 112, that he’d not seen it.
Either of us could have died. Though helmeted, at that speed, on that pitch, that far from a hospital, death, while not certain, was a distinct possibility. It was quite possibly the dumbest, most thrilling moment I’ve experienced on the bike, and I felt happy in my bones to have made it, to have survived. It took everything I had in terms of courage, stupidity and skill and the grin plastered on my face only grew broader as members of our group showed up seconds and minutes later.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done on the bike that you got away with? I want to say, as some sort of counterbalance to recent stories about riders dying or being injured, that most of the dumb things I’ve done on the bike have not been punished. Some would say I have been lucky. Others might say I have some measure of skill, but at root, I don’t believe that riding a bike is very risky. Plummeting down Ed Clark Road CAN BE risky, but simply riding down a steep hill isn’t inherently dangerous. The periodic tragedies that befall our fellow cyclists don’t constitute proof either of their lack of skill or our sport’s danger, but rather that, by the law of large numbers, some of us are going to make up the shallow and ugly end of the bell curve. Further, that by owning our dumbest moments, we can push back our own odds. We can increase the likelihood that we will recognize future danger for what it is, rather than just thrilling.