A virtue of cycling is as seasons pass, we take note of it. As I ride to work each morning & home each evening, summer’s sun is leaving us. The sun lazily breaks later and later each day and the evening dusk arrives earlier and earlier. This tightening of time doesn’t make allowances for the cyclist who wants to ride early before work nor do the darkening shadows allow for one to work late unrepentantly, expecting to catch the local Tuesday night world championships later, for now sunlight is lost.
Autumn’s setting sun reminds me of the old adage of the 5 o’clock shadow, much like my dad’s 5 o’clock shadow salt and pepper beard he evidenced after his long day at work. It was obvious he was no longer fresh, and had just done a full day of work as he came home dirty from welding, carrying his empty steel lunch pail, his posture a bit broken with a slowed gait, his eyes tired. And after a moment of refreshing, he would be ready for more. A virtual parallel to our 5 o’clock shadow—as cyclists, we pass from a season, dirty, tired, our lunch pails empty, having done a full season’s work, and are now in need of respite.
Every season to the cyclist has both obvious items that we take away and other items may be taken away from it that are more obscure. Autumn’s lowering shadows across the golden brown landscape brings with it indifference for this rider, for there are feelings of Thanksgiving to the moderating temperatures. Whereas one should find contentment in that and be fully satisfied, the reality that there also is a sense of contempt because temperatures will fall for the next three months as winter’s chill will seek to suck out the marrow from our bones. For now we go for free rides ever mindful that there really is nothing for free and that there is an price we will pay for our obsession in winter. These things are obvious to us, obscure is knowing exactly what lies ahead.
As we ride in autumn we duly recognize there is a season past. The year’s accomplishments are but a memory. The memory of summer’s sun, southerly tailwinds, the endless miles that have seamlessly ticked over, the PRO’s season all are on the forefront of our mind’s eye. It indeed does bring a smile to our faces as we spin and reflect and after all, autumn seems to a most appropriate season of remembrance. If we are honest with ourselves, this introspection enables and empowers us in reflection on the season’s accomplishments and thus improve ourselves—both maximizing our strength and improving our weaknesses. And with that the grim reminder of old man winter’s latency is but around the corner and not all of us live in sunny California. Here in the Midwest, spring defeated old man winter and the cold grip he held. Spring liberated us as cyclists to throw our windblock bib tights into the bottom drawer and don our lite summer jersey … but … old man winter is back like a bad smell and he is leering from the corner of the room.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In a recent conversation my friend said at the recent state time trial championship, ‘he just never got on top of it’. He was speaking of his gear of choice, and as we rode along he continued to elaborate further that he couldn’t find any gear that he could get on top of and that he simply didn’t have it that day. It had been a while since I had thought of it, but I was glad my friend mentioned this to me.
Being ‘on top of it’ is something we do recognize as cyclists. It’s that feeling you notice when your legs and cadence are smooth, the bike flows and the gear is relatively easier in effort than previously. For me, its when I spin my 53×17 at a cadence of 100 to 105. My feet feel light, my knees are even, my breathing effortless and the K’s tick over quickly. Even climbs are different, as they may be out of the saddle efforts yet I may remain in the same gear; the cadence slows a bit, but there is minimal need for shifting now, just a nice swaying of the hips and pull on the bar for the climb.
It’s feeling like you have a good tailwind, but you realize there is none, you’re doing it for yourself and you couldn’t care less if there is even a headwind because you’re on top of it. For some of us, it’s a short-lived seasonal feeling that we experience, and for others it’s a feeling that lasts for weeks at a time. I have been fortunate to found myself in that zone the past two weeks and my friend is tapering at the end of a long-fought race season.
Conversely, there is a good amount of time we struggle with not being on top of it. When we are not on top of it as my buddy mentioned, we tend to find our cadence slower, our pedal stroke sloppy; it’s something we fight the bike over—the gear—and we tend to look up and ask ourselves if we are in a headwind or perhaps we have a brake dragging. Not being in such harmony is where many of us tend to reside for a good amount of the year. But for a few weeks we do find ourselves making poetry with our bodies and this makes the painstaking miles a worthy endeavor.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Last week cycling lost yet another home to the peloton. The Tour of Missouri which had quickly risen in the continental ranks as second only to the Tour of California, was found beaten to death this past week, pummeled by some dirty politics and back room dealings. Word on the street unfortunately has it that there are either links to the mafia or a sheep-lovers cult and the murder rises to that of a crime of the highest order. Tour organizers found the lifeless body of the Tour of Missouri outside the steps of the hill on the capitol steps, just west of the Governor’s mansion and immediately put her on life support. Diligent efforts were made to save her life, but after courageous efforts, she passed this past week on May 27.
After a seven-month negotiation with State Tourism, which included a bi-partisan state senate and house approval of $1 million in support for the Tour of Missouri sponsorship, the United States’ second biggest professional cycling event and one of the top stage races outside of Europe, will be officially cancelled should earmarked funds not be released by Tourism and the Governor, according to the board of directors of Tour of Missouri, Inc.
“This may be a win for the Missouri Tourism Commission and the Governor, but a huge loss for the state of Missouri and its citizens,” said Mike Weiss, chairman of the Tour of Missouri, Inc. “It has been an insanely complicated battle for something so beneficial, and it’s left all of us absolutely baffled.
—Tour of Missouri press release May 27, 2010
So, OK, I’m indeed bitter, pissed and sarcastic here. It seems like yet another continental racing effort that just seems to come and go. The sad reality is I can go on with a list of them that I have came to love, like loved ones in my family. The Tour DuPont, Coors Classic, Red Zinger, Tour of Georgia, and now the Tour of Missouri. What does it take to develop a race w/tradition and a heritage that is set in stone?
Can we blame the opposition? As cyclists, we sometimes are not even unified ourselves in something we love. Some work and negotiate to make these races happen. Sometimes it may mean negotiating and developing what appears to be odd relationships. However, working with others to gain support that is more in our interest than theirs is to our benefit, i.e. Amgen and the Tour of California. Despite these benefits however, there are those who despise the corporate support of our racing ventures and cannot understand why we have such odd relationships. Others are indifferent and do nothing in support nor otherwise.
The sad reality is that it takes money and a lot of it in order to support races and events of this magnitude. Private sponsorships, mutual relationships and negotiations have got to be delicately balanced in order for us to have and enjoy something so central to us, that of big cycling events and races.
So our opposition uses this against us. They exploit this weakness and use it as an advantage. They use those who say nothing and point to them as examples that ‘most don’t really care’. The vocal opponents would rather see money used elsewhere.
The key is this: I hope for our sakes that we can unify our divergent ideas, respect our differences and recognize the single thing we have in common. The bike. Sure, we can have interesting discussions like we have here at RKP, we can even heat it up at times, we can correct one another, challenge one another, but when it comes to the outside circles that we congregate ourselves we should represent cycling well and always help it become elevated to the ranks it deserves.
As far as the Tour of Missouri goes, rest in peace my friend, it was a great ride wasn’t it?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Oh, the feel of spring, as my legs come back to life. Finally, the grip of winter has gone and my legs wake from latency. The tightness in my tendons eases as that the cold north wind turns to a warm southerly flow, and old man winter is but a fading memory. And the anticipation of spring’s warmth is enough to elevate one’s will, and I welcome the change in season.
Everything in my universe rotates around cycling and the lengthening days of spring now offer more opportunities for riding, more regularity daily and none of the hesitation of dealing with the perils of winter. Spring is Utopia for the cyclist, you may say. There is however one caveat in spring: The acrimony that comes from realizing spring doesn’t come free of charge.
Each spring riders must swallow a bitter pill of atonement. Even PROs have to regard this helpless estate. Less daily mileage during winter, Thanksgiving’s pumpkin pie and a daily morning Cappuccino all translate into at least some weight gain during winter. Not to mention the legs suffer without having the long daily rides, or the regular grind we take for granted in summer and fall. Lucky for me (or not), it affects many of my fellow riders similarly, and it is during spring that the rider must pay back for all those extras that have been lavishly enjoyed.
Just as the priest goes before the tabernacle and offers sacrificial atonement for the sins of many, so too must the rider pay penitence now in spring for winter’s excesses.
For some, they may never acknowledge winter’s decline, nor ever ride in their best form come spring and summer. For those riders who are honest though, there is a payback required in spring. Padraig wrote of a similar concept, of being ‘at terms’ during a race, when a few individuals come to the reality that they control a destiny, an outcome, and they are at terms with themselves and with the race. It’s a harsh thing, honesty with oneself, yet a fruitful outcome is possible if one recognizes it. There can be no excuses, no denials, and no transference of accountability at this time.
Atonement for the rider in spring is useful. When the rider comes to this awareness of form or lack thereof, in an honest self-assessment; spring’s work will be obvious. In such an assessment, we move toward being at one with ourselves. It is an utterly essential process, that the rider be ‘at onement’ in order to move up and move on. That is literally what atonement means, to be at one. I have also heard it explained that ‘the end depends upon its beginning’ and in fact spring marks the beginning for each rider each year. It’s a very orderly concept. The rider can focus on those weaknesses that can be mastered, and realize what lies ahead. The sting of self-affliction, the torment of correction, the lactate thrashing, and the effectual gasping for air are all required at the hand of spring.
And now we can accept this because we, in fact, realize we are indebted only to ourselves. Acceptance of this allows the rider to taper the body down, to chisel and to prepare for the season ahead. The dividends of such work will also be paid as we anticipate pulling the group with respect, hanging with riders better than ourselves and dropping our buddies in friendly local ‘world championship’ rides on summer evenings.
The catharsis of atonement in spring enables the rider to master all physical and mental aspects of riding. In the end, atonement liberates us from winter, seeking pardon and purification of those lavish excesses we enjoy. Atonement can allow us to prepare for and anticipate moving us into summertime form with success.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Cycling provides all the big lessons in life: humility, pride, greed, discipline, grappling with ego, and learning what your will is and when to apply it and how to apply it.
It has been said often, to the point of being cliché that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Perhaps it is also worthy to consider it this way, when we take on a commitment, it merits doing with all your will and all the might that lies within. For the most part I believe we do this. For example, when we look at commitments to profession, we consider the obligations involved. When we look at having children and a family, we regard the time it will take and weigh within the balance its value. When we look at little things like what we eat, we take into account fine details. However, all too often and interestingly, this same truth does not necessarily hold true for cycling, something held so near and dear to us.
One reason I believe we become removed from a true consideration of the discipline of cycling is partly due to something inherent to the bike itself, we generally start when we are children. When I started cycling more than 30 years ago, I thought so very little about it. It seemed so natural to ride. I knew nothing else; after all, I was just 8 years old at the time. It was love at first ride—and every—ride. Then as I grew up, I thought no more about it. It was my freedom and it gave me a sense of the world around me. Everything about the bike was given to me, so expense meant nothing. But, just a few years later this would all change.
As a college freshman, now riding a Peugeot which I hand picked, I then bought a few items at a time, being constrained by the budget of a college freshman. Then a new wife, new family, and the price I could afford at this time meant pursuing good deals, slightly used items and basement deals on the side that fueled my infatuation. And the fact remains that I never really considered the cost of my pursuit nor the sacrifice of being a cyclist. I bought only based on the cost, and only cheap. My clothing at the time was to be abhorred, my shoes were disgusting, my helmet simply atrocious. I had no sense of style not to mention dedication to the sport, and admittedly, most of my riding compatriots were the same. But this one thing was true, we sometimes would witness an occasional rider who rode among us that instantly drew some respect; simply by the gear he chose, it stated without hesitation that he was a cyclist. They were committed cyclists and we would joke amongst ourselves and ask ‘how much that must have run him?’
Then I bought my first Giordana bib shorts, and instantly recognized that there really was something different about them. After my first century in them, and no ‘monkey butt’, I swore I was never going back. Then my first Assos jersey, then my first good helmet and similarly my experience was equally impressive of the simplicity for which it flawlessly performed the task it was designed for. I then stepped up a level w/the grouppo, moving from downtube shifting to an STi grouppo, which seemed like a leap of faith. Despite my hesitations, I was impressed with the new grouppo’s function. I regretted not getting it sooner. Each time then that I donned that jersey, each time I threw a leg over the bike and slipped through the gears I was reminded why I bought the ‘better’ quality item.
One would think I would have matured by this time, and that this experience would bring about an appreciation for the discipline of cycling for which I admired. But it did not. I was still yet at a neophyte’s level. I still had no sense of sacrifice. For me, the sport was like a girl I had once dated—and liked—but never would fully commit to. I was holding back for some reason. I truly believe we appreciate a little more those items in our lives that we sacrifice for and entirely commit to. Each time we use those items, we remember their value to us. And because for years I would scout out ‘good deals’ and would only bargain for goodies, I lacked an appreciation for the true value of something I held dearly. Cycling was the girlfriend waiting for me to grow up.
Then just a couple of years ago, I had a total mindset change. This was prompted after something I took notice of, and it hit me with the subtlety of a gorilla wielding sledge-hammer across my forehead. I commute nearly every day and as you know, gas a couple of years ago was very expensive. The price of gas was nearly $4 per gallon. Commuting by bike was becoming quite popular as a very economic way to go back and forth to work, and because of that ‘cost savings’ I saved perhaps a few hundred dollars that summer, no doubt. Nearly everyday as I conducted business, people would say ‘boy, you sure must save a lot riding by bike’. I responded affirmatively, that indeed it did. Then it hit me, is that why I ride? Am I a cyclist to only save money? Is that the purpose of cycling? I ride all the time and nearly everyday, but commuting simply brought this out for me, should it even save me money?
Then I started thinking, and I started to ask myself very fundamental questions. Have I counted the cost of my discipleship to cycling? Do I sacrifice? Do I return to cycling the respect it deserves or is it a cheap date I am on? I asked myself, have I truly counted what must be forfeited for the love of my life, or have I only calculated in the arbitrary value of dollars what a price tag reads? I found this to hold a critical difference. I was then logically led to ask what I would do if cycling asked of me far more to ride than even driving a car, what if it was 10 times as expensive? Would I still be a cyclist?
Well, answering in the affirmative, I then had to make a change in my attitude and my entire frame of mind. I had to stop dealing with cycling like I had in the past and I had to throw out my cheap date attitude. I started truly pouring myself out when it was about the bike, thus recognizing the true value it holds in my life. I stopped looking at the price of everything I bought and I began simply working to the ends of obtaining what I need to cycle. I buy the best I can because my girl deserves it.
I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle—Zen proverb
The discipline of cycling is a learned apprentice in all aspects of the sport. Part of our discipline, is that of “the routine.” The routine for the novice is not the same as the routine of the veteran. For the freshman of the group, it may be a routine that begins at the gathering of the ride. One may make observations of tinkering, the spin of a wheel, and the hissing of floor pumps busily at work. Notable too is the hurriedness of this given routine, hurriedly trying to make the deadline. It may be the characteristic rush to the beginning, or the catch up after a slow lead out, whatever it may be, it becomes the routine. For some, it functions adequately, and after the ride they requite their bikes to the garage or back porch until the next gathering.
I admit my sophomore years in cycling began this way. It was all I knew. However, once I was taught “the routine” by a veteran, I never forgot it. I was taught to think, to plan and to give proper time to the steed. In so doing, I would be the kind benefactor of its flawless function. My friend who taught this to me was one who simply affirmed what he did, his routine, and drew out a logical reason for it. He did not put down my previous routine, you know, the after-thought of whipping the bike out of a trunk and hope it made it that day’s ride. And in teaching me, he instilled the necessity of proper bike care, and thus being then ready for the next day’s ride.
The routine begins when I pull in the garage, upon dismount. I flick the stereo knob for choice music of the day, then place the bike tenderly in the pro work stand with a rag so as to not damage the goods. The bike waits while I draw up from the fridge a San Pellegrino with lemon. I place my helmet and shoes into the cabinet, slide on my sandals and begin methodically the reparations that day. Like a surgeon going in to operate, I assess the bike from across the work area, typically wiping sweat from my brow and sipping the drink. It’s a broad view if you will, considering the bike from a vantage point I don’t often have. Then I begin myopic work, the process of assessing trueness and function of every single part. I begin with trueness of wheels, cleaning the chain, and down the list I will go. From head to toe I assess each part and I know my bike’s every last detail down to the thread pitch of every bolt. Whereas I know every curve, every sexy part, I also know every little blemish, every little flaw in her and have a plan of how to remedy it.
And with each routine I try to recollect the ride, down to the very fine details the function of the parts. Recalling them now at this time allows me to address a mis-shift, a creak, a subtlety. Perhaps only a drop of lube or a quarter turn here is all it takes, but it is necessary so as not to hear the dreaded rattle, or hesitation that reverberates in a cyclist’s mind for what seems to be nearly eternity, or even worse, a snicker from your pals when they hear it. Lastly, to finish ‘the routine’ I take a final look at the tires, looking for small razor-sharp fragments that may have been picked up that day, a run of the finger and an in-depth going over with the eye, and with this, it is done. A snap of the brakes declares, “It is finished!”
Then up on the wall she will proudly hang ‘til being called on again the next morning. Then, each tool that has been used is then placed back on the wall in its rightful place, cleaned and wiped down, of course. The work stand, also, wiped down and folded neatly in the nook. The lubes and oils, all one by one placed on the counter top. Then the music will be stopped, the towel thrown in the bin in the corner, not to be used again, and the hands cleaned of today’s debris. While at one time I considered such preparation to be overbearing, but in all actuality, ‘the routine’ takes no more than 30 minutes.
For my friend, the routine was a regimented structure that functioned so highly it became a skillset. After he taught it to me, I have carefully replicated it ever since; the behavior, the quality, the mindset of supreme function and of ultimate purpose.