Standing in the loom of the garage door with rain dripping from the wide jamb. Water pooling in oblong puddles in the road, small mirrors to the gray sky and power lines. The autumnal breeze sweeps the street and shuffles the few leaves not already stuck to the ground. It’s a fitful rain. Hard to tell whether what makes it to ground is from the clouds or just heavy globs stirred from the trees by the wind.
I stand there in my pristine kit, gloves still warm from the dryer, one hand on the bars, one on the saddle. This is the testing moment.
Dressed by the bedside in the shade-drawn bedroom, only the digital forecast beamed in through the phone to guide my clothing choices, now I wonder, have I gotten it right. I pull up my arm warmers, re-layer the jersey where they overlap. Snug up my light rain jacket at the collar. I try to imagine myself riding out into the maw of the weather. Without moving, I can feel the first fat, cold drops landing on my back.
I know that in an hour I will be wholly wet and not care. I will have been soaked by the rain and also from the upspray, my front wheel spitting against the downtube, the rear cascading water up my back, my chamois soaking through, cold at first, but then body-warm.
Even in this leaves-down cold I will sweat, my core temperature rising to meet the challenge of the weather. And everything will be fine and comfortable as long as I am moving, the effort drawing all my attention away from sodden socks and that one dangling drop at the front of my cap.
But in this testing moment I always waver. Those first minutes of soak-through and of real body cold are deeply imprinted. I know them like I know their opposites, the first sip of hot coffee on the other end of the ride, or the steamy warmth of the shower with road grime streaming off my legs.
I could not be doing this. I could turn and hang the bike from its hook and walk straight back up the stairs into the dry, warm kitchen. The wife would hardly bat an eye. The kids, anaesthetized by Saturday cartoons, never knew I left, wouldn’t register my return. No one is forcing me out. There is no noble purpose. This is a practical matter.
This is how I go to meet myself. This is how I reconnect to the world after I’ve spent the week with abstraction and distraction, gazing into this glowing rectangle, trying to make it pay. The way is cold and wet today, but it is the only way to get where I need to go.
It all comes full circle in my head, and then I’m just standing there in the half shelter of the garage. I throw my leg over and push out into the ride, cleats snapping into pedals, pedals turning over, the trees shaking their leaves in a warning I ignore.
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You have ridden with these guys so many times, but for some reason, over a different route, longer or steeper or stranger in some way, you are nervous. Or maybe it is exactly the same route you always ride with them, but because of work/family/laziness your form isn’t what it should be. It isn’t what theirs probably is. So butterflies flitter in your guts, and you put extra attention into your ride prep.
There you are trying to decide whether one gel pack is enough, one bar. You pack an extra. You dump powder into bottles and shake it up. You check the weather again. You wake up before the alarm.
I don’t know why it is that a thing so familiar and fun, so already a part of our identities, can stir such anxiety, but it does.
How many thousands of miles have we ridden and yet still fear the unknowns of riding? How well do we know those friends who are willing to show up to coffee shop parking lots when it’s still dark out, but worry what they’ll think if we’re somehow off our game? How much nervous, pre-ride blather do we need to get off our chests before we can just settle down and ride?
To me, every ride is a challenge to be stronger and smarter than the last time I turned the pedals over. I catch my attention wandering. I lose the wheel in front of me or overlap momentarily, before I give the brakes a subtle squeeze and fall back properly into line. Why are these things not yet effortless?
I can take a simple thing, turning those pedals over, left-right-left-right, and unravel it into a pile of threads that each leads off in a different direction, so that I arrive at the meet-up in a state of mental disarray over whether or not I’m good enough to ride with a bunch of people who are as half-assed and ill-prepared as I am.
Fortunately, it is no more than ten miles to serenity. Whatever detail I was churning in my mind recedes by the time someone’s GPS dings at that distance. Luckily, the problems of riding are mostly solved by riding, another absurdity to ponder as you stand in your kitchen in the still dark morning, your bib straps limp at your sides to allow one last trip to the bathroom, to work out your nerves, before you go.
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On Saturday night I kissed the wife and kids and rode off on my freshly tuned bicycle to a launch party for the Ride Studio Cafe Club. Ride Studio Cafe is, in essence, exactly what it sounds like, a high end bike/coffee shop. Studios are always high end. Otherwise, they just call themselves ‘shops.’ Regardless of the price points and the stylish marketing, what sets the Ride Studio Cafe apart is the characters behind the scenes and the approach they take to cycling (and coffee).
Rob Vandermark, the founder and president of Watertown, MA. based Seven Cycles, is the prime-mover on the bike side, and Jennifer Park, who operates two very successful local coffee shops,
heads up the cafe side did some informal consulting during set up.
Unlike other bike/coffee shops that simply merge the two elements into one, Ride Studio Cafe has sought to explore the top end of both businesses, decanting super high end bike frames and accessories as well as single source, artisan coffees.
Their website bills the Club (the reason for the party) this way:
The Club is a collaborative of friendly cycling enthusiasts and racers that congregate around all the positives aspects of performance cycling.
The purpose of the Club is to engage riders to be more connected to riding. To ride more often and to enjoy it more; to find riding routes—and routes to cycling—that are more fun and more challenging; to support camaraderie that brings out the best in us—on and off the bike.
It all sounds very genial and community-spirited, but I’m a skeptic. I was born that way.
Ride Studio Cafe is located in Lexington, MA, a wealthy Boston suburb surrounded by other wealthy suburbs. They sell Seven there, and Rapha apparel, and coffees whose origin can be described with reference to location, farm and roast date. One could assume, I think reasonably, that these people are some serious snobs. I walked through the door braced for pretentiousness.
I must confess that hearing Vandermark talk about “coffee cuppings” (tasting events) was my first exposure to the phrase, and I was surprised to hear a bike guy talking about java the way wine people talk about that grape juice they drink. Despite that (I am, after all, something of a Philistine), I found Vandermark able to speak humbly and passionately about what they’re trying to do. Repeatedly he acknowledged the high price of the products and services on offer at the studio, but explained that they really believe what they’re selling is the best of the best, and, in the end entirely worth it. There was no bravado or condescension, just a humble request to give it a try.
The Club presentation was made by Vandermark, cyclocross racer and photographer Dave Chiu and cyclocross/endurance rider Matt Roy. Chiu talked about the RCS race team and about the ability to move from the club rides and race events up into the full pro/am team. Roy talked about club-sponsored brevets and other endurance events, running from 100k to 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k distances. An upcoming “dusk-to-dawn” ride was mentioned.
It all sounded like good fun, and Chiu and Roy both made an effort to welcome riders of every ability. There was beer. There was wine. I scored a cup of entirely potable coffee. Someone brought cupcakes. Everyone was friendly. There was even a group clustered around the indoor bike rack cooing over the various and sundry machines the attendees had chosen to ride in. It was, if you’ll forgive the phrase, a pretty sweet rack.
I began to think this might be a place I should spend more time. High end, low end, middle, um, end, these are bike people, and they want you to be bike people too. Highly caffeinated, merino wool-clad bike people.
And who among us is against that? For locals, you can read more about the club, and its benefits, here.
Image courtesy Gregory Brown
Correction: This piece originally stated that Jen Park was a part owner of the Ride Studio Cafe, which is not the case. She is simply a friend of RSC’s ownership group. See correction above.
A true mixed bag of Xmas gifts this year. I was shocked, but not surprised, at how many claim not to have received any cyclorific surprises due to a year-round schedule of bike-related consumption that brooks no encouragement from family or friends at Xmas time.
I was amused to see a few commenters listing coffee as a bike-related gift. I mean, to admit of the use of performance-enhancing drugs right here in black and white and red connotes a feeling of safety we never dreamed we’d imbue you with, dear readers.
If you’re like me, you come out of Xmas in a pre-diabetic condition, born of too many cookies, cakes, egg nog, etc., and now you eye the New Year with a grim sort of penance paying wince, knowing you’ll have to drag yourself out the door in the worst weather to work off the excess. Or, perhaps you’ll simply pop in that new Sunday in Hell DVD and hibernate until Spring pushes the first buds and blades of grass up through the soggy earth.
Either way, happy, merry, happy, and ride on!