After a late breaking winter and bright, cold spring, the summer heat (and humidity) arrived yesterday like a groom late for his own wedding. I opted to get out and ride solo early this morning and still managed to work up a lather worthy of a Kentucky Derby winner.
Instead of the regular Friday morning soft-spin out to the green suburb and back, I opted for a route that took me up along a pair of small lakes. I was feeling adventurous, and the warmth hadn’t settled on the asphalt like a wool blanket yet.
Dancing (plodding really) up a short, sharp climb I spied a road I’d seen before, Agawam Road, a steep spur I’d wondered about, so I swung my front wheel onto it’s narrow ramp and headed up. Less than a quarter mile in I reached a cul-de-sac hemmed by large, neat homes, each with a driveway worthy of an Italian stone mason. One of the residents, looking bored and pre-warm, lifted her gaze to meet mine, her eyes asking, “Really? Why?”
This is the second time in the space of week I’d tried a new road and found only a dead end. “Very clever, New England,” I thought. “How about next time we just call that a court and save each other the trouble? Thanks.”
It got me thinking about detours though, those unexpected other ways that sometimes lead to paradise and sometimes to the withering gaze of the intruded upon. I have taken good ones and bad ones. Some have helped me get where I was going that much more quickly, and others have left dog-chased and regretful.
This week’s Group Ride asks: What have been your best and worst detours? What adventures have you found and what disappointments have you courted? On balance, it seems, my meandering has been positive, because I keep turning down roads both obvious and forbidding in search of a better way to go.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
The Italian sees the future. Where everywhere people are saying, “My customers are asking for this. My customers are asking for that,” the Italian says, “Your customers don’t know what they need. They do not think of the future. They only read magazines and stare at the television.”
The future is in Urban riding, he says. He pronounces it “Ooor-ban,” and he doesn’t mean hipsters on fixies. He means a type of riding that includes your commute, your errands, picking the kids up from school, everything. Commuting, according to the Italian, is a bad word for cycling, because it implies only one use for the bike, to get from home to work.
Even Oorban doesn’t capture his meaning correctly, but it is closer, he thinks.
Cycling needs a new vocabulary, new words to express the benefits attendant thereto. “No other machine is so perfect,” he says. “Nothing else moves you from place to place, makes you healthier, eliminates pollution, connects you to the world.” The Italian uses only vegetable based lubricants. They are not the best lubricants, but when you use them correctly, they are good, and they do not destroy the environment.
The Italian doesn’t seem to care for Italians very much. “Terrible businessmen,” he says. In Italy, we only race. No one is riding Oorban. No one is touring. He rides the white roads of Tuscany, stops at a hotel, and gets greeted in English. “I am Italian,” he says. “Why are you here,” they reply. “Here we only have Americans and Germans.”
“Since Coppi and Bartali, we have only racing,” says the Italian. “They ruined everything.” Even riding with your friends is racing, in Italy. I ask him why they don’t win more races then, and he says, “Because they are terrible businessmen.” I laugh. He does not.
In the car, on the way to the bus, the Italian explains the entire European debt crisis to me, in detail, quoting the exact value of bond issue returns. The Spanish have been downgraded, he informs me. He then explains the difference between the quality and construction of various makers of merino wool cycling gear. Again, there are specific references to the percentage of wool and synthetics in each garment, the advantages of each. “Wool is the future,” he says, “as it was the past.”
The Italian is one of these people you meet in the bike business. There is a charisma and insanity to him. You don’t speak with the Italian. He speaks TO you. And you listen, because he sees the future.