When I was in my ascendancy as a cyclist, at a certain point, I began chasing numbers. We all did. There was higher speed—both average and max—because chasing velocity is inarguably the pursuit of fun itself. Then came longer rides. There was my first 20-mile ride, 50-mile ride, and of course, my first century—it wasn’t hard to figure out that a longer ride was just more of a good thing. Then, of course, came racing. There was the first race I entered, the first race I finished, then I chased my first placing, the first podium and then, finally, that first win. What came next? Points. I chased upgrade points and then the categories themselves. Along the way I picked up a heart rate monitor and for a while I was focused on seeing ever-climbing max heart rates. And once I learned what it was, each season I pushed my lactate threshold a few beats higher.
The appeal of chasing numbers is obvious enough. I was chasing a better me. When I decided to get serious about my cycling it was because I was nagged by a single, simple question: Of what was I capable? The promise that we may be a diamond in the rough can drive us to train with abandon for years, even decades. Within those numbers I pushed through boundaries as much of mind as body. I was learning that my limits are far less, well, limiting than I once figured.
Cycling, more than any other endeavor, taught me that the person I thought I knew, the identity that I carry day-to-day was as temporal as a rain cloud. For years, every time I thought I’d reached my limit, mere weeks later I’d experience some sort of performance breakthrough that would cause me to reevaluate my core beliefs. And the issue wasn’t that I was only as good as my last strong ride; no, even now I learn new lessons. I’ve seen recently that I can sustain more pain than I thought, I can exercise better judgment than I thought I possessed, that my skills are sharper than I suspected.
There comes a point for many cyclists where the numbers don’t add up. That is, they cease to contribute something meaningful. To use MBA-speak, they don’t add value. Off goes the heart rate monitor and computer. Out goes the training diary. I’ve encountered plenty of riders for whom the reasons why the numbers became an aggravation seemed a mystery. Trust me, it’s not. The ego of a cyclist is as fragile as a Christmas ornament. As soon as the numbers bear bad news, rather than good, the easiest solution is to stick the messenger in a drawer.
I’ve watched friends chase race fitness well past their 50th birthday, and while I think racing can be terrific fun and don’t see anything wrong with a bunch of 50-year-old guys racing a crit, I do fundamentally think of racing as a young buck’s game. At one point recently I contemplated a return to racing—just for fun—but once the accusations that some of the riders on some of the local masters team (sponsored by a biotech company) were doping, my stomach for pinning a number on evaporated. I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but if you’re old enough to be a grandparent and you’re doping to win a master’s race, you’ve lost the plot line. I also suspect that anyone doing that isn’t reading my work, so I should be in the clear with that last statement.
One of my goals for my life is to find a way to thread a middle ground between aging and chasing youth, between sedentary decline and doped-up racing, between passive retirement and head-strong ego. I call that space grace. I’d like to ride my bike as far into old age as possible. In my case, based on family history, that could be well into my 80s. My maternal grandfather rode his coaster-brake cruiser four miles every morning well into his 80s. On the days he felt good, he’d ride his circuit again in the afternoon. This is a man who smoked cigars into his 70s. Now, that said, I’m aware that at a certain point I need to think of my lactate threshold as a place not unlike the loud concerts of my youth. I might get back there once in a while, but it won’t be a weekly event. Not only isn’t it smart, I doubt I’d have the stomach for doing it every day.
Without geeking out too much, one of the concepts that has influenced my thinking lately is the projected lifespan of the average heart. The American Heart Association says that average human heart will beat in the neighborhood of two billion times. Some projections by Dr. Robert Jarvic, the inventor of the artificial heart, hold that it’s even higher, somewhere between 2.3 and 2.9 billion. Riding may drive up my heart rate, but the physiologic adaptation that has occurred as a result has lowered my resting heart rate. Bottom line: the numbers suggest that for cyclists, all that riding is buying us time.
Which brings me to my current relationship to numbers. I still wear a heart-rate monitor. Every ride. And, as many of you know (because you follow me), I use Strava. But I don’t use either of these training tools in the typical way. I don’t use the heart-rate monitor to go hard. I know how to go hard and no number will make me go harder. Going hard was never the issue for me. Going hard too often has often been an issue in the past. Overtraining was one of the reasons I stopped racing. Being overtrained robbed me of the ability to go fast and in so doing, sucked the fun out of racing for me. So these days the heart rate monitor helps me know when I’m going easy, easy enough.
These days, I think of tools like the heart rate monitor and Strava as means to keep me from overtraining. I’m not that disciplined in my training for the most part. I ride. I like doing group rides. There’s usually been a point every spring where I try to log some bigger miles to give me a good foundation for later in the season, but the reality is that I have traditionally logged my biggest miles in the summer. For me, that’s not hard to process: My greatest goal as a cyclist isn’t becoming a better cyclist, it’s to have fun. So in an effort to minimize the number of mistakes my exuberance inclines me toward, in addition to making sure I do easy rides, I also make sure to back off for one week out of each month. I cut both miles and intensity, arguably one of the more lasting lessons from Joe Friel’s book “The Cyclist’s Training Bible.”
As Robot noted in a recent FGR, I was on schedule to hit 8000 miles by the end of 2012, a figure I did hit just before New Year’s Eve. By any standard, it’s a lot of miles, though it wasn’t a goal until early December, when I realized that simply continuing to ride with the frequency that was normal for me would bring me to that total.
I had to ask myself why I even cared and then one night as I clicked around Map My Ride (where I have multiple years of data recorded) the answer popped out. It’s been more than four years since I had a season with that many miles. It’s by no means what I used to record when I was racing, and that’s okay. So why even think about how many miles I’m riding? It’s a tool, just another Allen wrench in the toolbox, one that helps me think about what I want my life to be. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life riding 15 mph, but that I can put in 8000 miles in a year reminds me that I can still develop some real fitness, that my future as a rider doesn’t have to be without a goal or two to chase. Setting goals is how we redefine our limits and while I may not ever climb in the big ring again, my future may hold a few surprises yet.
And that’s enough to keep the training exciting.
As I write this, my wife is struggling to pack for vacation while dealing with a free-form morning sickness that occurs at any our of the day, indeed most hours of the day. What part of this constitutes morning is debatable. It may soon becomes mourning sickness. She needs a break, even if her hormones intend to keep her within a quick dash of the toilet. The lousiness of the nausea aside, there are two great pieces of news in that. We’re adding another team member to RKP (albeit one that won’t be putting pen to paper just yet) and we’re about to head out for a whole lot of work that people call time off.
I’m in need of a break; it’s been a year since I last had one.
I won’t be completely checking out during our week away; I’ll be checking email some, but it’s unlikely that I’ll be returning any phone calls. Along those lines, a brief note about the RKP kits: There was a hold-up on the jerseys, arm warmers and vests; they should arrive during the second week of September. In the meantime, I’ve shipped out all the bibs and knee warmers to those who ordered them. If you ordered some, they are en route to you. While I’m away, of course, I won’t be shipping any orders; that will resume after our return.
You’ll see a couple of posts from me during my absence, ones that I’m attempting to finish shortly, but I’ll be more absent with regard to the comments section. Our other features such as Live Updates with Charles Pelkey (and terrific help from Patrick O’Grady), Tuesdays with Wilcockson and Robot’s Friday Group Ride will post as usual.
Other than spending serious time with family, it’s my hope that I’ll recharge some, do some reading and maybe, just maybe, work on a book proposal that has been more back-burnered than I’d like.
Oh yeah, one other little detail: I need to add another ad sales guy the RKP’s efforts to use sponsors to keep this thing afloat. If you can sell spit to camels and want to be working in the bike industry, I’d be interested in hearing from you. Be sure to put “Have Talent” in the subject line. And speaking of those sponsors, I hope all of you will consider the way the companies who advertise with us have stepped up. In each instance we’ve signed an advertiser, they have sponsored us because they believe in the content we provide and appreciate how we’re different from the other media sites out there. It’d be terrific if from time to time you clicked on their ads just to check out where they take you; most of our advertisers have special landing pages and they’re keen to let you know about some work they are particularly proud of. We don’t sell by click-through, but they like knowing you’re paying attention.
Thanks for reading.
UPDATE: We’ve agreed to give John Wilcockson the week off as well. Hopefully, you’ve been following John’s weekly columns over at peloton as well; it’s been a long season and he’s due for a break.
I’m a selfish bastard.
I needed to get that out there so that we’d all be clear about where I’m coming from. I created RKP so I could write about the things I want to write about, things that it used to be wouldn’t get traction with any of the magazines. Now that has changed, but the freedom that I took here (and before this at BKW) helped lead the way for the opportunities I’m afforded elsewhere.
But, like I said, I’m selfish bastard. That’s why RKP isn’t just my voice, but also includes Robot, Charles Pelkey, John Wilcockson, Whit Yost and Jeremy Rauch. I’m a fan of each of them. So RKP isn’t just a measure of what I’d like to write, but also what I’d like to read. You might say RKP isn’t so much a vanity press as a selfish press. I need to clarify here that Pelkey was a friend, so it wasn’t a big stretch to give him a call, but Wilcockson, on the other hand, wasn’t someone I really knew; reaching out to him felt a bit like trying to date above my pay grade. His interest in RKP was tantamount to a lingering look through long lashes by the prettiest girl in the room.
When I brought on these new voices, it was with the intention of increasing the amount of content available to you, dear reader. Publishing seven days a week with double posts on some days is what I had in mind and what we achieved, until recently. Here’s where I apologize for having been off our game—well, I’ve been off my game. If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook (or me personally on Facebook) then you might have caught that I’ve had an illness or two. The fact is, I’ve spent most of the last two months destroyed by a series of flus propagated by my young son. And for reasons I can’t fathom or explain, I’ve been largely unable to write through this. Truly, I’m sorry for delivering less content than I intended. This is less about what you expected of us than what I expected of myself. The good news is I’m better and there’s a fire burning.
RKP could be said to be an elaborate thought experiment: What happens if your first concern is the quality of the writing rather than being the first to review the latest gonkulator? I’ve never been absolutely certain that the choices I’ve made will “pay off” in any traditional sense, but part of my guiding vision could also be said to be the moral compass imparted to me by my parents. I believe that guys like Pelkey and Wilcockson have earned their stripes and have the right to be heard by an audience, rather than throttled back to monthly missives when the Tour isn’t going.
We’ve picked up a number of new readers in the last three or four months. Seeing the readership grow has been more rewarding than getting a clean bill of health from a doctor. With that new traffic has come a big increase in the number of comments some posts receive. For the most part, that has gone well. There have been, however, a few folks who believe that the duty of the commenter is to say something nasty and check out. Just to be super-explicit, I want to take a moment to say that’s not how we play here. We begin with the basic assumption that because you’re a cyclist, you’re a friend. Maybe we haven’t met, but we’re kindred spirits; in that we trust. You may have noticed us dress down an occasionally snarky comment. I can’t stress how important it is that we keep the comments section a safe place for rational, if spirited, conversation. The moment it becomes okay to insult another reader that conversation shuts down. It’s a bit like going to a dinner part and insulting the wife of your host. Really puts a damper on the evening; even the lampshade on the head loses its funny. As proof, I offer the stream of comments that have followed Robot’s last two Friday Group Rides. People wouldn’t have shared poignant memories of bikes if they had suspected they risked being ridiculed for keeping around an old Stumpjumper. And we’d all be poorer for it. I’ve relished reading about so many old bikes and what made them special.
People have come to me on several occasions and suggested that we start a forum. The Friday Group Ride is our forum. And it’s better than any forum I’ve ever visited precisely because it stays cordial. It’s a lot of work to read every comment and gently police what’s said, but what we get out of it is worth it. And hopefully, in sharing, you feel a greater sense of connection and ownership with the blog.
Which brings me to the commercial side of RKP. You’ve probably noted an increase in advertising ’round these parts. I hope that you’ll take some stock of just who advertises with us. Each and every advertiser we have has stepped forward to say they believe in what we do. It’s a true industry endorsement. And I can say that with a straight face for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t have an ultra-experienced ad sales guy plugging ads into an ad service widget that will serve up views by the thousand. We’re low-tech and unsophisticated, insofar as our ad sales strategy goes. The companies you see at the right have had their eyes on us and it means the world to me. The horsepower they bring is how I’m able to present the likes of Pelkey and Wilcockson. Even if you don’t buy a bike from Specialized or a pair of bibs from Assos, I hope that you’ll think better of them for the support they offer us. They deserve at least that, in my opinion.
Helping round out our “revenue stream” are the odds and ends we sell in our store. I’ve got a few updates on the scene.
The Roubaix shirt is back, and just in the nick of time. Also, we’re about to do another kit order. If you’d like to save 15% on an RKP kit, you can join the pre-order and get the stuff a bit quicker; we’ll have stock on the kit in case the timing of this doesn’t work for you. This order will mark the first time that we’ve offered the jersey and bibs separately. Watch for a post on this coming soon.
As I mentioned, I’m a selfish bastard. Which is how the image of a 25-year-old T-shirt came to lead this post. At the point I bought that T I didn’t fully understand how cool, how amazing, how dominant Eddy Merckx was. I just knew he was the best. My appreciation of that shirt has grown over the years, despite its ever-increasing threadbare existence. But that shirt is stylish and speaks to legions of devoted cyclists in a way few shirts I’ve ever owned could. It’s not dorky like most century T-shirts and the fact that the art is stylish and eye-catching gives it cred in a way that cycling Tees rarely achieve even when they’ve escaped dorkdom.
So, none of that proves I’m selfish. This does: I wanted more shirts like that. And other stuff, too. The stickers, the Suffer T-shirt, the kit, it’s all stuff I wanted for myself. That other folks like it is really, truly, amazingly cool. I’m letting you in on this because I want to be clear with you; most of this stuff is being sold less for the chance to make money on it than I needed to order a bunch of whatever it is just so I could have two or three of them in my wardrobe.
In the not-too-distant future we’ll be offering a few new tidbits to you; again, this is about stuff that I wanted for myself. They weren’t borne of a need to find a way to make a buck on a commemorative bottle opener. To that end, there will be a ball cap, which will look more or less exactly like this:
Except without the cat hair … and the back will say “to suffer is to learn.” There will also be a new T-shirt which might turn a head or two; those of you who were Bicycle Guide readers and recall the illustrations of Bill Cass are in for a real treat. Those of you unfamiliar with his work are in for the same treat, as it turns out.
Our other effort here is perhaps the strangest thing I’ve considered. That you are even finding out about this has everything to do with Robot; it was his suggestion—”Why don’t you sell them?”—that is the reason you’re even finding out about this little effort. And what is the effort? Well, back in the 1970s and ’80s I was really into cool belt buckles. I had a big brass Peterbilt one, plus some amazing rock band ones, my favorite being my Led Zeppelin one. God only knows what became of them. I never really stopped digging cool belt buckles, though. Well, I found a company that will do an incredible zinc-cast belt buckle of the RKP logo. It’ll be three inches wide by two inches high and a quarter inch thick. Solid and sturdy. Gorgeous, too.
This is the designer’s approximation of what it will look like. This will be a one-off effort. I’m doing a short run of them and Robot has convinced me that there are at least a few of you who might dig having one. So here’s your chance. They are not going to be cheap. Depending on just how many of you order one they’ll be between $40 and $50. If you’re interested, say so in the comments and I’ll be in touch. And let me be ultra-clear: The only way to get this is to pre-order. I will not be stocking these.
As it turns out, I’ve saved the biggest news for last. Charles Pelkey will be bringing even more of his talent to RKP this year. RKP will be running Charles’ inimitable Live Update Guy race commentary for some of the season’s marquee events. If all goes according to plan, we will begin with Paris-Roubaix, but the bulk of the coverage will be focused on, as usual, the Grand Tours. And to make sure the Charles is properly rewarded for his efforts, we’ve added another talented guy to our ad sales team, Nick Ramey. Nick‘s been in the biz for ages and has sold advertising for some of the best-respected publications out there, including Bicycling and VeloNews. How we got access to his talent is yet another mind boggling development.
Now, more than ever, thanks for reading.
There’s an arc to birthdays. When you’re young, they’re a sign of progress and increasing freedom. In your twenties and thirties they are a time of benchmarks, milestones reached. When your my age, they are a sign that the body is in retreat and that, provided you’re not an athlete—and I’m not—your professional fortunes may still be on the rise. When you reach my parents’ age, birthdays are a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.
It’s this last function of birthdays that’s on my mind. These days, commercial ventures wink in and out of existence with the speed of fruit flies. Commitment seems no more than a pledge to stick around for as long as the sticking’s good, so for a blog to reach the mark of two years of consistent publication, it’s practically like reaching old age.
In the two years that RKP has published my life has undergone a transformation. My son was born and celebrated his first birthday. My wife let me start sleeping in the bedroom again. Last year, as RKP celebrated its first anniversary I turned in the manuscript for my second book, the recently published The No-Drop Zone: Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear and Riding Strong.
Behind the scenes, I’ve gained not just a friend, but a virtual brother in Robot. He’s inspired me and my work and brought a fresh outlook and helped RKP to fulfill my pledge to give you something different, something worthwhile. Without him and his contributions, this would be a duller site.
The comments you write in response to our posts—both positive and negative—have been an important form of guidance. That interplay is a key part of what makes RKP a special site. You’re a bright, experienced and informed readership. It’s not something you can buy. That your numbers have grown to some 40,000 each month is the best confirmation that we must be doing something worthwhile.
The industry has taken note as well. From peloton magazine to the pages of the Giro catalog, our work has been in demand. Yes, the Giro catalog. You’ll find pieces by both yours truly and Robot in the upcoming Giro catalog. Robot also recently penned (keyboarded?) an item for Pavé. I’m sure you’ll be seeing his byline around more and more. It’s a crime to hide talent.
That cycling has changed each of our lives is beyond question. That we can find the opportunity to put into words those ineffable experiences and explore the reasons why the sport can inspire us in ways that aren’t just athletic but are often spiritual is perhaps more than we have a right to expect. On behalf of each of RKP‘s contributors, thanks for reading.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International