Friday Group Ride #140

What a week it’s been. Since USADA released its reasoned decision on the US Postal doping conspiracy, the flood of confessions that followed and the various spin off conflicts and conflagrations, my head has been a mess. My urge is always to find the way forward, to stay positive, but I have not found a good way to wrap my mind about what’s happened to our sport.

Then, of course, Padraig crashed his bike, which put a lot of the stuff on my mind into much better perspective. What a cadre of deluded pro athletes did in hotel rooms and shady medical clinics over the last decade-and-a-half is fascinating and depressing in equal measure, but I am part of something larger than that, something that starts with my closest friends and family and extends out to the larger cycling community. We launched the Beer Face Crash Relief effort to try to help Padraig out with medical expenses, and that just reinforced for me how massively positive cycling and the cycling community are for my life. I stopped thinking about doping and the dopes who doped.

When the idea of raising money first came up, my initial reaction was fear. Padraig and I are close. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I failed? And then, within 24 hours of the first conversation we’d raised every dime we needed. All we did was ask for the price of a beer, and you, our readers, drowned us in it.

This might be the single, biggest surprise of my cycling life, following closely behind being asked to write for RKP in the first place. That was like having my favorite band ask me to be their new guitar player. If you’d ever heard me play guitar, you’d know what a long shot that analogy really represents.

Of course, there have been other great surprises, finding out I could ride 100 miles in a day, finding out I could clear a section of single-track I’d failed to ride 100 times before, meeting people on steep hills and forming instant bonds simply by dint of our shared effort.

If you ride, it will come. That has been my experience.

This week’s Group Ride asks: What have been your biggest (and best) surprises from cycling? What have you learned about the world that you wouldn’t have dared hope was true before? What have been the gifts and how would you have gotten them, if not for the bike?


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  1. Tom

    I’ve learned that no matter how bad the work day is, if I’ve ridden my bike to work, I have something to look forward to when I leave, and the day can only be so bad. I’ve learned what pain feels like and that it can be gotten through.

  2. Pat O'Brien

    Biggest surprise was that commuting home from work erased the stress of the day in 5 minutes. Also, when my wife dropped me on the last climb of our first metric century which was completely unplanned.

  3. Ransom

    I have been surprised too many times by how awesome it is to be back on a bike when I’ve been off for a while.

    After all these years, when I managed to actually see progress and made it up to the *middle* of Masters C last ‘cross season instead of being at the back as I’d been for my whole life.

    And yeah, there’s something about that 100-mile marker, which I hit for the first time last year (well, only time so far).

  4. Paul I.

    I’ve participated in a lot of sports, at varying levels of commitment, over the years. Football (soccer to the Yanks here), cricket, running and tennis being some of the main ones. But cycling was the first one that introduced me to a community, damn near a way of life, rather than just a means to keep fit and have fun. Yeah, I’ve done things I would never have expected to do, like ride centuries and climb mountains, but it’s the people that make it for me.

  5. Padraig

    What Robot doesn’t appreciate is that as a writer, encountering him was not unlike Ozzy Osbourne running across Randy Rhoads. He was the lead guitarist I’d been looking for all my life.

    And it goes without saying that the outpouring of beer on my behalf has been a huge, and welcome, surprise. But truly, the biggest surprise of cycling for me has been cycling itself. I took it up because it was fun. I kept at it because it became a better lifestyle than the one I had.

  6. A-Trav

    Being a lowly fast-fred/racer chaser, I’m amazed at how fast what I perceived as disdain for an outsider turned to concern for another rider the first time I crashed while riding with the group of racers/ex-racers I chase on a regular basis. Good people. Really, really good people, and chasing them has made me a better cyclist than I ever imagined. Hope one day I can pay it back somehow.

  7. MikeG

    What a long crazy ride it has been. From finishing my 1st century despite hitting the wall at mile 85. To crashing out of the lead pack at 25mph during the local Tour de Cure, and walking away with only a bloody little finger and no road rash. To my 7 year old son completing an 11 mile charity ride on his 16″, single speed Hot-Wheels bike. To last week, when the whole family rode together for the 1st time (5 year old daughter has been a reluctant rider!). Cycling has taught me you can do so much more than you thought you were capable of, and push yourself so much farther than you ever dreamed, especially when you are working together with like-minded friends! It’s not just a bike ride, it’s a way to pry open the window to your very soul…

  8. harris

    Biggest surprise: That I can push myself at age 37 as hard as I could at age 18 (to the point of throwing up);

    What I learned about the world: the road truly never ends;

    The greatest gift: enjoying putting your nose in the wind for your buddies in their late 60s and early 70’s – everybody needs a free ride, and this gift is a two way street.

  9. Les Borean

    Something I’d mentioned in this forum previously. After a Padrig-style crash, while healing I thought I would need to give up cycling forever to prudently avoid another assault to my face or other parts of my body.

    Then the surprise — I started getting really depressed at the thought of giving up cycling, and flashed on the realization that it was in my heart to become an even more avid cyclist.

    That accident propelled me from being a weekend beach path rider to a Planet Ultra KOM participant every year since. Embrace the suffering.

  10. RPD

    Racing will continue in one form or another. While it was an impetus that got me interested in the sport, it wasn’t what kept me riding. I love knowing that I can get anywhere I need to go and not have to shell out $50+ to fill a tank. I love knowing that even without riding all summer, in 7 days at 1 hour/day I can quickly get into good enough shape that my asthma stops, heart rate drops, and my weight begins decrease. I love that cameradery that cyclists get when we’re around like minds… and that’s what keeps me at it.

  11. Michael

    I spent the last week driving down dirt roads on the Navajo (Diné) reservation, far from my bike. This morning, I had an 8 am meeting and got on my one-speed commuter to go. As the 25-degree air hit my face, I thought of how free I feel on a bike, no matter which one I am on. That is always a surprise to me, in the first few hundred meters of a ride. Nice that I have such a lousy memory – it is a surprise each time.

    And it is great to read now about all the support Padraig received this week. What a community, but also a tribute to what Paddy has done over the years.

  12. Scott

    Here are a few things I’ve learned in about 25 years of semi-serious cycling:
    – Whatever form of cycling you like — cyclecross, mtn bike, BMX, road racing, distance racing, centuries, double centuries, commuting or unicycling — that’s what everyone else should do too.
    – You can finish any single ride that’s about equal to your cumulative weekly training mileage.
    – Riding in the rain isn’t as bad as you think. The best part; it washes right off.
    – Replace your chain more frequently than you think; your bottom bracket about every 15K miles; and your cassette about every 10K.
    – Clean your bike & drive train every 200 miles (or after any rain ride). It’s good therapy and helps you spot problems before they derail the next ride.
    – Watch out for those mid-40ish guys who say they ran for decades and took up cycling because of bad knees. They’ll be kicking your butt in a few months.
    – Every jersey tells a story. Socks too.
    – If you schedule it, people will come.
    – Getting hurt bad makes you want to get back on your bike and ride.
    – It’s perfectly ok to ride without a designated route (provide you have a safety net); it’s often how you find new roads.
    – Most dedicated riders require about 5 years to become rock solid.
    – Changing a flat tire should take 2 – 5 minutes (not 15 – 20).
    – Changing a flat tire on a group ride is NOT a spectator event (get the pump, roll the tube…)
    – If you plan the route, make damn sure its right before sending the GPS file.
    – Learn something new on every ride.
    – Carry a real pump.
    – Accidents will happen. 1) Stabilize the head/neck. 2) Instead of everyone gathering around the victim, send someone to warn oncoming traffic and you could avoid a real disaster.
    – No matter how good you are, someone else is better.
    – Cycle because you love it, not because of a false hero or a yellow band.

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