By: Dean H.
Low gears, controlled breathing, shifting in and out of the saddle. Climbing is a funny thing, really. Those who dislike it often curse at the thought of pointing their bike upwards. Sure, gazing up at a big bad mountain can be intimidating to anyone. Yet those who dare to defy gravity quickly learn that climbing isn’t all that bad and that it actually brings variety to your ride. Riding your bike at a forced slower pace makes you that much more in tune with your surroundings. It doesn’t matter how fast you go or how long, gradual, steep, and undulating the climb may be. But the fact that you’re out there, suffering and immersing yourself in the ride is what cycling is all about. Suffering brings clarity. The simplicity of man versus nature. You and your bike versus the gradient. There’s something beautiful in that. Conquering that climb then getting to blast back downhill isn’t all that bad either.
As quickly as it came the brisk mornings will soon fade into temperate Spring. For us Californians it means that many of us may have already started to wake our legs from the slumber of “offseason”. Which in comparison to most of the country is lacking certain items such as spiked tires and indoor rollers. However, there were a few mornings this past winter which brought these sorts of conditions to our doorstep. It was definitely a nice change of pace to see our San Gabriel and Santa Ana Mountain ranges snow capped if only for a short while. This made for some nice photo ops and flocking to our local mountains in search for Alp-like conditions so we could try to imagine what it would be like to ride alongside the peloton.
For some, the winter season was merely a period of honing skills and maintaining fitness that would be carried into the next year. For others, it is a time to keep on pace with the daily routine, de-stress, and get out from the stuffed up indoors. Although for any category the days pretty much start off the same. Dark and still before daybreak with plenty of layers that could easily be peeled off as the sun came up over the horizon. Evenly metered efforts with every mile counting towards an aerobic base. All of this work obviously topped off with a quick stop at the local coffee shop before heading out to the rest of the day.
It’s strange how the chilled morning air can make you more motivated to get a ride in provided you are kitted up properly. Heck, I’ve seen an older gentleman riding an italian steel frame nearly every time I ride through the local canyon regardless of weather or temperature. I can only hope that I’ll have the fitness and stamina to do that when I am his age. So as Springtime pushes the eager sun up earlier and earlier each morning. As each mile is logged and every foot of elevation is gained keep in mind the long season ahead.
Sometimes when I am by myself on a long and winding ride I’ll pull my phone out to take a picture of the scenery which can be of a sunrise, an interesting feature of the landscape, or just a gratuitous picture of my bike. Lets be honest, it is usually just of my bike. Although, recently I’ve taken to keep those moments to myself by soaking them in and keeping my camera app sheathed in my pocket. The number of morning rides that have flooded my Instagram feed have been great and by now I think that everyone knows I like to wake up and ride with the early birds.
Since I am no authority on how people choose to internalize their personal experiences or even how they choose to share them I still recommend that every once in a while you keep the phone in your pocket and take a moment to yourself. In this moment you should take some time whether you are still riding or have stopped for a quick bite to see how you got to this point and all the work it took to get there. I find it inspiring to have these sorts of personal experiences. The world is a great big place and if you give it a chance it can make you feel like a part of it despite how small it can make you feel.
I got some feedback about this particular Cyclist Thing so I thought I would elaborate. Among the many classifications, sects, and disciplines of cycling there are two groups that can overlap them all: Those who race and those who don’t. There are benefits and disadvantages for each depending on your skill sets and level of fitness.
And up until a few years ago, those non-racing cyclists who were still competitive had to venture out of their own comfort zones and find group rides or organize their own to test their skills with the locals. During this time the cyclists who weren’t able to make the group ride because of work or scheduling were shit-out-of-luck. All they could do was ride in their own time, sparingly make time for group rides, and base their progress on how they felt that day.
Actually… now that I think about it that sounds kind of nice. In today’s data filled it seems like no one rides just to get out on the bike. Riddled and clouded with segments, wattage, KOMs, and training zones, cycling has become something akin to an outdoor statistics class. Clip in, record data, keep cadence at this number, don’t dip below a certain wattage, stay away from this HR zone, clip out. For those of us who don’t have the funds or desire to race this can be a good way to keep motivated.
Strava is a great tool for someone who likes the technological/data filled side of cycling. What it does for many cyclists is make the competitive nature available to those who do not get it from the weekend criterium or occasional stage race. Facilitating competition for the solo rider. The weekend racers and pros who are competing don’t really have a need to compare their segment times because they are already comparing their overall place, ITT, and GC times with the others in the race.
It could or should have been said as “Strava was designed for those who don’t race”. Constructed in order to build a sense of community in local cycling by supporting the healthy competitive nature in all of us. More importantly, it promotes appreciation of the time and effort that others put into the common interest of cycling.
Call it passion or a calling but I really think that something as simple as riding a bike allows us to take something complicated like our lives and organize it into something that we can understand and process. Maybe it has something to do with the sound of your own breath and heart pounding at your ribcage that can quiet the rest of life’s distractions. When we are on the road or on the trail it seems like such an easy thing to explain because sometimes it just makes sense. The use of cycling as a catalyst for our lives is prevalent but ambiguous. Prevalent in the fact that we can see the impact that it has made on our lives physically, mentally, and even spiritually. Ambiguous in that no one is going to have the same reasons for going through the routine
When you try explaining it to a fellow rider and you might get a completely different answer. You might like long and slow rides that allow you take in the sights and sounds of the community whereas they might like to drown out the rest of the world with the pounding of pedals and the dampened sounds of their labored breathing that rings in their ears. It isn’t because either one of you are wrong, it just means that it means something different to that rider. Though if you try explaining to someone who has never been active or has not been active in a very long time and it seems like all you get in response is, “You’re crazy” “Why would you want to ride a bike for that long?!” “Don’t you get bored when you’re riding?” For most of us I don’t think that those sorts of questions cross our minds. Mainly because we learned to love the challenge that is presented with every ride.
Though, of course, not everyone starts out this way. At first, the idea of climbing a cat 3 climb, let alone a HC climb, doesn’t sound all that great. Thinking about the mountain’s relentless grade that wants to pull you back down with every pedal stroke towards the top can be discouraging for most but after some time is put into the saddle something changes. Suddenly you find yourself adding that extra few miles to hit a climb or turning back downhill just to hit a section of the climb that you particularly enjoy. That moment shift in mentality marks the beginning. The beginning of a time when you actively want to go out and ride these taxing rides that most people wouldn’t dream of. Once you realize that the hill isn’t in the way of your destination but the way you want to go, then you might progress from an average rider to one that will make your cycling buddies groan because you’re taking them up ANOTHER climb.
To be a successful athlete at any level or any sport you have to have a plan. Whether this plan is very detailed or merely a guideline doesn’t necessarily determine the type of cyclist you are or may become. The fact that you are taking the time to plan out and follow a plan shows more dedication and discipline than the average weekend warrior. Despite the fact that having a training plan indicates dedication many people tend to take it a few steps beyond what is necessary. You know those riders. The ones who lay the hammer down every single ride, take a pull for 30 seconds and drop back onto your wheel, never take an easy day, and wonder why their training isn’t progressing.
It seems that much of the general population who take up cycling have never exercised this way or on this kind of level. If you’re an established rider you should know that you don’t have to ride hard all the time but if you’re “newly fast” or “newly fit” you think that you have to show off your skills every time you’re in the saddle. So when they hear phrases like “Pain is weakness leaving the body” they think that they should be pushing hard the entire time. Not the case. Proper rest is just as important as a hard workout and if you’re fast enough you should be confident enough to ride slow too. Every ride should have a purpose. I know it’s hard but you should stick to your own pace even when you get passed on the trail. Follow your plan.
New bike day is a big day for anyone who is upgrading from an entry level bike. It is a right of passage, if you will, into a world where all of the time and hard work you have put in eventually manifests itself into the one thing you have been dreaming about. Unadulterated SPEED. However, you have to wonder if it is you or the bike that is making all of these gains. If you’re on the roads enough you’ll find slow people on “fast” bikes, fast people on “slow” bikes, and everything in between. It brings on the big question of whether it is or is not ALL ABOUT THE BIKE.
So which is it? Lets look at the two extremes for slow people on slow bikes, fast people on slow bikes and the improvements that may be seen. In layman’s terms, it can be said for sure that a slow person on a slow bike will not be able to ride fast when compared to racing level cyclists. Though their efficiency and overall speed may certainly increase if they are given a better bike. Especially when the technology that they end up using is greatly advanced simple math will show that greater efficiency and power transfer will result in greater performance. Even though that performance may not quite be on the level of others. When a strong rider on a heavy, inefficient, “slow” bike works hard on that entry level bike and can keep up with the rest of the pack, I believe that shows potential for even greater gains with an upgrade.
Obviously this is not a scientific review. I think that, for the most part, when people make great leaps and bounds in equipment that it spurs on the potential for great improvement. However, when it gets to the point to trying to shave a few grams off of your overall weight to increase performance I think that the solution is not in the components but in the effectiveness of training. So in the end it is and is not about the bike. It just depends on where you are in your training… or if you have a really shitty bike…