July 6, 2008

The Cyclism, baby!

Since the Tour de France began yesterday, it's an appropriate time to babble about cycling. I am an unabashed fan of bicycle racing in general, and the Tour in particular. Yes, I know all about the doping issues, but you know what? I find it hard to get kinked up about it. I was incredibly upset when one of my favorites, Floyd Landis, was accused of doping after winning the 2006 Tour, and hearing recently that he lost his case and the yellow jersey left me feeling sad and dismayed. But overall, I'm just cynical enough to feel that, until other sports are regulated as intensively as cycling is, these guys should be able to do whatever the hell they feel they need to. And, I'm just naive enough to believe that not all of them are doing it. And Dick Pound and WADA made such asses out of themselves so many times over the last two years that they've shredded their integrity and left me rooting for the riders. Ultimately, though, as a viewer there's no way of knowing whether the racers you're watching are doped or not, so why not just enjoy the drama? Whether it's the battle of wills on a mountainous stage, or the adrenaline of a crazy finish line sprint, the Tour is just plain exciting. (And when it's not exciting, it can be just plain funny.)

As for my own riding, this year started out as a hard one for me. I've said before that I'm not a terribly strong rider, but I felt that I made significant gains last year in both distance and strength and even began planning to get an upgraded bike that would help me to grow further. This past winter/spring, though, set me back much farther than I realized. I knew I had been slacking off due to stress (Hell, I only exercised three measly times in March. Three!!), but I honestly didn't feel that I'd lost that much strength and aerobic capacity until I got back on the bike. It was a serious slap in the face. Within a couple of rides, I felt like I'd gone back to square one, where I'd been a few years ago when I first decided to make cycling a focused pursuit. I'm still using higher gears than I did back then and maintaining a slightly higher average speed, but I've yet to ride anywhere near the distances I routinely did last year. By this time in 2007, I was logging anywhere from 25 to 40 miles at a time. So far this year, I've averaged less than 20 miles per ride. So it's been discouraging, but there have been a couple of rides on which I've begun to feel a re-connection to the bike, and that gives me hope that the strength and distance will come back if I just keep getting back out there. Time on the saddle is what it's going to take, and that's been the biggest challenge of all.

Today's ride, though, was a good one. I hit the C&O Canal towpath near White's Ferry for just over 20 miles round-trip. The towpath is an easy ride in that it's basically entirely flat, but a sometimes rough ride in that you're dealing with gravel, rocks, roots and mud pits. Most folks pedal along at a sedate pace, but the solitude and ease of the towpath often stimulate me to push a little harder. While today's ride was short by last year's standards, I was happy to be able to maintain an average speed of almost 15mph, and got in one sprint that hit 22mph. Any roadies who happen to read this are probably smirking at that, but y'all just remember-- the guys in the TdF could blow you on your ass. There's always someone faster than you, no matter what speed you ride. Besides, Bike Snob NYC has validated me, so there:

Another reason people are apprehensive about riding bicycles is that they perceive it as being difficult. The fact is that it’s only as difficult as you make it. Unfortunately, though, most people are completely delusional when it comes to cycling. Many cyclists think that they’re just a pair of Zipps, a Cervelo, and a few expensive coaching sessions away from going pro. Similarly, many non-cyclists don’t bother because they think it takes strength, dedication, and training to be a good cyclist. The reality is that both types of people are completely delusional—the cyclist is much weaker than he thinks he is, and the non-cyclist is much stronger than he thinks he is. So just get on the bike and have fun at whatever speed you choose. The fitness will happen by accident.

Another article I found recently that doesn't validate my riding style had a stronger impact on me:

Now that regular unleaded is more than four bucks a gallon, I don’t take the car for granted. From sheer necessity, the bike has become my primary form of transportation.

This situation has made me wax philosophic on the incredible amount of time I have spent on my bike going nowhere, just riding in big circles. Thousands of times, I have put the bike on the roof-rack, driven to town, done a loop or two with my buddies, and driven home. There were certainly dividends in the form of fitness, recreation, and good times with friends, which is significant. But now I think of the amount of calories vaporizing into nothingness that I myself have been responsible for, it’s mind-boggling. Multiply that by millions of cyclists every day and think of the heat entering the atmosphere, the CO2 we’re expiring, and the sheer amount of energy going nowhere. Yikes.

I have to admit, I'm one of those people who throws the bike on the roof-rack. Part of what I enjoy so much about cycling is going somewhere else to do it. It should be obvious by now to anyone who's read much of this blog that I take every opportunity I can get to go somewhere else. Wanderlust spurs me to drive to different surroundings than those I see every day in order to explore and view scenery that's more beautiful &/or interesting. What I need is to convince myself that the bike will allow me to explore what's familiar, to see new and different things in what I currently consider mundane. That, and that it'll help me to get over my dread of hills. The rollers within a few mile of home are just big enough to kick my ass severely. Instead of avoiding them, I should get out there, let them break me down and re-build me into a stronger rider. But I'm just not masochistic enough to look forward to that with anything but reluctance. And, unfortunately, the suburban neighborhoods nearby are less than scenic. So what will it take to break through the excuses? I've yet to figure that out, but I'm hoping for inspiration.

The lyrics of today's song have nothing to do with the subject, but the rollicking music conveys the exuberance I feel when on the bike, pounding through the mud and tree roots on the towpath. So, folks, I give you Rogues. Enjoy!

I’m keeping an eye on the future,
An eye on the past,
And the present in my pocket
Just in case I need a door…
Into a brave new world
Where all solutions end up with my head
Buried to my neck in sand.

Enough, enough bowing down to disillusion!
Hats off and applause to rogues and evolution!
The ripple effect is too good not to mention!
If you’re not affected, you’re not paying attention!
It’s too good, too good, not to have an effect.

I’m keeping an eye on the pulse,
An ear to the track,
And penance in a locket
I’m dropping from the highest floor.
When it hits ground
I watch it smash to pieces.
Songs of liberation echo from the dust, the dust.

Enough bowing down to disillusion!
Hats off and applause to rogues and evolution!
The ripple effect is too good not to mention!
If you’re not affected, you’re not paying attention!
It’s too good, too good, not to have an effect!

Enough, enough, enough, enough, enough!
Enough bowing down to disillusion!
Hats off and applause to rogues and revolution!
The ripple effect is too good not to mention!
If you’re not affected, you’re not paying attention!
It’s too good, too good, too good… yes.

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