Earlier this summer when I was in Spokane I watched a few stages of the Tour de France on television. It was surprisingly exciting. I was fascinated by the strategies involved in racing as a team. In particular, I was impressed by the hard work and sacrifices the second-string riders made to ensure the star of the team would get to wear one of the special-colored jerseys at the end. Selfish guy that I am, I’d have a hard time doing that. I’d ride to win.
I was also impressed by the incredible speed the riders were able to maintain — even on mile after mile of 17% uphill grades. I could sympathize with the pain and suffering in the riders’ faces, and I suffered right along with them while sitting on the recliner eating a big bowl of popcorn.
The spectacle of the world’s most famous bicycle race inspired me, at the time, to put forth a little extra effort into a bike ride once I got back to Minnesota. Well, I’ve been home for about two months now, so I figured today was as good as any to see if I could still ride fast and hard for an hour or so. It’s something I used to do all the time before I got into the touring mindset.
It should be noted that I’ve never participated in an actual bike race. My experience in that area would be the races that take place in my imagination. In that dreamy headspace, I compete against such things as trains running on tracks, or against barges & yachts motoring down the Mississippi River, or against an unsuspecting cyclist on the road ahead of me, or against a flock of geese flying overhead, or against anything else that might be moving parallel to the road I’m on. I’m sure none of those “competitors” even know I am racing them. That suits me just fine because if they DID know, they might speed up in order to defeat me. Let’s move on.
What This Is All About
I prepped my bike for an all-out assault on a Tour de France-style time trial. The bike prep involved nothing more than pumping up the tires to 105 p.s.i. Call me superstitious, but I think it’s bad luck to pump them all the way to the maximum of 110 p.s.i.
Prepping MYSELF for such a hard core roadie challenge was a little tougher. First of all, I faced the mental struggle of dressing myself in full-lycra mode for the first time in about three years. I’m over sixty years of age now and for some reason I’ve developed a sense of modesty in regard to tight-fitting clothing. Perhaps it’s the extra ten pounds I’m carrying these days. OR, perhaps my aversion to lycra goes back to the the third week of my first long bike tour when I was waiting in line at a convenience store and the Montana dude ahead of me turned around, looked me up and down, and said, “Hey, that’s a pretty fancy outfit ya got there.”
I think of myself as being in fairly decent shape but, still . . .
Let’s go back to my self-preparation for the time trial. Lycra was the least of my worries. The bigger concern was getting my mind and body ready for the challenge. I stretched my arms and legs and neck. I pressed my fingers on my temples. I cleared all negative thoughts from my head. I gave myself a quick pep talk. “Dude, you can DO this!” After all that, I was ready to ride.
I had planned out a mostly flat loop route for my personal time trial. It would begin and end in my driveway, and would take me through 18 miles of harvested farmland in between. I’ve ridden those roads many times so I figured I wouldn’t be distracted by the scenery. I would take advantage of the record warm temperatures for November we’ve been experiencing here in Minnesota. I would pedal as hard as I could the entire distance, though I knew my speed wouldn’t be as fast at the end as it was at the beginning. I can accept the fact that I’d get tired. My goal was to just keep pedaling as hard as I could at any given time.
Oh, the suspense is building. It’s time to describe the time trial itself.
Good Thing There Isn’t A Word Limit On These Cycle 365 Posts, ‘Cuz There’s A Lot More To Come
It started out pretty well. Yes, I clipped onto the pedals and raced away with the grandest of intentions. I mean, with a lightweight, skinny-tired roadie bike I was confident I could achieve something unheard of in the world of solo, senior citizen, unofficially-timed, time trials.
Despite a 12-m.p.h. headwind at first, I felt like I was moving along at a rapid pace and I was encouraged by the knowledge that the headwind would be a tailwind on the second half of my time trial. Damn, I felt good. i was working my legs on the upstroke as well as the downstroke — like the professional racers do — though I could only maintain that style of pedaling for about the first mile and in short increments thereafter.
Occasionally, I was able to draft in the wake of big trucks hauling agricultural products to market. The only times I’ve ever gotten a similar boost from other cyclists was when I was a RAGBRAI rider. On that bike event, impromptu pace lines form all the time. (Almost as often as impromptu beer-drinking parties.) Sometimes those pace lines can be a hundred riders long. When that many cyclists, two abreast, are plowing a path ahead of you, the riding can seem almost effortless. Now I know how the Tour de France riders can ride so impressively in their pelotons. Now I know why geese and other birds can fly such long distances in their V-formations.
My legs were going roundandroundandroundandroundandround. After about four miles I felt them reducing their pace to round and round and round and round, and then after about five miles they were going round . . . and round . . . and round . . . and round . . . and round. I shifted to a lower gear and it helped, but my heart and lungs took a while to catch up.
Eventually my vital organs did catch up and I resumed maximum speed, though the term “maximum speed” is relative. It was the maximum speed I could do at the time, but it wasn’t the maximum speed I was doing earlier.
The tailwind was an immediate relief. I’ve ridden many thousands of miles with headwinds and crosswinds, and I’ve ridden many thousands of miles with tailwinds. Tailwinds are better. (I appropriated that line from Sophie Tucker, who said “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” I think I’ve been waiting about 40 years to use that famous quote for my own purposes)
No paceline of 100 hardcore RAGBAI-ers can carry you along like a good tailwind. Unfortunately, it was only a GOOD tailwind, not a GREAT tailwind. Since I was dedicated to pedaling as hard as I could for this time trial, I outraced the wind and felt some wind resistance. Son-of-a-bitch! So, even with a tailwind I was exhausted by a headwind. I knew right then that I wasn’t the invincible dude I always thought I’d be.
Plus, I had to pee. I guess I drank too much performance-enhancing coffee this morning. Do the Tour de France racers ever stop to urinate? They never show that on TV. Maybe they wear cycling diapers? I don’t know. As for me, I pulled to the side of the road, ran into a clump of trees, did my business, ran back to my bike, and resumed TOP SPEED.
In the moment, I just figured there was a malfunction in the speed monitoring device. But now that I’ve had time to think about it, maybe Trump is onto something. It’s much easier to blame the Democrats and the evil press. No doubt, the Democrats are responsible for programming that thing to suppress my TRUE speed. The mainstream media conspired with the Dems to discredit my beautiful, beautiful speed record. It’s a liberal conspiracy to overcome the will of the people. It’s fraud, I tell you, widespread liberal fraud! I’ll take it all the way to my hand-picked Supreme Court if I have to.
Oops, my satirical side got the best of me for a minute there.
When I was in my 20’s I never expected, or desired, to reach the age of 60. I just wanted to feel like a 25-year old until I died at the age of 59. Things were mostly going along like that until a few years ago. I retired from my job and started up with the bike touring business. I began to adopt the “slow-riding, one-day-at-a-time, stop-and-smell-the-roses, pace-yourself-for-the-long-haul, hippie-love” ideology. That school of thought has spread into my day rides too.
Is that what happens to us when we get old? We transform from high-speed bike riders to slow-speed bike riders . . . and WE LIKE IT? We come to appreciate such things as scenery and the natural world over speed and endurance? That’s where I am now. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?
I rode my 18-mile time trial in an unofficial time of of 70 minutes. That includes the pee in the trees and the slow-down involved in filming two videos. It wasn’t quite up to the standard of the Tour de France, and not quite up to the goal I set for myself, but I was not embarrassed.