For a great many years, I was active in racing and riding bicycles. I even coached some pretty elite athletes, once upon a time. Through circumstances and a sad move on the part of cycling coaching away from mentors and the “Owen” characters Maynard Hershon mentions in his most excellent book “Tales from the Bike Shop”- I slowly and somewhat regretfully exited the world of cycling and cycling coaching.
We have proceeded into coaching by exercise physiologists and your relationship with a heart meter and power meter seems more emphasized than the person whom might lead you into some measure of attainable greatness. Well, now I sound like the man in Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, but this is why that song hits everyone so strongly, it’s truth. Here I am ‘sitting around talkin’ about it’, on the internet.
It’s been some time now that I have have ridden- or owned a bicycle (my old one was a custom-made Litespeed Classic like this one) but I caught the bug again recently during my trip to visit my Aunt Terry’s house in Florida when I was doing some technology coaching for her. Now it looks like I will need to get another bike soon enough.
Terry bought a bicycle from me years ago (a manufacturer I used to do business with in Canada) and sold that in the last few years to a colleague to apparently uses it a lot. She replaced her old bike with a newer carbon fiber Fuji, like this one:
She took me out to Ringling Bicycles and I saw some folks I used to race against years ago. It was nice to be sort of recognized, even though it’s been 20 years. I rode a couple of bikes there, including a Fuji similar to the one my aunt has, but with 44cm bars on it.
I got on that bike and was in the small chainring. I found I could still do trackstands easily enough, even no-handed, like I used to, in the parking lot. Then I took it out on some roads behind the shop. My last fitness on a bike maybe gave me 2 hours at most of endurance. This, compared to the easily 6 hours I could do at some speed previously during my racing years. Back then, I was on the bike a minimum of 2 hours a day, even on rest days, and rode between 25 and 45 hours a week; even in wintertime, thanks to the warm Florida rain!
I started out easily enough, just turning the pedals over. I slid back on the saddle a little, dropped my elbows down, hands draped over the hoods of the Shimano-equipped (yech!) techno-wonder that is the modern bicycle. Something seemed to take over me then, and as Maynard Hershon would term it- I Put It In The Big Chainring.
Back years ago, I could turn over a 53x12 (a 118.2 inch gear) no problem in time trials. This is what won me the Florida State Time Trial Championships once upon a time- the pinnacle of my achievements in the sport ( nothing compared to Leila’s MANY medals and championships, I know)- but it had been a great many years since then. Still, it seemed that even my withered right leg from my 1.5 year old ACL replacement surgery (Thanks, State of California who paid for it all and Dr. Lee Tocchi, who did all my consultations and follow-up for free) could still remember the old way around the pedals.
It was a rush, turning those old pedals that way. I got a wild hair and started clicking up the gears on the right brake/gear shifter. The legs went around, and I went faster in my Keen sandals. Still, I wondered if the legs remembered what it was like to go REAL fast. I decided to test them out. Finally, after some blurriness in my vision, feeling a little like ‘Kiwi!’ from Youtube, I just started hammering. At last I ran out of gears, and still, my legs were telling me that, should I be so inclined, they would be willing to indulge me a little bit more.
Well, I sure was wanting such an indulgence, I can tell you, and so I did. And. It. Was. Good.
I felt in a way unchained like I hadn’t for some years before- the wind in my face, feeling the effort, breath coming now a little faster, a little deeper. All the belly breathing I learned on the roads of Orlando and west of there in Lake County’s rolling hills at once came back to me. The endless aerobic fixed gear riding in the early season and intervals seemed just yesterday. The suffering earned in the 2 hours it took to get home after bonking on the way out to Mount Dora tasted sweet as the summer breeze coming off the Gulf nearby. I could almost feel the brush of the knuckles of the racer next to me, and suddenly it was time to turn back, to turn around and head back to the shop. Still, The Legs remembered taking off in front of a hard-charging pack of racers, all wanting to win, and not being caught. On the little residential side street, I felt that I had been gone somehow a very long time, and that they would be missing this bike, which may have been ridden with some real passion for the very first time since it’s assemblage. Would they know how far I had gone in such a short trip? Would I look different? Would the bike?
“Go ahead...” said the legs, as they slowly wheeled around toward the bike shop, right leg stopping at the bottom of the crank stroke, very little weight on the hips.
“Go ahead...”, they repeated, a knowing smile breaking across my face. Old habits die hard. “Yes,” I replied. “Yes.” And I did.