There’s nothing like a long solo climb to clear the head after a busy week. I skipped out on the Spectrum Group Ride yesterday morning to spend some time with my family. I thought I might not get a ride in but my wife and son headed down for a nap in the afternoon. What to do? I could grab a few hours of down time, even nap, or head out for a solo spin. I chose spin.
It’s been a busy week at work and all my riding has been flat and fast with the local Group Rides so for yesterday I decided to head out to one of my favorite local climbs – Kings Mountain Road (map HERE). Spinning in an easy gear, it takes me a little under 30 minutes to cover just over 4 miles to the top.
I love riding this climb alone. It switchbacks through an old-growth Redwood forest with views of the San Francisco Bay and across to the East Bay. Sometimes when I ride solo on back country roads I’ll listen to music in one ear, but not today. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and the steady cadence of pedaling and breathing, pedaling and breathing.
And, the trees! Before moving to NorCal, I had never spent any time among the Redwoods. They’re gigantic and breathtaking. As I pedaled around switchbacks, I found myself staring back down the road into the forest searching for the biggest trees. Mammoth and imposing, silent and stoic, possessing hundreds (maybe thousands) of years of history. I worked through my thoughts and got clarity on some issues that bad been eating at me during the week. It was therapy. Emotional, physical, even spiritual therapy.
I got to the summit and looked out over the Pacific some 10 miles below. I collected my thoughts and made a promise to myself to remember the clarity of mind I experienced while climbing when I got back down into the city.
The descent down Rt 84 is rip-roaring. I have to remind myself not to chase cars. I smiled a bit when a car at the top honked behind me before the first corner. Two turns later it was gone. It’s one of those descents where it’s much faster on 2 wheels than behind a wheel. While there’s time to think on a climb and the mind is free to wander, on a descent like this there’s nothing but the moment. All that matters is the moment. Head down, eyes up, corner ahead, scrub some speed, accelerate out…it takes all of 7 minutes to descend a 30 minute climb. And back to reality.
How about you? Is there a climb or road that you love to ride solo and just have time to think? I love Group Rides for reasons listed HERE but sometimes a solo climb is just what I need.
This is my son, Greyson, on his very first bike ride. He lasted as long as he could until he literally hit the wall.
Remember when you were a kid learning to ride a bike? For many of us, it was our first taste of adventure. At first, the bike was transportation. In 2nd Grade, I started riding my bike to school. Then, my brother and I started riding all over the place on the weekends. Not for training mind you (we were kids!), but for adventure. The bike was a ticket to a world beyond the 4 boring corners of our neighborhood. We would spend all day out in the sunshine riding bikes from one destination to another, basking in the freedom that a bike provided. This lasted for years.
Then I got my drivers license and the bike hung on the wall in the garage. There were new adventures to be had and I all but forgot about the bike. But somewhere in my 20’s, I rediscovered the adventure a bike can bring. Sure, now I have goals when I ride and usually have to hustle home as real-world adult responsibilities await. But somehow, riding a bike as an adult put me back in touch with that little kid that simply loved the wind in my face and the freedom and adventure of riding all over God’s creation on two wheels.
A childhood without a bicycle is a sailboat becalmed. A bicycle has the grace and style to give a billowing gaiety and a transcendent innocence to the fragile moments of childhood. In later years, those moments may be recalled for refuge, however evanescent, from the fits and frights of life. – James E. Starrs, The Noiseless Tenor (taken from “The Quotable Cyclist” by Bill Strickland)
Whatever your motivation for riding, you can’t help but benefit from reconnecting with your inner little kid. Remember that little you that longed for the weekend where you could throw your leg over a bike and ride off for hours on end? Try finding that little kid this weekend. See where he or she takes you.
This post is Part 5 in the series Anatomy of a GREAT Group Ride. I highly recommend that you read PART ONE, PART TWO, PART THREE, and PART FOUR (below) before launching into this final addition. Along the way, we’ve taken a detailed look at the different phases of a great Group Ride, starting with the Meet Up and ending with what you read below. So here goes, the wrap up to a GREAT Group Ride:
- The Roll-Back – The Roll Back happens after the Lead Out and Sprint where usually there’s a regrouping of the pack. This is an often over-looked aspect of any ride but I contend that it’s actually the most social aspect of any Group Ride. The ice has been broken. The riders have shared an experience. First, conversation focuses on the ride and the sprint. Tactics are discussed, close calls are dissected, and memories of similar rides come to mind. Then talk drifts towards the days activities, work, family, etc. It’s during the Roll Back that I get to know the folks that I’m riding with and catch up with old friends. This also happens at the Meet Up but if it’s an early ride I’m usually still just waking up when the ride departs. At the end, it’s a different story. Adrenaline from the ride wakens riders up and chatter is usually louder and more animated. We’ve had the best possible start to the day: a great ride.
- The Coffee – The ride’s come to an end and a GREAT Group Ride usually winds up at a great coffee shop. Cycling and coffee just go together. Try Googling “cycling and coffee” and you’ll get almost 20 million search results (at least I just did). Great coffee after a great ride is just right. After a Group Ride, I don’t always have the time to sit and chat as work and the day’s activities are bearing down. But when I do have the time, hanging around the coffee shop with other riders feels like a luxury. For those who are self-employed, set their own work schedules, or just have more time on their hands, conversations over coffee can go well into the morning. Along with the Roll-Back, if you’re looking to get to know your fellow riders, grabbing a cup o’ Joe or espresso after the ride is the best way to go.
- Character – Does the ride remain true to what it is? Is it meant to be a recovery ride or hammerfest? There’s nothing more annoying than waking up fresh with a desire to go hard and find out that someone decided that this particular morning we weren’t going to break 18mph. On the other hand, if I roll out to a Monday ride that’s well known as an easy spin because everyone’s usually recovering from a weekend of racing and a few riders skipped the races and decided to make our recovery ride a hammerfest, that’s my cue to find some other place to ride. A great, long-standing ride sticks to it’s character…or riders will go find another ride.
- Aesthetics – Finally, great aesthetics do matter. A Group Ride through the urban jungle may be all that’s available during the week but make sure to find a Group Ride that gets you out into the country at some point. The landscape of a ride, where the road takes you, across rolling fields, up a beautiful climb, adds to the adventure and sense that the bicycle is taking you somewhere. We all fell in love with the bicycle as children because it was this vehicle that allowed us to leave behind the 4 boring corners of our neighborhood and opened us up to a world of adventure. That feeling doesn’t have to go away just because we’re all grown up. The bike can still take you to beautiful, less traveled places that most people have never even seen.
Well, there it is! Hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Here are links to the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. Is there anything I’ve missed? Anything else that should be included in what makes up a GREAT Group Ride? Thanks for reading.
If the glory of pro cycling lies along the country roads and cols grandes of France in July and the romance lies in the boulevards and passi di montagnes of Italy in May then surely the heart and guts lie among the cobbles, muurs, and bergs of Belgium in April. Especially in the Flemish region. To the Belgian faithful, where bike racing is a national pastime, the Tour of Flanders is the Super Bowl and World Cup combined.
“I told the organisers it wasn’t a race but a war game. It’s hard to explain what the Koppenberg means to a racing cyclist. Instead of being a race, it’s a lottery. Only the first five or six riders have any chance: the rest fall off or scramble up as best they can. What on earth have we done to send us to hell now?” – Bernard Hinault (5x Tour de France champion, never won Flanders)
First raced in 1913, Flanders was held in March during those early years – on the same day as Milan-San Remo, actually. As the race grew in stature, it was moved to the first weekend in April after World War II. One of cycling’s five “monuments” (Milan-San Remo, Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Tour of Lombardy), the Ronde van Vlaanderen is characterized by narrow roads, and short, punchy cobbled climbs dotted throughout tiny Belgian towns. And for a few hours at the beginning of April, the world descends upon these sleepy Flandrian villages. It’s always a war of attrition and only the strongest survive.
“Only those who are in top condition can say that the Ronde is not hard. For everyone else, it’s the Way of the Cross.” -Andrea Tafi (’02 winner)
In total, Belgian riders have won Flanders 66 times. The next closest country is Italy with 10. No American has ever won here. Only 4 men have won the race a record 3 times. This year, 2 men will line up that have won de Ronde twice, Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder. Both Belgians. Will this be the year one of these riders join the exclusive 3-win club or will Fabian Cancellara or a host of other strongmen ride away with it?
“As a Belgian, winning Flanders for the first time is far more important than wearing the maillot jaune in the Tour” – Johan Museeuw (’93, ’95, & ’98 winner)
The Flemish have a term for the strongest of strong men who take well to a race like de Ronde: Flahute. A Flahute is Vlaanderens mooiste (Flander’s finest). The website Cycling Revealed has an incredible post written by Graham Jones on what it means to be a Flahute. It’s required reading. But in part:
The Belgian school breed them tough. They thrive in foul weather and on atrocious roads. As children, they grow up “playing racing.” Museeuw tells us that the Tour of Flanders route passed right by his house. The kids dream of being like the great champions. When they are old enough to race they start to train in conditions similar to the races. Only the toughest survive and in the Flemish tongue these “hardest of the hard men” are known as Flahute. – Graham Jones
Welcome to the first weekend in April where the Flahute come out to play and destroy. Versus coverage of the Tour of Flanders airs at 1pm PST on Sunday. Set your DVR or, better yet, watch it live.
I love to sleep. And I’m not a morning person. Not a good combo for a cyclist. In order to ride during the week, it’s those early morning hours that I’ve had to make friends with over the years in order to get the miles in. But I usually can’t think straight right when I wake up. Maybe you’re the same. For years, it took me 30 minutes or more from the time I woke up to the time I rolled off in the dark to meet up with the Group Ride. I just move slowly. Searching for knee warmers, fiddling with the floor pump, even struggling with the ratchets on my shoes…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled out the door without bottles.
So over the years, I’ve had to develop a routine that involves planning the night before so that I don’t have to think when the alarm goes off. Here are a few tips I’ve learned for making the most of those early morning minutes. The key is preparing all I can and laying it all out so I don’t have to think in the morning. All of this occurs the night before:
- Check the weather and temp for the morning, especially for the colder months. The Weather Channel iPhone app has a temp predictor that’s fairly accurate.
- Lay out appropriate kit based on temp in order of how I put it on. Socks, knee/leg warmers, bibs, base layer, jersey, arm warmers, gloves, hat, helmet, vest/jacket.
- Prepare one bagel with Nutella. Put it in a baggie so it keeps ’til morning.
- Fill bottles and put in fridge in the front next to the bagel I’m going to eat in the morning. I’ll forget the bottles if they’re not right next to food. Again, it’s early and dark and I can’t think straight.
- Pump up tires. Leave bike by the door. Check to make sure bike lights work. Put phone/ID/keys next to bike.
- Fill coffee maker. Set timer on coffee for 5 minutes before I get up.
Here’s the routine in the morning:
- Wake up to my ridiculously loud, annoying alarm. Think of 10 reasons why I should stay in bed. Visualize my riding buddies calling me all kinds of names if I skip the ride. Drag myself out of bed.
- Dress while checking current temp. Hopefully, I don’t have to look for more layers.
- Hit the fridge. Grab bagel and bottles.
- Roll out and eat while riding to the Group Ride.
Unless I forget something, I can usually go from getting out of bed to pedaling in 15 minutes.
Any tips from your morning routine? Can you get out the door in less than 15 minutes?
Here’s a companion video to my previous post The Subtle, Devastating Attack. In the previous post, we see Fabian Cancellara simply riding away from heavy hitter Tom Boonen on the decisive climb in last year’s Tour of Flanders. In this video from the 2010 edition of Paris-Roubaix, we see Spartacus riding away once again (at the 2:10 mark) from the strongest riders in the world. Poor Boonen could only watch as he was sitting too far back in the field to respond. To give chase would only mean pulling the entire break up to Cancellara…assuming he could. My guess is that he would have if he could but he didn’t. My favorite moment comes around the 6:20 mark when Leukemans, sitting on Fabian’s wheel, literally just sits up because he can’t follow the pace any longer. He rode the final 46k solo. Spartacus bulldozed the field.
The first video includes the Bulldozer Attack. The second video takes you to the finish of one of the most dominating Roubaix wins in the modern era.
De Ronde and Roubaix are coming up in the next 2 weeks. Can’t wait to see what fireworks go off this year!
It’s been a long two weeks around here. Days on end of heavy rains and increased work responsibilities have left Northern California and my training a soggy mess. I had a plan at the beginning of the season and it didn’t include a few weeks of miserable, short fixed-gear riding in torrential rain and too many days on the trainer. But all that went away today with the end of a work project and the return of bright, sunny skies. Undoubtedly, we’ll have a few more days of rain and a few cold mornings ’til summer but it felt like spring arrived when I woke up this morning.
I used to stress about these kinds of interruptions in my riding schedule but I now look at them as blessings in disguise. In fact, I think it’s the interruptions that rekindle the passion for riding and training. Besides, fitness doesn’t go away overnight so I’m learning to just go with it. Plus, I’m more amped to get up early than I have been in months and the weekend can’t get here soon enough. I would imagine it’s the same kind of feeling if you live in an area that truly has seasons. It’s a common occurrence among my friends in the more southerly climes to suffer a mid-season burn-out around May. I’ve never known my cyclist friends in the Northeast or Midwest to suffer the same burnout that early. My friends in New England are always stoked when things thaw out.
Maybe it’s time to view interruptions as a vital part of training. Maybe periods of not riding and even the ensuing frustration are actually as important to the journey as those seasons when all our available time is spent in the saddle. Honestly, I might just be saying that to make myself feel better because I’ve been out of the saddle for a bit. But I can’t deny that I’m actually stoked to get up at 5am when I know that the roads are clear and Spring is here.
So what do you do? How do you handle interruptions in your training schedule when weather or life intervene? Be encouraged! Whether bad weather, overload at work, or other responsibilities come your way, remember that “this too shall pass.” Besides, Spring is upon us and we’re off to the races.