I tend to be an all-or-nothing guy which has been both an unrecognized blessing and a curse. While sober today, the all-or-nothing frame of mind was hard at work when I was a teenager. I was that guy that took the cap off the bottle and threw it away ‘cause I knew I wasn’t going to need it again. On the other hand, knowing I didn’t have the necessary financial resources for a thorough and properly executed cycle kept me from dancing down steroid alley in my gym heyday. Considering the “all” side of that avenue is frightening to think about – a 300 pound meat puppet that can’t comb his own hair but no longer needs to thanks to the juice-induced baldness.
That attitude carried over into my automotive obsessions with a million projects never started, a thousand upgrades never performed and countless small victories never enjoyed. Even today I look at the car and think “I should repair that little thing. You know, the right way to do it is not to replace the little piece that needs to be replaced but to rebuild the entire suspension into a neck-snapping, spine-crushing ride that is worth more than the car and makes it no fun to drive anymore”. It’s only focused attention that gets the cars repaired at all. It’s had two different sets of wheels on it (yes, on the same side) for the better part of a year now. I have a proper set but that would require a bunch of work, some new front tires, some attention paid to the front end and you know I might as well replace everything with new parts and if I’m going to do that I should address the inherent weak points in the suspension design because I know more than BMW’s engineer’s did in 1987 when they built my car because I once worked around engineers…you see how quickly this gets out of control?
I have worked hard not to become an obsessed cyclist, though I appear to be a firmly addicted one (this point is up for debate after my decision to drive to work rather than cycle against the 40km/h head/crosswind this morning). I have not embraced roadie culture by shaving my legs, abandoning all pretense of an upper body mass or spending the monsters’ education fund on a bicycle that will surely be eclipsed by the technology released 3 weeks after I purchase it. I have not jumped headlong into mountain biking, touring, downhill engineless motorbike coasting, freestyle, dirt jump, endurance, urban… Perhaps I fall into the commuter category but that word is uttered with such disdain by those who feel themselves to be true cyclists that I don’t dare admit to such a thing. Besides, I have no panniers nor business-casual Lycra and I’m pretty sure that wearing pants on a bicycle is a fashion statement that must be bludgeoned out with a club. Unless they’re torn Levi’s paired with a sleeveless lumberjack jacket and a beer box strapped to the bars like a basket. It is mandatory to wear aviators and smoke while cycling like this.
No – I’ve done the bare minimum to get into riding. I bought a pawnshop bike after breaking my dime-store one. I wore my summer BBQ attire for riding until, at the end of a 50km ride various tender bits threatened to burst into friction-induced flames. I own precisely one pair of riding tights (thanks babe!), one wind-stopper riding jacket (thanks babe!) and still ride in a ratty old pair of running shoes. This is about as close to nothing-yet-functional as I can get.
However…riding my poor rescue bike – that’s where the all comes out. Every time I think about getting on that saddle I get excited, my heart starts pumping a little faster, I get butterflies in my stomach and I wonder how the performance will go this time round. I suit up, start the Strava ride timer and start pedaling. If the wind is pushing back, the goal becomes to suffer harder, for longer, to endure the mental games that play out, to ignore the aching legs and just keep pedaling. On the other hand, if the wind is non-existent or perhaps even favourable, the game is on and there is but one goal – set my fastest time. This leads to the inevitable spittle and drool flying out of a giant fly-catching grin as I pedal like a man possessed.
I’d had a couple of incidents on the path during my bonzai runs that left me with the conclusion that I need to start acknowledging the path is not my personal track. I’d been pursuing a fully-kitted roadie out of Max Bell towards Memorial and was steadily gaining ground but was certain he would disappear once he’d cleared the overpass and was back on flat path. This was a mistake. He casually made his way around the bends as I raced down the pedestrian ramp and cut the corner. I’ve talked about this particular route a number of times, but what I’ve not mentioned is that it is humped and that off-road grass hump blocks your view of the path until you’ve crested the hump and have perhaps one second to take in the path traffic. As I came over the top, he was perhaps 2 feet in front of me but travelling much, much slower. Have I mentioned that I put road tires on the bike? You know how well road slicks grip the dirt path? Precisely….they don’t. I narrowly avoided plowing through his stick-figure build and crushing his dainty little bike though I don’t think he liked me skidding through the grass to his right. If you’re going to dress like a pro cyclist, don’t dawdle okay? I rode home thinking this was the most serious of a series of recent events suggesting I might want to slow down some. I didn’t.
All or nothing baby. It’s so on. I’m pedaling in full flight, coming down the hill along Fox Hollow. In top gear, I’m spinning (quite literally) as fast as I can and building some serious steam as I head for the train gate. I’m on the thin edge of control as my pedaling is starting to bounce me up and down on the saddle but the rush of speed is too much to ignore. The path curves hard to the right, beyond 90 degrees as it snakes over to the tracks and there’s unusually high traffic on it this fateful morning. Thinking only of the speed, of setting a new record, of setting the best time, I ignored that little voice suggesting this was about to be one of those scenes that I could avoid if I slowed down. This was not nearly enough deterrent and I forged on, a heady 50km/h as I approached the corner. I coasted for just a moment, passing one on-coming cyclist before throwing the bike hard to the right, praying that it would hold traction somehow and carve through the corner. Then I pedaled.
In hindsight, this was the crowning achievement on my Things I could have done Better on this Commute list. Pedaling of course brought the inside pedal much lower than it had been and, into contact with the pavement. This very kindly functioned as a pivot point and unloaded the tires enough to send bike and rider skittering across the path, narrowly missing two on-coming riders. I skilfully used my shin to protect the crank from further contact with the paved path and called upon the inside of my arm to act as an energy converter, turning our forward skidding kinetic energy into heat which it did quite well. Pavement rash does indeed burn.
Lesson learned? We’ll see…are you riding all? Or nothing?
PPS I had pictures of the fun and the aftermath but technical difficulties are preventing their presence…