Back on track, July 21st, 1999, I took my first ride on a "road bike". Prior to that, I'd logged a few hundred miles of bike trail stuff on a cheap mountain bike, and prior to that I was in my teenage years riding an even cheaper mountain bike. I was certainly not "into it" the way I am today, but there were early glimmers: as a not-yet-driving-a-car teen, apparently cycling had a lot of the same allure it does for me today. The outstanding pre-adult biking milestone I seem to remember was my Dad bragging on me to one of his co-workers: that summer - er... 1985?... - I had logged about 600 miles on the Indian Creek Trail system on a Schwinn Varsity Junior - a really heavy, red, 24" wheel, 10-speed road bike. A solid achievement for a youth, but I was not in a position to appreciate it, cherish it. There was a lot of promise, but I discovered cars and McDonalds and cycling was quickly forgotten. Instead I gained weight, lost personal motivation, and got to a physical low-point that I don't care to revisit. While I can't understand my lack of interest today, I do remember the Warbird showing up at my house with his new Trek 450 - which, yes, I ended up with and still have - and I looked it over and was either confused, or utterly uninterested. In fact, I think I was in the process of washing my car when he'd arrived, if you can imagine. Somehow, I think it took my total separation from bicycling to get me to a point in my life where I'd end up completely enamored with it again. Meanwhile, the Warbird was out there with his younger brother, "Shorty", racking up miles, enjoying really early editions of the Cider-Mill Century and the MS-150, back when they gave you sew-on patches instead of lapel pins. I honestly didn't know what I was missing. Much later, I met my wife, got re-motivated, changed my situation, and found myself looking at a bicycle again in 1997. That's the quick version.
Initially I got back on the bike because my 1976 Buick broke down, and I simply had to get to work. I started back in the saddle as a commuter, indeed. The Tour De France, I'd heard of it - only from the quick ABC Sports clips of Greg LeMond winning the tour a few years earlier. Mountain bikes were the hot thing, and most shops didn't even have many road bikes - when it came time to purchase a new ride to replace the one I'd dragged our of my parent's garage for that to-work duty, it was another mountain bike. For a while there, even after the Buick was running again, I'd drag the Trek 820 mountain bike out and ride to work for the fun of it. Longer distances? Speed? Spinning? HELMETS? What the heck were those? Looking back over the last ten years, I had no idea in early July '99 what was going to hit me.
"You've gotta get a road bike, man... THAT'S where it's at."
It was Shorty, Warbird's taller, younger brother, that first planted the seed. The human torque-wrench. Seriously, it's only because I've never met George Hincapie or anyone else professional in-person before: but I've yet to meet anyone that has the physique, the lung-capacity, the drive as these two brothers. I won't bore you with accolades, but I have said it before: Never have I met more natural cycling potential or prowess than I'd seen between these two brothers. When you are out-and-out DESTROYED on a climb by someone that lights and smokes a cigarette on the way up, you know you are in the presence of power. A few changes in personal habits back then, and there's no reason I can see that Shorty shouldn't have been in Belgium tearing up the cobbles on a paycheck. Warbird, more of the same. Click, click, GONE. Even today, I have no doubts - back in May 2000: a small matter of two months from me waiting for him at the tops of hills, to him being utterly uncatchable. You can't do that unless you are built to do it. Without a single day in the gym, these guys have legs that make people rethink themselves - and it's more than appearance. The techniques, the head-down power sprints, the gut-wrenching, diesel-power, give-it-hell, get-it-on tempo on the flats, and the scream-of-terror, kill-the-hill climbing - these were the first experiences I had with road riding. It's in my DNA, my upbringing. For some reason, that's why it's never "good enough". I ache for the chase because of it. Even on days when I decide to rest, heaven-forbid I see a cyclist on the horizon, just out of reach - and I throw the rest-day training plans into the fire. When I wandered into the Bike Rack in downtown Overland Park and picked out that metallic orange Schwinn Passage, I really had no clue what I was getting in to. But, I certainly found out
July 21st, 1999; average speed was 13.5 after 23 miles. Tennis shoes, toe-clip pedals, gym shorts, ridiculous-looking helmet, t-shirt. A few months later, I had upgraded the tires, bought my first jersey and cycling shorts, gloves. At least every three or four days I showed up at the power-brother's home to set out and get my butt handed to me. Again... and again. Winter came, and the bike got hung up - and, hard as it is for me to fathom as I write this, there was a time when I almost didn't go back to that road bike. Spring came, Shorty wasn't riding as much, had work and school commitments, and in early 2000 I wasn't thinking much about riding. After all, I had just learned that I was going to be a father! After seven months off the bike, the Warbird stepped in and announced that we were going to ride the MS-150 that fall. A perfect way to prepare me mentally and physically for raising a family - set a good goal, and go after it. Training began in May 2000, and it was the elder power-brother's turn to whip my backside into shape. It worked.
The rest, as they say, is history. The first MS-150, the first brevet, Ride the Rockies, ultra-races, commuting farther, longer and more often that ever before, and a totally transformed body, mind and soul. It changed the way I handle stress, challenges, it molds my kids and sets a solid example, and makes me a better person. There is nothing about cycling in its essence that is bad. One has to remember moderation, of course - which may make you raise an eyebrow if you've read these pages for any length of time - but, yes: family first, indeed. Using the exercise and fresh air to make you a better person to come home to, etc., that kind of notion is immensely important. This web page, however, is dedicated to cycling itself - so that notion of family balance may not always be apparent here. Make no mistake - if the wife ever asked me to stop, I would; but it's up to me to be smart enough not to let it come to that. Balance.
On that bombshell, it's a difficult thing to explain the desire to go back to a training regime that would get me prepared for The Texas Time Trials in 2010. Unfinished business, having seen the trophies - but not been allowed to hold one for my own. Why do people need these things? I never was a jock, sporty, or athletic in high school - but there is this desire to compete, to ride for more than just the ride. This is also a manner of balance, something that the last three years of this "first decade" of road riding has allowed me to play with. Saddle bags, vintage notions, slowing down and smelling the flowers -- there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with that kind of cycling, and I really enjoy it. It's tailored my thinking, my equipment choices, and it's molded my appreciation of history - something else that seems to go hand-in-hand with cycling as a pastime. Going back to what my first experiences in road cycling were like, however, it's small wonder that even on a perfectly empty road I find myself shifting to a harder gear and shoving out just a little bit more tempo. Go long, go fast.... it's what I like.
Coming to grips with myself as a person, as a cyclist, finding personal identity out of all of the experiences is what I think I've garnered most out of cycling. Time and again, a decade of journal entries either spell out or elude to self-discovery, pushing this invisible wall so hard you think you're going to die, and then recovering from it with clarity, purpose, confidence. I love that. If you don't like what you find on the other side of the wall, there is often - eventually - some motivation to push at it again, at least for me. I could go on and on about the metaphors for life, struggle, and more - but you've all read it before. I keep coming back to it, because there is nothing else that gives back everything you put into it. You push harder, the rewards are bigger. You work hard on the bike itself, and you can feel the rewards in the next ride. All that, and finally learning how to hydrate. (He,he.)
Data, data, data. Sometime next Summer I will celebrate my 50,000th mile - at least, that's the total I will have logged since that first road ride in July 1999. Right now with over 44,000 miles of numbers to poke at, I've started to formulate my 2010 plan. I've been able to, thanks to BikeJournal and a bunch of .CSV files, extrapolate a barrage of averages, body weights, efforts, heart-rate data, bike usage, bike type in relation to speed, nutrition notes, equipment notes, hydration notes, mental preparation, mileages when, where, with whom. One thing I have found interesting, and it shouldn't be a shock: it really ISN'T about the bike. My averages have had more to do with mental state and body makeup than what was underneath me - and that seems to follow for gearing, also. I've had fast averages on brevets on single-speed as well as geared bikes, fendered or not, heavy or light, fancy or beater. It just doesn't matter. What does matter is health, nutrition (as-in eating right, as opposed to engineered nutrition vs. PB&J, for example), my body weight, hydration, and consistency. The one chunk of data I'm missing and would REALLY like to have is wattage.
For a solid comparison of how I performed in one scenario vs. another, the only thing differing being the bicycle, wattage data would help - though I'm certainly not running out to buy a PowerTap hub yet. Power to weight ratio is essentially everything, and professional racers take this to an extreme by being very fit, very light - yet muscular - and riding the lightest bikes they can get away with. Many over-estimate the importance of a really light, high-end race bike instead of focusing on the total package. Yes, the bike can make a big difference when it comes to power output maximization and fatigue-prevention over distance - but that has to be weighed against body efficiency, personal power-to-weight ratio with the bike factored out, and other concerns like ride quality and reliability over distance. I was thrown initially into assumptions looking back at 2002, 3 and 4 data when I saw high averages at various distances on my old Schwinn Passage - which in it's last incarnation was quite light, and hi-end equipped. No fenders, no compromises, and race wheels. So, clearly, I need a race bike again for 2010, right?
Those assumptions were questioned, however, when I watched my body weight drop off in early 2009, and my speed go back up to the same levels as those earlier years, but while riding a fully-fendered steel road bike with a rack and generator hub. Having watts data would be interesting, to see if the amount of power I was generating to get "bike A" going those speeds was in an acceptable margin compared to "bike B". My gut tells me that, at speed, the differences would be difficult to see. Climbing? Perhaps. In the real world, however, put Levi Leipheimer on a fendered steel bike with a rack and a generator hub, and he'd be right there in the pack - no doubts. He may finish slightly more tired than the next guy - but how do you measure that? I'm fairly convinced personal fitness has more to do with it than the tools themselves do, in the end. This is, of course, taking out the small percentages of advantage one rider may have over another with regards to shifting faster (ie, STI shifters vs. bar-ends) - but, we'd be splitting hairs, and that's arguably a true racers concern, in that last, heated sprint.
For what I want to do, I have a clear picture now of what I need to do to make it happen - and very little of it has to do with equipment. That will not stop me, however, from looking at stacking some of the smaller percentages in my favor: The same way I wouldn't run panniers during the time-trial, I would be foolish not to at least consider real road pedals and shoes, instead of SPD mountain bike pedals and sandals. Maybe removing the fenders for the race if the forecast is dry, perhaps the rack as well. Maybe, just maybe, looking at race wheels. Maybe even looking at a complete component swap to the waiting Trek 450 frame-set. They key being, in the last 100 miles of that 500 mile time trial, how will I feel - will I mentally know that I've done everything, assuming I have done everything right for my body first and foremost? Yes, the right tools for the job are immensely important; but one must remember that the biggest factor is the engine. I certainly don't need to spend thousands on a new bicycle to get what I'm after: a finish at Tejas.
It does, sometimes, take thousands of miles to come to these realizations. Would I change anything? Doubtful. Every mile, every friendship, every challenge - it's all been worth it.
Ten years in the books, xxxxxxxx to go....
Thanks for reading.