Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reflections on 2017

January is almost half-over, and it's a nasty, snowy, 12 degrees outside, so it's a fine day to spend part of a Saturday morning to reflect on last year's cycling and set a few goals for this year.  I just squeaked out 7,000 miles again, as I have for the past three years.  It probably would have been more, but Jeanne started a new job only two miles from my work, and this has led me to skip riding home most days, especially when it's cold.  The effect has been to cut my commuting miles by half.  that's not a bad thing, as a 38-mile commute is a bit extreme, especially considering the terrain and roads I need to ride.

It's been exceptionally cold this winter, and I've ridden in below zero temps, but typically I try to stick to 10 degrees or above.  That also has cut back commuting to only 2-3 days, many weeks. This leads me to think that I should pay attention to make sure my riding doesn't slip back too much, because cycling is one of those things that is better, the more that you do.  I have found that I can go out and spend several hours splitting wood and, though I'll find myself a bit sore for a couple of days, it's an activity that I can complete successfully, even though it may have been months since the last time I did it.  Cycling seems different, in that going a week without riding leaves me with a noticeable drop in condition, making the activity more difficult and less enjoying.

I've experienced a gradual evolution in my thinking about cycling.  Since I've been road riding for almost 50 years, at this point, my attitude towards cycling doesn't dramatically shift any more, but does change over time.  I have found myself becoming more detached from the "cycling scene," and more of an observer than a participant.  With 7k mile years, I actually ride a whole lot more than most avid cyclists, but I find myself far less interested in the social aspects of cycling. An evidence of this is that I quietly unsubscribed from the local bike club's listserv, several months ago. I found that this improved my outlook and I didn't miss the engagement at all.  I attribute this partly to the fact that communication on this particular listserv were less dialog than discussion.  Some years ago, I read a piece that proposed that there is a difference between dialog, in which participants communicate in such a way as to build community knowledge, and discussion, which, deriving from the same Latin root as percussion, can often become more similar to debate, or a firing of opinions back and forth, with the goal of replacing another's ideas with your own.

"What do you call it when two guys meet for a bike ride?  A race."  I cannot claim any moral high ground on this.  I have felt the urge to pick up my pace when I see a rider ahead of me, and Jeanne often points out that, when we're on a tandem and we're around other cyclists, I tend to push the pace.  I've found myself consciously working against this, backing off when I see a cyclist ahead if we're going a similar pace and I'm not feeling particularly social.  There's this sense that cyclists have that we're engaging in a shared experience and therefore have a lot in common, but there's no similar sense when we're hurtling down the interstate in a car.  I think that our approach in all interactions should be an underlying commitment to our common humanity, whether we be driving an F250 or a Toyota Prius, riding a carbon fiber racing bike or a chrome moly tourer, voting Republican or Progressive.  I want to get to the point where the only belief that I refuse to change is that everyone's perspective is worth understanding, even if I'm confident I am going to disagree with it.  I don't need to express anger when I disagree, no matter how strongly, and I don't need to ridicule or shout someone's ideas down in protest in order to be firm and resolute with opposing logic, when appropriate.  To bring this back to the topic at hand, cycling for me is not a big race, a sport focused on equipment and training, but a many-faceted activity that is equally valid no matter how it's approached.

Just because we're all in this existence together doesn't mean I find everyone else interesting and worth my time.  I have a somewhat immature student who seems to have made it his mission to convince me that I should be immersed in role-playing games, because this is his fixation at this point in his life.  I tried computer games many years ago, and both read and toyed with role-playing games just enough to recognize that there was no positive cost-benefit ratio for me.  Like watching television, it's not something for which I've seen any compelling argument to do again. I tried bicycle racing as a teenager and found it very similar to my experience running track in high school.  I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more with better coaching ("better," as in "any"), but I recall thinking during one race that I enjoyed the 25-mile ride to the start far more than the race itself.  I placed no value on my position relative to the arbitrary collection of other cyclists in my age group who had showed up that day.  I was just pushing my guts out because that was what I was supposed to do in a race.  It didn't seem to make that much sense, and I certainly wasn't enjoying the experience.  I think that was my last real race. I don't expect to go back and try again, and I don't see racing, or even performance riding, as the logical goal of all avid cyclists.

I have observed that most ex-racers who I've ridden with are faster riders and better climbers than I am, no matter how far back their racing career ended.  One tends to like doing that for which they have a natural affinity, but I suspect that this performance difference is the result of a combination of physiology and training.  I recognize that you get faster by riding with people who are faster than you, and that's part of the value in joining training rides.  Improved condition does indeed translate into more enjoyable cycling, but I am seeking a balance.  Sometimes I enjoy showing up for a Tuesday evening ride on a 30 year-old bike, when I'm in good shape and can easily stay with the main group.  I'm not saying that I'm going to avoid all group rides, but I think it's likely that I will dial them back even farther from the meager number I did last year.

So, here's a shot at some goals for 2018:

  • Strategically train for the 100/200, so that I enjoy the ride, without spending all my free time on the bike.  I have some non-cycling projects on which I need to make some serious progress.
  • More tandem rides.
  • Explore more dirt roads that I haven't yet ridden.
  • Keep my annual mileage to at least 7k. (Just being consistent should help me nail this one, which is why I think setting an arbitrary number as a goal is a valid exercise.)
  • Drop at least five pounds (makes a huge difference in climbing)
  • Drop my pulse rate a few beats.
  • Pay a little more attention to what I eat.
  • Ride the Prouty on the tandem again (it's been a couple years, now).
  • Complete at least one "epic" tandem ride, something along the lines of the Kelly Stand ride we did a few years ago.  Perhaps finally do a gap on a long bike.
  • Complete a LAMB or six-gaps ride.  It's been a couple years since I went over Lincoln Gap.
  • Get in at least one big ride, out of state.
  • Sell off at least a couple bikes.
  • I may join a couple of the rides sponsored by the randonneur folks, but if I do, the control card is going to get stuck between the spokes right at the start and stay there.
What I'm not very interested in for this year:
  • New bikes or equipment (though I am in the process of rebuilding my winter touring bike to become a slightly more sporting bike with disk brakes, so I might actually have some stopping power when things are all iced up).
  • The local bike scene.  I support cycling, I'm just not interested in being a "clubber."
  • Any large group ride, if it requires an entry fee over $15.  Charity rides excluded.  I'm not interested in paying someone for the privilege of riding my bike.
  • Tandem rallies.  It's not that we had a bad time at the one we attended last summer, it just wasn't interesting enough to justify the time and expense.
Ultimately, I just want to be a competent cyclist, enjoying the ride, doing my own thing, staying healthy.  I hope I haven't come across too much as a cynical, crotchety, curmudgeon.