Winter Clothing in Summer

Smart cyclists buy clothing off season. Add in the Tour de France sales and doing so just make sense. Over the past few weeks I’ve picked up two winter clothing items.

First is Castelli’s Gabba 2 Short-Sleeve Men’s Jersey. Second is Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell Short-Sleeve Jersey. Both feature some version of Gore’s Windstopper. I’ve been a big fan of Windstopper since I raced as a grad student at The Ohio State University. Mostly I liked base layers since I could still wear my short sleeve race jersey. But now that I don’t do much racing and live in South Louisiana, I figured I’d give full on Windstopper jerseys a try. Add in TdF sales and I got two for basically the price of one.

Fit and Finish

Castelli Gabba 2 front
Castelli Gabba 2

The Castelli Gabba 2 fits traditionally Castelli and that means sizing up for most of us Americans. Add in a fabric that’s heavier and less stretchy than a typical jersey and the Gabb 2 fits even a bit tighter than most Castelli/Italian brands. It’s snug. Really snug.

And yep, I said “heavier.” The Gabba is no lightweight. It’s got some heft to it and inside feels a touch rubbery. I’m not sure I’d wear it without a base layer of some sort–tune in sometime in February or maybe January for some long term testing.

The Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell Short-Sleeve Jersey feels quite a bit lighter than the Gabba 2. It also feels a bit softer and not quite as stiff as the Gabba (I haven’t put the Gabba 2 in the dryer on low, which is supposed to soften it up.) And the Gore fits a bit less like it was designed for pro racers with 3% body fat and small frames. If you’re like me and have a bigger build and could stand to lose a few pounds, that’s a good thing. One thing I’m not sure about the fit on the Gore is the sleeves feel a bit long, but that might change once I get on the bike.

Gore WindStopper SoftShell Jersey, front
Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell

Like the Gabba 2, it has a zipper flap, but it’s on the inside. Just trying the two jerseys on and walking around in them, I like the inside zipper flap on the Gore jersey. And there’s more zipper fun. The Gore has a nifty little zipper pocket at the collar that lets the zipper tuck in. It gives the jersey a bit of cleaner look. Again, long term testing will tell which design is better–though it looks like the Gabba 3 will have a similar design.

Both jerseys feature a tall collar, though the Gabba 2’s is a bit taller. One thing that’s nice about the Gore’s collar is that it has some contouring to it. It’s scalloped in the back, giving some room for riding with your head up a bit. Again, tune in sometime in the winter to see if it makes any difference.

The Gore’s back pockets are a bit of mixed bag. The center one is made of the same material as the main jersey while the two side pockets are made of a thin stretchy material that may prove troublesome once filled with stuff like keys, small wallets, gels, bars, etc. I haven’t seen a Gabba 1, but they may be similar to the pockets on it and that may be a problem.

Both the Castelli and the Gore feature a longer tail, which may be nice in wet weather, but may complicate things for those sizing up in the Castelli.

Aesthetics

Gore Windstopper Softshell Jersey, back
Gore Bike Wear’s Men’s Power WindStopper Softshell

Both jerseys are red. I like red. Both come in other colors if you don’t like red. The Castelli Gabba is a pretty understated design and I like that. It has the Castelli scorpion on the sleeve and center back pocket along with Rosa Corsa on the chest with a slightly darker stripe running across the chest for a bit of design. There is some reflective piping along the back of the jersey as well.

The Gore Power WindStopper Softshell is also pretty understated with the exception of the bold “WINDSTOPPER” reflective lettering  along the spine of the jersey. I’m 6 feet tall and a bit wide so I can already hear the jokes. But, it’s an ok way to add some low light visibility on the jersey (maybe a lazy way that no Italian designer would ever do, but…).

As you can see the back of the collar is also black for a bit of contrast. And there is some reflective piping above the pockets.

If you like team logos, it looks like Castelli offers versions of the Gabba 2 in team Cannondale colors.

Final Thoughts

Both jerseys seem like they’re quality pieces. It’s currently 90 degrees and 99% humidity in Louisiana so I have no idea how they’ll deal with cold wind and keeping out drizzle.

So yeah, I live in Louisiana, but the temperature ranges of these jerseys–high 40s to 60s is pretty much our winter. It’s humid here so temps often feel a bit lower and it’s windy in the winter; I’m looking forward to trying both of these jerseys out. For me, something that cuts the wind is as important as insulation, especially on tempo or higher rides.

I’m not sure I’d spend $150 plus for either, but if you can catch them on sale they look like good additions to your cycling wardrobe. Add in the slight waterproof aspect of the Gabba 2 and the Gore jersey and they beat out windstopper type base layers, unless you have no plans to ride in the wet.

 

 

 

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Automatic Shifting for the People? Changing Cycling one Shift at a Time.

I’ve been riding for the past two or three weeks in eastern Massachusetts and while the locals tell me it’s not hilly, for someone coming from southern Louisiana I beg to differ. Mostly I’ve been riding in Myles Standish State Forest, which gets me anywhere between 900 and 1,200 feet of climbing over a 25 mile ride. What eastern Massachusetts lacks in long mountain climbs it makes up for in short punchy climbs that often have short stretches of 10% grades (up and down). The takeaway, it’s the kind of road riding that rewards momentum and smart shifting to maintain it or to take advantage of the quick grade changes.

And that takes me to electronic shifting. I have it and like it despite having been a bit of retro grouch before getting it. (Disclaimer, I rode thumb shifters on my mountain bike well into the late 90s and only made the switch when the guys from GripShift (now SRAM) pried the thumb shifters from my cold but not quite dead hands.) Riding where the terrain requires frequent shifting and frequent double shifts, I’ve grown even fonder of Di2. Shimano was at the forefront of bring electronic shifting to the market and they are pushing the horizon–perhaps in directions that will change cycling and what makes a cyclist a cyclist.

The big change in electronic shifting isn’t SRAM’s wireless system (and it’s innovative, don’t get me wrong), but rather Shimano’s Di2 Synchro Shift. It has the potential to change cycling in ways that wireless shifting doesn’t. Leonard Zinn has a great explanation over at VeloNews of how S2–full Synchro Shift mode works. Basically, it manages rear upshifts and downshifts by a cog or two based on what the rider does with the front chain ring–upshifting a few cogs when the rider shifts from the big ring to the small. As I’ve been refining my riding (and thus shifting) in the up and down terrain of eastern Massachusetts–and missing or getting the shift just a bit wrong, the idea of having a system that keeps me from being over or under geared is intriguing. Of course, it takes some of the challenge out of cycling (and what’s the fun without the challenge?). But then, would we find new challenges?

What really got me thinking is that if electronic systems can make such decisions now, what does the near future hold?

  • How far away are we from systems that auto shift based on some combination of cadence, power, heart rate, wind speed, and elevation?
  • How will such systems impact events like time trials in which a cyclist or coach could program shifts given the course or the cyclist’s fitness?
  • Or a hilly up and down road race course where the system analyzes the rider’s effort, the conditions, etc. and makes the shift to keep the cyclist in the ideal HR or power band?
  • What about a route the rider has ridden a lot or pre-ridden as part of race prep? Will shifting systems be able to learn a rider’s tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses and compensate for them through shifting patterns?

On one level such innovation may change cycling in ways that takes some of the challenge and skill out of the sport and turn cycling into even more of a fitness centric sport than it is now. On another level such innovation may open up the sport (you’d be surprised by how many new and casual cyclists find shifting a black box). And for recreational cyclists or commuters or those cyclists who face physical challenges, such automatic shifting could be a great boon and open cycling up to even more people–or make some para cyclists more competitive than they are now.

Mid-course Corrections

Whew. It’s been a while. A lot has happened. And a lot hasn’t.

Like most of us, I started the year with plans for getting fitter, faster, and more mindful. And like many of us, those plans didn’t quite pan out. But, I think I’ve made the best of those disruptions even if I still feel like I’ve plateaued with my growth as a cyclist (and even backtracked in some ways).

Maybe part of getting on in years is realizing how much is beyond us and how much is behind us (and hopefully how much is in front of us).

The other day I was riding in Myles Standish State Forest in Massachusetts, which in many ways represented a different kind of riding than I’ve been doing in Louisiana. First, while most wouldn’t call it a hilly ride, after a steady diet of flatter than flat riding, it was hilly. And twisty. And a bit chilly. And then I got off the road and onto what may have been a paved bike or just a walking path. It was twisty. And bumpy. And fun. It reminded me a bit of mountain biking. Rather than requiring steady effort with peaks of power, the trail require short bursts of moderate effort followed by some coasting, but not the dumb coasting of a long straight downhill on the road. Instead the coasting or low effort moments required some technical skill–tight turns, off camber turns, lumpy pot hole type avoidance, etc. Sure there were no real obstacles–no logs, no patches of shifting surface, but still it brought back good memories of mountain biking from the 1990s.

And then I got back on the road, with its rollers, descents that did more require coasting, etc. I enjoyed both. At no time was I really looking at my GPS for speed, or cadence, or power. (But yeah I did look at them later on Strava). The ride was a good break from being focused on power numbers (see below) and since it was a solo ride, it was a good break from having to be so focused on the group dynamic. I could focus a bit more on the scenery and the road.

The trip (and in part my plan on taking some time off from Louisiana and coming back to Massachusetts was to try and rediscover and explore new kinds of cycling) reminded me how much I like cycling and how challenging it can be. So far it’s mirrored my year. I haven’t done everything I planned to do, gave up on some of the plans before I even left Louisiana, and am feeling like I’m doing a good job of adjusting my plans as I go with an eye to focusing as much to the day to day, week to week actions, as I am to the overall goal or plan (lose weight, increase my FTP, etc.). The trip will also challenge my abilities to say no, to guard my time, and take care of myself in the midst of family obligations–challenges that will help me grow and be able to say no, guard my time, and take care of myself when I get back to Louisiana and its demands.

And the trip helps me focus on investing in experiences and actions over gear. Earlier in the year I purchased a power meter. For a few months it was interesting to look at the data, but I didn’t do much with it–it was threatening to be another investment in things rather than me. Then I decided to get a bike fit and really invest in the riding aspect, the fitness aspect of riding (strangely this insight was preceded by getting spit out of the group about three quarters of lap into a race). A few weeks ago I created some workouts for my GPS unit and started doing them 2-3 times a week and riding with the local group less. So far so good–I noticed myself riding stronger a few weeks into the plan. And riding in specific power zones has reminded me how much cycling is about the ability to focus and not focus at the same time. That is to focus on the power number, on the feelings it produces in my legs, my lungs, my heart, and overall body, but how to not focus too much on those pleasant and not so pleasant feelings because I know they’ll end. And the trainer power workouts regime is making me realize how much I’ve let the demands of the group, the demands of the world, dictate my cycling and thus my fitness.

So while I might not be able to set up the trainer and work on my FTP in as a structured manner as I was at home, I know that once I get back to Louisiana it will be hot and I won’t want to ride outside as much and I’ll be ok with the trainer. In the meantime, I get to ride some hills, around trees, and in weather that isn’t trying to kill me. Riding in some hills has helped me apply the focus not focus mindset from the trainer–telling myself to ignore the hill while paying attention to it. Several times near the end of the ride, I found myself reminding myself that the hill never rides as bad as it looks–that it flattens out.

 

 

The Local Bike Shop; Not Dead Yet

The Local Bike Shop has taken a lot of heat over the past twenty years. Like anything run by people, opinions can run high. Folks, often in the same paceline, can have very different opinions about the LBS. And then there’s the rise of the Internet bike shop and the idea took hold that the LBS is ripping us off. And yeah, the LBS can have higher prices. And yeah the Internet shops can have lower prices on most stuff and can and does have amazing deals on some items–the loss leader to get you fill your shopping cart. And yeah, the LBS often makes you wait a few days or doesn’t have the exact thing you want. But the LBS is still worth something and if you have one near you, that’s a good thing.

And yeah, I’ve done a lot of clothing, bike part, and even bike shopping online. I own a Lynskey I bought online. I’m rolling around on some Gatorskins I bought online. I’m also riding a bike I bought at the LBS. I get it from both ends–saving money and having the convenience of the local. I’ve even worked in a shop so I get it.

The past two weeks has reminded me of the value of the LBS. First, while changing my handle bar tape I saw how corroded the shifter clamp bands were getting. My LBS (BG Bicycles in Houma) ordered me some titanium Dura Ace ones–I live in Louisiana and am that guy with the corrosive sweat. A few days latter he called to say they were in so I headed down. Only thing was only one of them came in, but Rod was willing to take one band off of a set Dura Ace shifters he had in stock while he waited for the other band to arrive from California. And he helped me figure out that the Dura Ace clamp bands will fit Ultegra shifters no matter what the service manual says. Cool. I’m on the road and have shifter clamp bands that won’t rust in the Louisiana heat and humidity (it was 80 degrees today).

Then over the weekend the front shifter died. Or just kinda died. The downshift paddle on my Di2 front shifter stopped returning to neutral and thus wouldn’t initiate a shift unless I manually pulled it back out. Bummer. Especially when you’re in a paceline at 24 mph in a 15 mph headwind blowing across sugar cane fields.

A quick trip to the LBS. Rod and dosed the shifter in T9, electrical contact cleaner, etc. And we tried taking it apart, but no deal. That was Saturday. Monday afternoon, Rod calls and texts to say Shimano was sending new shifters even though the old ones are 28 months old. He says come down, I’ve got some shifters in stock and we’ll put them on; I’ll put the warranty ones in the box when they get here. Tuesday afternoon, I’m putting on new shifters, borrowing a new junction box to make the firmware updates go faster (the external battery, 2 year old derailleurs and junction box didn’t respond to the new shifters without a firmware update). An hour and half later, I’m rolling out of the shop with new shifters hooked up to my old stuff–junction box included. Try that with shifters you order off the Internets (and not have to buy the Shimano interface).

Shimano Ultegra Di2 Shifter
Shimano Ultegra Di2 Shifter

I doubt any of that would have happened without a LBS. I doubt any of the Internet shops would have helped me warranty 28 month old Ultegra Di2 shifters–one half dead the other rattling like a box of rocks. I doubt any of the Internet shops would have helped me not panic when the new shifters seemed dead.

Sure I race for BG Bicycles–if you can even call what I do racing. Sure, I’m the faculty advisor for the local collegiate cycling club. Sure, I hang out a bit and help him around the shop–changing flats, doing quick tune ups, putting together a bike, etc. And sure, he doesn’t have everything I want. Sure he couldn’t sell me the Gatorskins for the price I bought them for because he couldn’t buy for that price, but that’s ok. I’m ok with paying a bit more for some stuff and for settling for something other than that exact thing I saw on the Internets or in the magazine. But really, is that exact handlebar tape, or that exact water bottle cage, etc. really all that important? I’m ok with him being cranky at times. I’m ok with him being an opinionated ass at other times–I’m cranky and opinionated too. I’m ok with all that because, when I need a tool, or I need to use his stand, or need a repair done, or just need a part and I’m not sure what part, or need something warrantied, Rod is there. And when I want to just hang out and talk about bikes with other bike geeks on a rainy day, Rod’s shop is there. There’s a LBS down the street from him too. And that’s a good thing because sometimes, it’s good to know that there’s a person there. A person who will let you plug your new Di2 shifters into his computer and update the firmware. A person who will open his shop for the club to use as a try on station for that clothing order.

And I’m ok with buying some stuff online, and he’s more or less ok with me showing up with Gatorskin tires he knows he didn’t sell me.

So yeah, the LBS might be dead. But if you’ve got an even just ok LBS, spend some money there. Put your ego aside. They’re people too and have bad days. They’re not perfect, but neither are you. And neither are the Internet shops.

 

Holiday Bikes & Gear

It’s the holidays. It’s gift giving and getting season. Blogs, magazines, newspapers, and social media are full of “best of…” or “look what I got” posts. Cyclists are no different. And we bond with our stuff–we imbue it with some weird kind of spiritual baggage. We remember our bikes for all the epic (or not epic) rides, we use them as totems for our growth as riders and people. And they remind us of our all friends we’ve ridden with, hung out with after those epic (or not epic) rides–the parking lot conversations, the trips for post-ride Taco Bell cheats, the post-ride couch time reliving the ride, and more.

Last week while looking at Spooky Cycles’ Twitter feed, I spied (yet again) the Mulholland in purple. Yep, that purple. The one that was everywhere in the 1990s mountain bike scene. That and teal. Seeing the Mulholland reminded me of my first adult Christmas bike–or rather Christmas frame–a GT Zaskar.

Spooky Mulholland
Spooky Mulholland

It was a the mid 90s. I was working in a shop down in south Florida. Doug the GT rep started telling me about the warehouse blow out, special pricing for shop employees on “warehouse seconds” on Zaskar frames. After a bit of back and forth I told Doug, “Ok, I don’t care what color it is, just make sure it’s a good looking frame–no dents, dings, scratches, funny looking welds, etc.”

So there I was, sometime in November or December awaiting a mystery color Zaskar. Would it be silver? The teal? The already, almost passe purple? And then it was December. If you’ve never worked in a bike shop in December, in south Florida, well… I was busy and didn’t really have time to dwell too much on the incoming Zaskar. Instead, I spent time wrenching and riding my trusty Miyata mountain bike I had purchased a few year before at City Bikes in Washington, D.C. It had a good CroMo frame, a rigid fork, and a slew of upgraded parts including Deore thumb shifters–a summer of real mountain biking in mid state New York had proven the early Shimano low end RapidFire shifters not up to the task of riding in the mud or shifting under any kind of load, or shifting at all after a few miles of east coast muck. The geometry was nothing special and in true Fred fashion, I was sure a new bike with a good geometry and a suspension fork would make me a better rider–especially on the twisty single track/BMX trails we rode in south Florida.

Weeks went by. And amazingly, despite it being the week or so before Christmas, I had a day off. The days before there were rumors that the Zaskar frame was in route so I told my fellow mechanics “If my Zaskar comes in, don’t open the box.” Yeah. That was going happen.

Two days later, back at work, there’s a purple Zaskar frame sitting in an opened box. Yep. They opened the box. “We had to make sure it was ok.” Sure. Doug was true to his word. He had made sure the warehouse manager picked a good one. The only problem with the frame was bit of ano specks on the back of the seat tube. A few darker spots in a otherwise beautiful, glowing purple frame. And man, that frame was light. And the welds were beautiful.

I put it back in the box. Brought it home the night before Christmas and told my parents, “put a bow on it.” I opened it on Christmas day. My parents were a bit amazed–perplexed even. Who buys a bicycle frame? Maybe this bicycle thing was something. Is it a cult?

The next day, I brought it back to the shop and hung it up on a u-hook. Once the holidays were over I’d pull the parts off the Miyata and put on a Manitou 4 suspension fork and a Sachs rear derailleur–because, hey I worked in a bike shop. All in all, with the exception of the thumb shifters, it would be state of the art for 1995 or so.

Fast forward a few weeks. It was still season in south Florida so despite the end of the Christmas shopping season we were still slammed, but somehow I had stolen enough time to strip the Miyata and build the Zaskar. I don’t even think I had taken it out for a ride yet when one Saturday with a shop full of mechanics, we heard a 5 or 6 year old yell out “Barney bike! Barney bike!” We looked out and there the kid was pointing up at my Zaskar. Almost in unison, all the other mechanics began saying “yeah, Barney bike.” That was it. The bike was known as “Barney” and you can bet everyone in the shop was sure to let everyone in the local scene know it. I’d show up at the trail head and guys I didn’t even know would say “Barney bike.”

I didn’t care. I loved that Zaskar. It was quick. Flickable. Sure the back end was a bit happy, but I got why Hans Rey loved it. Yeah, it beat me up a bit. But still. And I was young.

Barney became a test bed of sorts. The mid 90s were a time of rapid innovation in the mountain biking world. It seemed like every week there was a new innovation or a new version of the tried and true. It seemed like everyone and everybody with a machine shop was churning out stems, cranks, brakes, brake bridges, seat posts, etc. Barney tried a bunch of them from the Sachs rear derailleur, to the Cook Bros. Racing cranks, to those crappy Tioga attempts at SPDs, to…well I lost track. Barney even got a set of GripShift shifters. It was late winter and the guys from GripShift stopped by–I mean if you had the choice between Chicago or south Florida in late February, which would you choose?

One of them said, “hey, whose Zaskar is this with the thumb shifters?”

By that point nearly everyone was riding RapidFire Plus shifters, but I was still skeptical. “Mine,” I said.

The GripShift guy said, “Man, that’s a sweet Zaskar, but what’s up with the thumb shifters?” I explained how I’d been burned by Shimano’s first attempt at Rapid Fire. “Hey, if I give you set of GripShift shifters, will you use them and not sell them?”

“Sure, if you show me how to install them, I’ll give them a try and if they work.” I had worked on a few bikes with GripShift and unlike the shop manager Ed, I was interested in them. The GripShift guy ran out to his car, rummaged through his trunk, and came back with a set of shifters. He showed me how to install them, tweak them, etc. and I rode them. I liked them. When I built up a new Trek 970 and moved on from the Zaskar I put on some of the first 9 speed GripShift and carbon derailleur–the ESP X.9.

For some reason, I sold that Zaskar. It was sitting in the back of the shop. I had just built up a Trek 970 and one of my good customers was looking for a bike for his brother in law. I sold him the Zaskar, partly because I had moved on to splitting my time between road riding and mountain biking and couldn’t justify having three mountain bikes–I still had the old Miyata. But I still think of the Zaskar. I wonder where it is. I wonder if that brother in law ever rode it–ever experienced the joy of how whippy it was, how quick it would respond to scurry up a steep rise, how it excelled at slow speed stall maneuvers–how I could bring it to a near stop and make it turn–and how fast it was? How primal it was?

Whatever happened to it, Barney was my first Christmas bike. There have been others–bikes, wheels, etc. but I’ll always remember Barney. And even though I didn’t love the purple then, seeing the Spooky, I’m wishing for some purple ano in my life. My birthday is coming up, so who knows….

Mindfulness; The Soul of Cycling

I did a dumb thing.

The other day, after a week or so of hearing my bottom bracket creak every now and then, I rushed through repacking the bearings with grease. I didn’t take time to put the bike in the work stand. Instead I left the bike in the hanging storage stand. I didn’t clean the work area and gather all the tools and supplies. Instead I rushed through and tried to work in the clutter of the bike storage room–the room that at the end of the semester and in full on shoulder season has too many pairs of gloves, toe warmers, head coverings, etc. scattered around. I wasn’t mindful.

Olof P. Nelson and trainer
Olof P. Nelson and trainer

And because I wasn’t mindful, I botched the job in big and small ways. First the small. I didn’t take the time to make sure the grease gun had plenty of grease in it. As a result I probably didn’t get a full grease purge on my Chris King bottom bracket. And because I didn’t take the time to put the bike in the work stand and to make sure I had uncluttered workspace, I made a bigger mistake.

 

Because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing I made a big mistake: I forgot to install one of the plastic bushings or spacers required to run the Chris King BB86 bottom bracket with Shimano cranks. Yep. And I knew something was wrong when I put it all back together, but because I wasn’t mindful, I let it go. I let the strange free play and tightness of the bottom bracket go. I tried the quick fix of loosing it bit. It kind of worked. I was in a hurry. I had other things on my mind and was looking towards a goal rather than being in the moment.

Because I wasn’t mindful, my bottom bracket made a weird moaning noise at the start of the Sunday Hammers ride. And then if felt weird; tight and then eventually loose. Then if my pedal stroke was off, it felt loose.

Today, I took the time to investigate. I was more mindful. I made sure I had all the tools. I made sure the grease gun was refilled. And that’s when I noticed what I feared; I had forgotten to install on of the plastic sleeves. But because I had done the original job in a cluttered space and wasn’t mindful, I wasn’t sure if I could find the sleeve. Was it wrapped up in a rag that was in the trash sitting out on the curb? Was it lost somewhere on the floor? Luckily for me, the sleeve was on the floor. Hopefully, despite the odd metallic smell the good folks at Chris King over engineered the bearings to compensate for my lack of mindfulness. I put some fresh grease in the bearings. I reinstalled and adjusted everything, but then I was worried about the gritty feel. Was it the bearings? The chain?

Because this time I was being mindful I took the chain off. The gritty feel was the chain. I soaked it. Brushed it. And then, I stopped being mindful. The girlfriend came home. Rather than being mindful with her–of giving her the time she deserves, I tried to split my attention between her and the final step of rinsing the chain. The result? I poured the quick link down the drain. Panic. Luckily, she was more mindful than me and urged me to use the drain trap rather than panicking and going the bike shop.

So, mindfulness. Cycling is about mindfulness. As Padrig over at Red Kite Prayer wrote a few weeks ago, group riding, any riding is about different kinds of mindfulness. A few weeks ago on a Saturday ride, a newer rider went down. He had just come off the front. We had another new rider with us. We went over a bump which for all of old hands was a known thing. Someone slowed just enough. Wheels touched. And someone went down. It’s easy to blame the guy at the back. But I bet there was a lot of non-mindfulness to go around that morning. Sometimes it takes us focusing on the moment. Sometimes it takes someone else to remind us to focus on the moment. Sometimes the universe reminds us to be mindful.

Cycling demands mindfulness. Not suffering. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of our equipment. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the road, of the weather, of the traffic. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the others in the pack–mindful of the people we ride with. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the traditions of the ride, of the group, and of the area. And that’s why I love cycling. Because in a world that pulls me out of mindfulness, cycling pulls me into mindfulness. Sometimes cycling does it through suffering. Sometimes cycling does it through a well functioning paceline. Sometimes it does it through the sublime sunrise, or the lifting fog, or the play of light through the trees. Sometimes it does it with the horrible sound of metal, carbon, and flesh hitting the pavement. Sometimes it does it with the smiles and looks of mutual gratitude at the end of a ride. No matter how it does it, cycling always reminds me of the importance of mindfulness.

Get What you Give

It’s been a long couple of weeks full of job-related stuff, horrible allergies, the lingering Louisiana heat, and well just life. And life without much of the bike. And a couple of flats, which is odd for me since traditionally I’ve been the “I don’t get flat tires” kind of guy. This summer I got three in a row. Then nothing. And then cane season rolled around in south Louisiana. The roads are full of mud, gravel, and cane cuttings dragged and dropped by the cane trucks. I got two flats in a row. One out on the road with friends. And then two days later as I was turning the corner on my way home from riding with some students.

It’s been that kind of October. But things are looking up. It’s no longer 90+ degrees with 80% humidity every day. The semester is finally calming down (just in time for it roar back to life with a vengeance) and I’m finally back on the road. It’s base building season. Or just riding season. Today I saw a Tweet by Joe Friel “You get out of it what you put into it.” And I generally agree with that when it comes to cycling. I tell my collegiate riders a version of Friel. I tell them, “you get what you give” and just not in fitness, but in terms of the cycling community. You put some time in the wind and people in the paceline or the pack will give you something-respect, a break, room to move up in the pack when things get hot and heavy (or you just get strong). You show up to rides, be friendly, push those who need a push, encourage those who need some encouragement, instruct those who need some instruction, etc. and eventually it’ll come back. People will stop and help you (or watch you) change a flat. Or they’ll sit up and wait for you (or not, knowing that you don’t want them to–knowing that you want to catch your breath and then flay yourself chasing them down). Or people in the cycling community will see you, a young college kid on a bike giving it your all, giving it time, giving it love, and next thing you know they’re offering to donate equipment to the club, to you. Or they’re offering to show you how to sprint better, or…. You get respect and love. You get community.

But there’s another way that you get what you give works. Spend time on the bike and the rhythm of the road, the cadence, the sun, wind, clouds, the seasons, and breathing will give you some peace if you put peace into it. Or anger if you put anger into it (though sometimes the bike lets you pedal out your anger and find some peace). And you put enough time, love, anger, sadness, hope, sweat, and yourself and you become a cyclist. Maybe wiser, but you become a cyclist.