Those of us that do not ride motorized bikes still encounter quite a few motorcycles on the road. Once in a while there almost seems like there is a connection between those who run and ride with those who take their hogs and crotch rockets and tool on down the road. Some motorcyclists will wave if you wave at them. I always make a practice of talking with bikers when we’re at a stop light. They’re almost always nice people, glad to chat and talk about their ride, of course.
Motorcycles are obviously different animals than a road or tri-bike. Of course there are some recent suspicions of what is called “mechanical doping” in which road cyclists have been accused of riding bikes juiced up with internal motors. To this point, nothing has been proven. It all started (it seems) with a video clip of Fabian Cancellara pulling away in some spring classic. Some people simply couldn’t believe his acceleration. One fellow went on the mechanically enhanced warpath with videos like this.
I have long believed that some people have better engines than others when it comes to endurance events. All men and women are not created equal when it comes to endurance events. If you’re tooling along in a triathlon and a fellow competitor comes past you at 24 mph compared to your humble but earnest 20mph, you wonder what they have that you don’t.
It all comes down to a better engine. That means a lot of things. A better engine means a more efficient heart and circulatory system. A better engine means legs trained for the job, and a set of lungs too. Great athletes are known to sport higher VO2 max rates. They can simply process more oxygen and go farther, faster and harder on the fuel they take in.
The wheels always matter too. To have a set of good wheels in running means you have a good rate of turnover or cadence. In cycling it has more to do with the type of bike you ride. The better the bike, the reasoning goes, the faster you can ride.
But that’s not necessarily true. A great rider on an average bike will beat an average rider on a great bike every time. There’s almost no exception to this rule. When Jens Voigt had a flat in a crucial stage in the Tour de France and could not get a replacement bike due to Tour traffic, he borrowed an undersized bike designed for kids to ride in ceremonial events and still Jens rode back onto the back of the peloton. He felt like crap of course, but he did not have to drop out. Jens had a good engine that could overcome even bad wheels.
I once watched a guy that showed up in jean shorts at an All-Comers track meet borrow a pair of spikes and win the open 800 in 1:53. Those are good wheels in action and a big engine to boot. He threw up after the event because he’d downed a shake or something like that an hour before. It helps to have guts along with a good engine and good wheels.
Recently I’ve been examining the merits of my own engine and the quality of my wheels. My running has come back into respectability through speed work. But my cycling has not gotten credibly faster in 10 years of riding. I recall a ride 10 years ago in which I rode 80 miles at an average of 20mph. It’s been a long time since I did a ride that hard or efficient. But that group with whom I did that ride has broken up. So did the other ride that typically averaged 20mph for 40 miles. I miss that. So does my performance.
But things have come along recently to replace those rides. However a new realization has struck me relative to my wheels. My bike fit is simply not set up for speed. So my wheels are perhaps slowing me down. That became very evident in my average speed of 20 mph in the recent triathlon. I need to go aero to go faster. So my wheels are gonna have to change along with me. More to come on that later.
It really pays to consider the merits of your own engine and wheels at times. This is true especially as you age. A body goes through change with time, and you need to maintain your engine with good diet, strength work and intelligent training.
These principles hold true all the way back into your peak years of course. Premiere athletes do these things for peak performance. It helps to look at your life holistically when you are planning any type of sustained performance.
But regardless of whether you’re in a state of constant improvement or dealing with the inevitable tradeoffs from age, there is still the wonderful purr of your engine working at top rate. That comes when you’ve done your training and tuned up your body, and that’s a triumph. That feeling alone is worth the work. Suddenly you’re no longer asking if it is your engine or your wheels that is slowing you down. Instead you’re sensing what it’s like to tune your engine to its best performance at any age.
Now go out there and growl.