Country roads beckon
In the era of Covid-19, there aren’t as many group rides happening. But even if there were, one of my favorite things to do in early summer is to go for twilight rides on the country roads west of our home.
I started cycling fifteen years ago. Back then, proving myself worthy in group rides was a high priority. The ability to ride steady with twenty other cyclists was a prized skill to learn. One of the weekly group rides that I loved always averaged 20 mph for 37 miles each week. It was a sane and great way to build fitness. There were men and women riders, about twenty five in all, and everyone bought into the dynamic. But that ride finally fell apart when the bike shop that sponsored it switched resources to holding weekly criterium practice. That wasn’t a bad thing. Just different.
Both taught me to ride in a group because I was racing road cycling criteriums. That’s where the bunch whizzes along at 25-27 mph on short courses with tight turns and challenging pace changes. The more you ride in groups, the better you get at it. I don’t have as much appetite for that kind of racing anymore. I think you can kind of wear out on that stuff after a while. Plus I’m good enough at crashing all on my own.
Same roads, different sport
Now that I ride more for triathlon racing, the ability to go cycling alone is more important than ever. With weekends reserved for hammering along with my wife in her Ironman training, I still get out for a few rides on weekdays. Sometimes these rides are still done on the road bike. But last night I took the tri-bike setup out for a long ride on country roads.
Riding west the wind was straight in my face. I considered going north and south to deal with it more like a crosswind, but then reconsidered. It’s good practice and a great strength-builder to ride into a steady wind.
I did that for twenty-three miles west to the corner of two country roads well into DeKalb County. There I climbed a small hill and turned south toward Perry, the smooth way back toward civilization. I figured out that I’d ridden 16 mph into that 15mph wind, not too bad for starters.
Whip it good
Coming back on Perry, the first few miles of road were a little rough. On a tri bike in aero, you have to be careful and smart not to catch a patch or real gravel and go skidding sideways or down on the road. Bridges are a danger spot too, so I’d sit up briefly to bumpity-bump over those, just in case.
But then I got rolling. And looking down, I saw that the cyclometer was clocking me at 26 mph. It always impresses me that the riders in the Tour de France average about that pace for 2000+ miles.
But for my purposes, it is good practice to dial it up to 23-26 mph and hold it. Granted, with a wind at my back it is a lot easier. But it’s also a mental game we’re playing out there on the bike. Getting used to the cadence and relaxing on the bike at a good speed is excellent practice for those days when you jump on the bike after a swim.
It felt so good to go fast and take in the scenery along the way. The clouds all perched at a ceiling that was definable and clear. It felt like if I rode far enough, it would eventually be possible to reach up and touch them. But despite that fantasy, clouds aren’t all that fond of sinking toward the earth, lest we call them fog.
Instead, I watched my long shadow dipping and slipping along beside me. On the downhills my bike and I topped 30 mph. That’s such a fun speed to ride on smooth roads.
I’d timed the trip perfectly to coincide with the sun setting in the west. Before the final turn toward home, that bright orb dipped behind a pale purple cloud. The air cooled ever so slightly. I was freewheeling now, my legs hardly feeling the effort. But there were still two hills to climb, and I was at mile 43.
It’s possible, even healthy, to be your own hero at times. I told my wife while having dinner after the ride that it’s important to do these solo rides because they ask you to manage your own reserves while demanding your full attention to ride well.
Plus the feeling of having fully used the twilight of a summer day is a satisfaction that makes the season all that more meaningful. Country roads are calling you too, if you can find them. Reach them. Ride them. Here’s hoping you get the chance this summer.