I suppose this is something I've wanted to write for about a year now; I've been sitting on the idea, letting it ruminate and congeal into something solid. The real spark was reading this, from Belgium Knee Warmers' sister site: Red Kite Prayer. I can tell you the moment the seed was planted for this post: I was riding the local Tuesday Night Hammerfest - the People's World Championship - a flat 30 mile course that is completed at redline in a nice double paceline. Sometimes, there are 3 or 4 riders who sit on the back and let the rotation occur in front of them, so if you should feel like you are about to pop, you can drift to the back and recover before rejoining the rotation.
During this particular ride, I was sitting on DenS' wheel, about 4th in the line. Stealthily, Dennis upped his pace and I blindly followed, clinging to his wheel at an already blazing pace. As Dennis pulled along-side the rider in front of him, he lightly flicked his elbow, letting me know that the wheel he was previously chasing was now mine to follow. He then drifted slowly to the back to recover. I was amazed by his savvy, smooth transition out of the rotation - he never left me a gap to close, he never slowed the group, he never gave me a chance to keep him in the rotation; suddenly he had just vanished. Had it been during a break in a race, this move executed at the right time could have given him just enough recovery to win a sprint or attack on a rise to go for the win.
Dennis' move is not something I ever would have learned if someone had explained it to me in words. Yet, in 10 quick seconds he taught me an invaluable lesson, subtle and beautiful. And for that I'm grateful. This got me thinking more about my history with cycling, which when boiled down is nothing more than a string of lessons learned from more experienced riders. The knowledge that I am now - and likely always will be - a small fish in a sea of talented cyclists is both humbling and motivating.
Reflecting back, I remember my first summer of road riding - I can only now imagine how Fred-like my behavior. I remember my first "paceline" with my friend Silas. I would get to the front and I would pedal five hard strokes, five easy strokes, repeat. It was driving him crazy. He got on the front and pedaled even, smooth circles and mentioned that I might try the same. I remember missing a clip into my pedals and falling over in traffic - stopping it for 30 seconds while I collected myself.
I remember riding Susquehana State Park with Peaches and Faticus, watching them descend over 12" water bars at speed with out the slightest hiccup. After smashing a pedal into my shin, I was able to follow their smooth motion to clear the bike over the logs without any more than a kiss of the front wheel to the wood. Now I relish logs and clear them without hesitation.
I remember cross practice at Recreational Park Y, watching E-town dismount and remount on the right side of the bike, thinking "I can never be that smooth on the right side when I already look like a fish on the deck of a boat trying to remount on the left side." Sure enough, at Fair Hill CX last year, I got bumped off my line into the barriers and was forced to dis-/re-mount from the right side. It went smooth as butter.
I remember learning how to prep and glue tubulars from the Angry German. The act seemed steeped in tradition, as much of the procedure (ritual) could have been old-wife remedy as it could have been true science. But either way, I now roll confidently on self-glued rubber.
I can hear Papa Smurf's voice in my head, mocking my mis-matched selection of clothing. Bibs from one kit, a jersey from another. Mountain bike gloves on the road bike with smart wool socks halfway up my calves. Functional, yes... proper? probably not.
All of these teachings have been unplanned, unspoken even. But the sum is greater than the parts. Knowing how and when to pull through, to pull off into the wind, to accelerate over the top of the climb, to lean the bike harder than I ever thought possible... All of these now instinctual actions I owe to someone, and I hope to pass on to someone else.
Part of the joy of riding is knowing you were once the biggest Fred of the group, and knowing that there is no other way to overcome that hurdle than to just ride and soak in as much as possible. Knowing that there is always more you can learn. Knowing that if you keep it up, you will contribute back 10 times that which you have absorbed - just by riding and showing others what you have learned.