Friday, October 10, 2008

When Weight is Directly Proportional to Speed

Yes, there is one component whose weight counterintuitively speeds you up: a chip on one's shoulder.

I experienced this directly today, during my glorious ride with Niles. As I began my northwards ride up Mississauga Road, I spotted someone up ahead on a Look Carbon frame, with what looked like a 10 speed Dura Ace group. It's petty, but those of us who ride steel bikes have no doubt felt it: "If I can merely keep up with this fellow, I'll be showing him something, and exonerating my (generally purely aesthetic) commitment to my objectively antiquated bike." This is of course a hypocritical as well as a petty thought: part of our mantra is that weight isn't so important, that speed isn't so important, and that people on carbon aren't looking around, and aren't having fun. Well, we want to pass them. I certainly do.

And I certainly did today — and succeeded! Not only was I riding steel, but a fixed-gear — and when I spotted my foe I was headed uphill, in a situation where my cadence was decidedly sub-optimal. And yes, with the grace and silence of a jungle cat, I pedalled smoothly up behind him, and settled in stealthily in his draft, biding my time. The time came when we went down an underpass and up the hill on the other side. As he shifted into a lower gear, I got out of the saddle and zoomed past him. He disarmed me by smiling at me and saying "Hello."

Undaunted, undeterred in my sense of antagonism, I gave it all I had in the drops over the ensuing flat. So convinced was I of my superiority that I forgot about him, got sluggish, and allowed him to catch back up. I heard a few rocks scattering off of over-inflated, too-skinny tires behind me. Of course I didn't deign to look back at him. I just sped up.

Then came a vertiginous downhill, and I was in the awkward position of trying to maintain my lead while descending a steep hill on a fixed gear for possibly the first time. My legs spun wildly. My knees cried out. My bum rocked wildly back and forth. Eventually I relaxed and let my legs just spin. All that weight went off of my pedals and onto my Brooks saddle, which wasn't broken in. Curses!

At the red light we then came to, my foe had the nerve to comment on what a nice day it was, and to ask about my bike. I decided to extoll its virtues; he decided to agree; we mutually agreed to like one another. When we got going and did a bit more climbing, I amicably decided to stick behind him, but couldn't help but feel superior still. As he rocked wildly from side to side out of the saddle in his small gear (foolishly riding in his big/big; what a horrid chainline!; and when mine was — oh, say — perfect!), I sat firmly in my (firm) saddle, pedalled smoothly and rocked not a bit, and knew that at the at moment of my choosing I could stand up and leave him humiliatingly behind. After another chat at a red light, he turned around. A bit later, so did I.

Well, yes, it was a very nice ride. The weather was incredible; Niles was his usual self. At 75km, this was my longest ride on a fixed. The quick descents were a new experience for me, but I do think I'm getting close to a "go limp" approach that works for me. One disturbing thing was this: I had a pedal strike. Taking a sharp turn at low speed, I corrected mid-turn, and hit my right pedal. It would be scary to do that at speed.

Otherwise all is well. I love Niles immensely, am now officially 100% comfortable on him hands-free. I also find him more beautiful with every pleasant ride. Oh (certain) bikes: so pretty, so functional.

I'm headed home for the weekend for (Canadian) Thanksgiving, which means no riding (a shame! it will be beautiful!), but I'll let my muscles heal in time for a big ride on Monday. I'd like to ride around 120-160km, and hopefully try out some real hills.

Inducing camera shake as I descend a really not very steep hill.

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