Saturday, September 22, 2012

Stranger Things Have Happened

Greetings Flashblog readers!

I hope your rides are all you wish them to be.  I hope you are finding your strength, and if not that, then your courage to go forth and pedal in the world.  Today was an especially nice day for that, and I did.

Being a super nice day, sunny and bright, warm but not hot, many people are lured out of their domiciles and into their automobiles to go...somewhere, anywhere...just go, it seems.  Being the nice day that it is, they don't want to waste it, so they need to drive as expediently as possible to get to where they are going.  This translates as speed and frantic-ness, and I was dished several doses of it as I rode through the flatlands of Oakland towards the hills.  One urgent chap in a Chrysler 300 didn't like the fact that he had to wait in a long line of cars at the light while I rode up to the front at the light, so when the light turned green he accelerated hard then cut right in front of me, just a few feet ahead.  What was he rushing like a bat out of hell to turn into?  A gas station.  I yelled at him and rode on. Sheesh.  Reminds me of when people in Danville would exit the freeway, speed down Danville blvd. in their SUVs like maniacs, only to careen into the Starbucks parking lot, get out, rush into the store and wait in a long line for their dose of overpriced steamed milk with a little coffee in it.  It makes no sense.  At all.

Anyway, I made it to the "shoreline" of Piedmont, as I like to call Grand Ave. and Lakeshore Aves.  Things get a lot more civilized in this higher rent district, at least once out of the shopping district.  I rode up Lakeshore and veered right on this little street that connects with Wildwood, the pathway to Piedmont proper.  Another roadie cyclist on my right seemed to be riding downhill, then turned up the street I was on and rode right behind me.  I figured he must be riding some kind of secret loop circuit, so I eased up a bit and asked him if he was.  He replied that no, he lived just up that other street, so he comes this way to climb the hill, and he was headed for Butters Canyon.  We discussed routes a bit, he was a little surprised I came from Alameda, then we came to a split and went our separate ways.  Nice guy, I would ride with him.

I then traversed Piedmont, which for those of you unfamiliar with my area, it quite the ritzy neighborhood.  Piedmont is its own little kingdom in the hills within Oakland proper, with its own zip code and police dept.  Huge mansions with gorgeous grounds surround them.  Not much of a downtown to speak of, blink hard and it is behind you.  This traversal leads to Moraga Ave, not to be confused with the town of Moraga or Moraga Ave in that town on the other side of the hills.  Moraga Ave wends its way up Moraga Canyon, a relatively short but nice canyon with an open space dog park-like area and ranch style homes.  Its steeper than the usual ways to get up the hill, so a nice workout on the bike.

This leads to side streets in which I make my way over to Tunnel Road.  Coming down Tunnel were two guys old enough to know better, who looked like Saturday Night Live parodies of road cyclists.  Guy #1 was wearing short shorts a gray sweatshirt, flapping in the wind, aviator sunglasses, an old styrofoam cooler style helmet, and a goofy looking bike from the 80's.  Guy #2 was wearing black shorts, which I wished he wasn't, because he was looking like an overstuffed sausage in his bright green and blue jersey.  His blue commuter style helmet had a huge video camera mounted on top of it.  They were in the full throes of their Awesomeness in downhilling.

Oh Please!  How embarrassing.  Cmon...give me a break!!

I work hard to look professional on the bike.  Not Pro, mind you, but professional, which for me means riding at a high level, which means looking competent, with a quiet authority, with situational awareness, and authenticity born of many thousands of miles in the saddle.  I hate it when Greenhorns go out and spend a small fortune on a bike and gear, and then head out on the streets.  Its so obvious they know nothing other than how to pedal the bike forward, turn it, and stop it.  The problem is that even non-cyclists, read: car drivers, can see this too, and they also think the newly minted rider is an idiot who should not be on the road.  Therefore, in the simple get-out-of-my-way-minds of motorists, ALL of us cyclists are bad riders who have no place on the road.

Case in point:  I was standing in my front yard and a road cyclist was coming down the street during rush hour.  I watched him because from afar he flouted all the signs of a serious roadie:  the blazing red Cervelo bike, the Rapha winter black kit including full head balaclava (it was a warm day!!) and as he approached I saw he was An Old Man.  By that I mean over 70, maybe even 80.  A bus had pulled to the corner to disgorge people and the old guy did not know how to react to this obstacle, and started braking behind the bus, but then, in an ungraceful maneuver went out into the street around the bus,which cut off a line of cars behind, and seemingly disappeared.  I mean, if it was me I would have been around the bus in 2 seconds tops, so I was fascinated by this non- emergence, until finally he came shakingly around the front of the bus, mouth agape, with a look like a deer caught in the headlights.


For the reasons stated in the above paragraph.  He made a bad impression on all cyclists.  Driving behind him you could not tell he was ancient and fossilized, and just think he was a bad cyclists, like all the others---the others who ride the wrong way down the street, cross without looking, ride on the sidewalks, blow through red lights and all the other stuff we see as motorists that give us the overall impression that people on bikes are idiots.  Why did this guy decide, at his age, to either resume cycling or start cycling?   He should be golfing or lawn bowling, or playing checkers.  The road is not meant for him.  Darwinism will exact its terrible toll, I'm afraid.

(since writing this, I've stumbled upon this well written article that goes into the psychology of why)
Also, check out this similar article  sent to me via Debi Palmer. (added 10/7/12)

Cut to upper Tunnel Road.  I saw ahead of me a small woman cranking up one of the steeper sections past where the tunnel used to be.  Actually it is just above where Tunnel turns into Skyline Blvd.  Anyway, the woman seemed to be struggling with labored, uneven pedal strokes, rocking about, steering unsure.  So I caught up to her in little time and decided to offer a tip or two.  I noticed right away her low gear setup...big cassette on the back and small ring triple setup on the front.  Very much like my Lemond Reno.  So I said hello and commented on that and asked her if she modified her bike.  She looked like she had no idea what I was talking about.  So I explained briefly the low gears concept.  She then said "a bike shop set it up this way...I don't know".  Again, I was struck at how little people know about their machines. They buy them and have the bike shop do all maintenance and repairs and mods, all they do is mount them and ride.  Such a shame.  Finally she said " they're not doing me any good because I need to ride more than once a year".  That explained the struggling part.  So I bid her adieu and rode off.

It was a beautiful day and I seemed to have the hill roads to myself until coming down Joaquin Miller, which I almost never do, I was followed very close by some driver even though I was going 40...I think he was trying to intimidate me by "riding my bumper", but no way, I was not going to budge at that speed, in fact the speed limit is 35 there.  I held the lane.  Then for paybacks, I took my sweet time at the bottom stop sign.  Made a full stop.  Clipped out one side, put my foot down.  Looked both ways, then forwards and backwards, then decided to slowly resume ahead of this guy.  I didn't see a gas station there, so not sure what his hurry was.

Finally, I turned north on Monterey, and there in front of me was a road cyclist slowly rolling along on the flat stretch before the speed builds up.  Taking his sweet time. He was a lean and tall guy, festooned in blue kit and bike.  What struck me first was his head of dark hair atop the field of blue.  No helmet.  Instantly my rightous programming kicked in with thoughts of "organ donor", or "Euro wannabe", or "crazy-ass dude".  But... as I followed him, I noticed his nonchalant demeanor... his right leg was extended down and his left leg was lazily resting on the top tube.  He was in no hurry, he was perhaps contemplating something meaningful.  As we descended the faster part, I easily caught him and had to brake, but I didn't go around him.  Because he fascinated me.  His style of riding was other-wordly somehow.  Or maybe from a time past... the time of Eddie Merkx.  Authority.  Mastery.  Experience.  Authenticity.  It was subtle, but I could make it out.  He rode differently, he had style, he had  je ne sais quoi.. an intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive.

At the bottom he finally noticed me and I rolled up and asked him "Hello...are you from Europe?" He looked a little surprised and said in a noticeable accent "yes I am, how did you know?"  I replied, "you ride differently, what part of Europe?"  I couldn't make out his accent, which was moderate.  "France".   I added " I was just in France in June, around Annecy, in the Alps"  To my great astonishment, he replied "I live 20 kilometers from there, on the border of Switzerland!  It is so beautiful, the climbs... so..."  and he made a kissing sound with his mouth.  Instantly, I was honored to be in his presence.  I wonder if he is a retired pro racer, if he ever rode the Tour or any of the great one day races.  I didn't get his name.  But I got his vibe.

That was my ride day.  Some bad moments, but mostly really, really good, and it ended on that high note encounter with a French Velominati.  Living the bike life.

Stop reading!  Go out and ride!

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