Saturday, November 21, 2009

The 500 Club and the 700 Pound Gorilla

Last Wednesday I went over 500,000’ of total climbing for the year for the third year in a row, and a few days earlier I crossed the 9000 mile barrier for 2009. Quantity based goals are not normally my thing, but if the weather is not absolutely abysmal, I imagine I’ll hit 10,000 miles by the end of the year.

That same afternoon, I was passed on a solo ride for the first time since June 17, 2008. That’s a lot of miles “looking over my shoulder.” That last pass occurred on the Stelvio in a downpour, early on during a nearly three week trip cycling in the Dolomites, Italian Alps, and the French Haute and Maritime Alps. Technically, I wasn't on a solo ride, but I don't remember the last pass before the Stelvio, so I'm going with it.

On Wednesday, I was in a curvy section of Mercer Island, and I didn’t even notice this dressed-in-black rider until he was about 75 feet behind me. Instinctively, I prepared to drop hammer and mount a defense, but I didn’t. I just let him go without a fight.

Back in the winter of early 2008, I noticed something odd. I’d be out cruising around, and the occasional rider would go by me, pull in front, and then start riding at an easier pace than I had been riding. I’d pass them, and then a lot of the time, the anonymous rider seemed to act like I had thrown some kind of gauntlet down! The next thing I knew, I’d have a bike stuck to my rear wheel that was difficult to get rid of, and many times it turned into a real pain in the ass. I would be just out for an easy ride, minding my own business, and intending on sticking with my riding plan for the day. After scratching my head a number of times over these episodes, I came up with a hypothesis: my recently purchased “Daytime Visibility” package from Dinotte Lighting.

I don’t ride at night, so an amber headlight combined with the most incredibly bright rear light available seemed like an appealing way to up the visibility quotient during those dark days. I use a rear view mirror, and I tend to notice the body language of riders behind me, whether I am riding with them or not. I saw a lot of heads down from people that appeared to be making a big effort to catch up to me. No wonder they slowed when they passed—they were tired!

Of course, I realize that sometimes riders like to use a “rabbit” for motivation to ride hard when they might not be into it that day; I sometimes do it myself. The behavior I was experiencing seemed different. It was as if I was a “beacon” that was calling to them. Perhaps they were curious as to just what the hell I had mounted on the rear of my bicycle, or maybe we all have a subconscious tendency to “follow the guiding light”? In any case, I took action, and I think it started without me even realizing what I was doing. Whenever I saw someone in my mirror, I would start pedaling harder, whether I really wanted to or not. I had experienced some very odd and awkward minor confrontations with people who I re-passed, and I wanted to avoid this happening again.

Of course, to make not getting passed happen, several things are necessary. First and foremost, one needs a mirror. After all, how do you mount a defense if you can’t see the charge coming? Second, one must be willing to alter their plan for the day’s ride. There were many times I forced myself to ride hard the day after a really hard ride, when all I actually wanted to do was tool around and enjoy myself. Last, but not least, there is an element of luck involved, especially when you ride as many miles as I do. There was that day on Mercer Island several months back when I saw a guy riding a full out time trial machine who looked like Ivan Basso, and going like Basso goes on EPO. I don’t know which was skinnier, the rider or the bike. Lucky for me, he was going the opposite direction…

I went out riding solo again on Friday, and then again today instead of joining the HOWC. Honestly, I felt like somebody had removed a 700 Pound Gorilla from my back. I had no idea how seriously I had been taking this no passing thing! Yesterday and today I was more relaxed riding than I have been for a long time. Sometimes you just don’t realize how your subconscious is working on you. Now that I am fully aware of what I have been doing, I kind of feel like a different variation of the same kind of jerks I’ve been complaining about. Good to get this behind me.

I figured I’d be writing a blog at year end discussing not being passed in 2009. Between XMAS and New Year’s, I’ll be riding 200+ miles with a lot of climbing in the Tucson area, and I wasn’t looking forward to defending my no passing rule against a bunch of people in the middle of their prime cycling season. I also have been secretly hoping that somebody on a time trial bike would come smoking up my tailpipe early in January 2010. Let’s get it out of the way early; I’m sick of this little game.

Back to the subject of lights, appreciative car drivers have told me that they can see my tail light from a mile away…in broad daylight. That’s great, and my feeling is that you just can’t be too visible when you are on a bicycle. Must go back to my days riding sport bike motorcycles. I just plunked down the cash and ordered the newest visibility package from Dinotte, featuring both head and taillights twice as powerful as the ones I have now. I guess I am going for the W-T-F-I-T? effect. I normally set my lights on a very unique flash mode that I like to call “Highway Patrol”. If approaching cars can see me well in advance, I’d like them to be thinking, “That must be a police motorcycle, I’d better slow down,” or better yet “I better give this thing a wide berth because it looks like a UFO.”

Given this, I guess I really can’t blame riders for wanting to roll up and take a closer look. I hope they just keep rolling on by, because I still don’t plan on slowing down to stay behind them.


SuperLukerBee said...

Does getting passed on the bullet bike count?

Tom Meloy said...

I'm not sure, since it never happened. I didn't have the singlespeed for the whole time period, and I didn't ride it nearly as much as my other bikes.

Not sure what would have been fair if I had been passed pedaling as hard as I could on a downhill!

Kind of like it wouldn't count if some moron passed me while running five red lights downtown?