Like most bicycling enthusiasts I used to do all my “real” rides in Lycra. Recently however I’ve realized I can wear jeans or jorts like 90% of the time, which is the subject of this newly-published column for Outside:
This weekend I got to put my money where my mouth is (or at least my denim where my crotch is) too. Ever since leaving my last real job in 2009, I’ve led the life of a solitary weirdo, increasingly riding alone and on bicycles that, technologically speaking, look backwards more than they look forwards, such as this one:
However, on Saturday, an old friend who still races invited me to join one of those “gravel” rides that are so popular with the kids nowadays, so I put on my best jorts and did just that:
While billed as an “easy” ride, I knew that as a solitary weirdo whose days are pushing himself are long behind him, it wouldn’t be easy for me. So I opted for the RockCombo, figuring its the closest thing to a racy gravel bike that I currently own:
Of course, I realize they only invited me to join because current gravel group ride rules require that at least 25% of participants must be attired in jorts, sandals, flannel, or similar, and they needed a token dirtbag or else they would have been forced to ride entirely on paved surfaces. I also realize that the only reason I was able to keep up at all was that they let me. (See: those pesky gravel rules.) Nevertheless, I was stricken by the sheer competence of the RockCombo in a spirited group ride setting, as opposed to me just ambling along by myself like I usually do. At this point I’ve come to realize you’re giving up little to nothing in terms of speed and efficiency by using flat pedals instead of clipless, so I didn’t hesitate to wear the mandals, but I thought for sure I’d feel the overall weight (it’s a hefty bike) and in particular the completely un-Karl Farbmanlike (or un-Jan Heinlike) wire bead tires:
Instead, the bike like totally ripped, braaah. The combination of the Silver2 friction shifter and the XTR low-normal derailleur in particular felt like the sort of thing that, if you didn’t know it was “retro,” you’d think was the very latest in performance bicycle transmissions. Even the brakes felt consistent and precise…though my hands and wrists are currently calibrated to these, so it may not mean anything:
Anyway, while the tempting conclusion to draw here is that old stuff is just as good as new stuff, the truth is the bikes are mostly irrelevant and it’s probably more about how enjoyable it can be to ride with other human beings sometimes instead of wallowing in your own weirdness and browbeating yourself with your own incessant interior monologue. It was a great bike on great roads with great people. The bikes were merely incidental.
Speaking of riding with other people, the very next day I rode with (I’m assuming) thousands of them when I headed up to the Discover Hudson Valley Ride with my elder son:
For that I chose my Normcore Bike, shown here leaning jauntily against a large trash receptacle:
I chose it partially because it’s the bike I rode in the video, and partially because I haven’t fixed my slightly damaged hitch rack yet and it’s the bike I’m least concerned about flying off the roof of my car.
[Yes, the train goes right from where I live to the start of the ride. Yes, I fully intended to got there by train. Yes, the day before the ride I realized I could leave my home like an hour and a half later if I said “Fuck it” and drove instead. So that’s what I did.]
The best thing about large group rides such as this is the people-watching and the bike-watching, which are pretty much the same thing. As the foster parent to a vintage Kestrel I was heartened to see someone else who shares my affinity for classic plastic bicycles named after birds of prey:
I was also on the lookout for fellow riders of late ’80s/early ’90s normcore meh-xotica, and standouts included this Cannondale:
This Klein Stage, which is a bike I came very close to buying at the time (ultimately I went with a Cannondale, but sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out if I’d become a Klein guy…):
And perhaps the finest specimen of all, this immaculate-looking Univega:
It even looks like it’s sporting Paselas, the tire of choice for the discerning Normcore Road enthusiast:
After plastering out bikes and ourselves with numbers, my son and I rolled out, and like the aforementioned bikes the temperature was stuck in the high ’80s:
That pink and blue crinoline started out as a regular pair of Lampre bib shorts, that’s how hot it was:
Dozens of bib shorts spontaneously combust every year. What, you didn’t know that?
Really though, it was hot–so hot they cancelled the 100-mile route. When I first saw that they’d done so I thought, “That’s silly, anyone signing up for the 100-mile route should be able to handle the heat.” However, as we rode I revised my opinion to, “Anyone signing up for the 100-mile route in this heat should be arrested and placed in jail.”
Still, the heat in no way diminished the beauty of the Hudson Valley:
And our morale remained high despite the temperature and the odd impertinent rider:
“So why would someone pay to do a road ride you can just do for free?,” you may be wondering. This is a fair question, especially when you consider that, unlike the Five Boro Bike Tour, the roads aren’t closed for this one. Well, for one thing, there are Cheez-Its at regular intervals:
Also, there’s sunscreen, which tastes great on Cheez-Its:
Or, to answer my own rhetorical question more sincerely: Sure, if you’re a certain type of rider you don’t need anyone to organize a ride for you. But for lots of people a well-organized ride with lots of support where all you really have to worry about is showing up is well worth it:
In fact, given how busy New York City shops can get, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these people signed up for the ride just so they could get an annual tune-up:
Also, unlike Jörs Trüli, not everybody who rides a bike is a solitary curmudgeon. Normal people like to meet other people who share their interests. For example: “Hey, you like bikes and supporting good causes? That’s wild, because so do I!”
As you can see, I have absolutely no idea how normal people interact, but I’m assuming it works something like that.
Most importantly, as I understand it, normal people have to work, so even if the roads aren’t closed it’s still very helpful if someone goes out and finds those roads for them and then marks them really well so they don’t get lost:
As for the weather, that’s one thing nobody can control–except for Bill Gates. Still, it was not enough to melt my son’s smile:
Nor was it enough to make me rethink my allegiance to Team Dirtbag:
That’s not to say we weren’t tempted to leap into the region’s many above-ground pools:
In fact, judging by how many riders were simply sitting there and panting while looking at it longingly, I’d be very surprised if someone didn’t eventually yield to the urge:
Having worked up quite a sweat, upon finishing the ride we set to work on replacing it…by drinking some sweat:
It may sound like a bad name for the American market, but Otsuka Pharmaceutical ultimately chose it after it tested much better with their focus groups than “Pocari Urine:”
I was already familiar with this beverage but had never tried it. It was good and I drank two bottles in rapid succession. Basically it’s a less-sweet Gatorade for people who don’t have weird hang-ups about bodily fluids.
It was a great day of riding, and except perhaps for a bucket of ice to pour down my jorts I couldn’t have asked for anything more:
I’ll have to remember to bring one next year.