I just finished up a great week of bicycling, one of the best I have had in a while.  Early in the season, late February and early March, I was stoked for the coming months of cycling and ignored the gales of winter that persisted late into March around here.  Every chance I got, whether it was cold and icy, I was out on my bike.

Then the rush of golf season also hit, meaning that Nate wanted me out on the course with him every day.  And trips for work took me away from my bikes.  June was a wet month, making it near impossible to get out on the dirt trails for my much needed variety of rides — I can’t ride just the road any more.

July brought me back to the bike.  The bike is my refuge, my quiet time, the time where my mind clears and I can process so much.  That is why I prefer solitary rides over group rides, although I need the rush of competition those group rides bring now and then.  There is a peace that the rhythm of pedals turning, breathe synchronized with the steady pumping of my legs, blood moving throughout me, the concentration of mind and body working together.  Survival.

July also brought me closer to another turning point in my life.  I took a step further, the last step before making one of the most serious decisions of my life.  This is the year for life change, it appears.  Will I make it there?  I don’t know.  I am a month or two away from where that step might take me.

Enough of that kind of talk, however.  My week of biking brought me other more light hearted revelations, nothing new if you are familiar with the world of cycling, but fresh perspectives for me nonetheless.

Five days in a row on the bike — three spectacular road rides that filled me with confidence with the strength I discovered in myself and my body, two frenetic mountain bike rides on the dirt singletrack at my favorite mountain bike park (Saw Wee Kee in Oswego, Illinois).  That was my week, this morning my body both tired and newly strong from just the right amount of exercise.

With the variety of riding road and off road in the same week, I am reminded of the difference in culture between road cyclists and mountain bikers.

Mountain bikers haul their bicycles to the trails.  Trails for the normal individual rider are usually not out the front door.

A road cyclist finds their ‘trail’ when they go outside and only haul their bicycle if to join a group ride far enough away that it is not practical to ride to the start.

Roadies are inclined to spandex and groups of riders, sharing the work in a paceline.

Mountain bikers don’t usually ride in large groups.  It is safer not to.

My experience lately is that the mountain bike crowd is a relaxed bunch.  I found myself sharing a cold beer (or two) in the parking lot at the end of my two mountain bike rides this week.  I’m not sure that I ever have done that after a road ride.  Both times the beer was cold, pulled out of a cooler in the back of the car, the beer brought with the intention to share.  We sat leaning against a bike or on the tailgate of a car, sharing our favorite stories from our ride that day or just plain stories from our life.

Last night, after riding a little more than two hours, I rolled off the trail head satisfied and soaked with sweat, dirty and ready to call it a day.  As I pulled up to the back of my car, another car pulled into the trailhead parking lot.  It was Robb, a guy more than twenty years younger than I, a guy who I had enjoyed a few trail rides with after I sold him my old Spinergy Rev X wheels last year.  Robb has raced and I know he is a good rider from those trail rides last year.  He jumped out of his car, greeted me by my first name and like an old friend, introduced me to the friend he brought along with him to ride the trails.

“You done riding or you ready to ride some more?”  Robb asked in one of the most laid back ways I have encountered around here, “There’s a beer or two waiting for you when we’re done!”.

Hard to turn that down.  I knew I had a little left, not sure I had enough left to ride at the speed these guys were going to ride, but I was going to try.

At the top of one of the hills inside Saw Wee Kee park last night.  This picture does not give justice to how steep the trail is.

At the top of one of the hills inside Saw Wee Kee park last night. This picture does not give justice to how steep the trail is.

An hour and a half later, I had found out it is possible to sweat more.  I also had kept up, a lot of keeping up due to knowing the trails than ability.  We had a great time on the trails, chatting and stopping occasionally to rest.  As we rolled off the trails into the parking lot my body was tired in a very satisfying way, if that makes sense, aching but not painful, fatigued but not wasted.  It is hard to describe how good that felt.  A cold bottle of beer feels very good when it is held against the forehead, the cold beer so refreshing when you know you have earned it.  No one was in a hurry to leave, folding chairs pulled out of Robb’s trunk as we sat in the lot, sharing the company as the sun set over the river in front of us.

On a road ride there is also comraderie, usually shared during that ride more than after.  The acceptance among roadies can be the same as I have found with mountain bikers, but it just has not been as common.  There is more competition, even more snobbery in the spandex clan.  More often than not, a road rider is going to be friendly, but a road biker is going to revel in and hope for the ability to make other riders feel pain (or ‘tear their legs off’).  Unless a group road ride is agreed to be a ‘no drop’ ride (not always guaranteed) you might get left behind if you can’t keep up or have a mechanical failure, not something that happens on the trail.

I like that kind of competition some times, especially when I am strong enough to be the one inflicting the pain.

Friday afternoon, my boss encouraged me to take the afternoon off to get a ride in.  How am I to say no to a proposal like that?  So I took a ride.  The neighborhood I live in is a popular cut through for road cyclists, so much so that I rarely have to ride alone if I don’t want to.  There is always someone coming along and I will join in if the rider(s) is OK with it.  Sure enough, I turned the corner as a lone rider zipped by in the direction I was about to head.  I followed at a distance, knowing there was a stop light a few blocks up.  I wasn’t warm yet, but it was my fourth day of riding in a row and my legs would warm quickly.  The riders pace looked to be close to my comfort zone.

At the stoplight, I pulled up next to the guy, clad in a nice spandex kit, a nice carbon bike with all the right gear.  I greeted him with a friendy howdy.  The guy barely looked at me, a sneer on his lips as he looked away and straight ahead, ignoring me as we waited for the light to change.

OK, Buster.

He looked over his shoulder with a frown as the light changed, standing on the pedals to get a quick start.  Past the stop light was a long hill that crosses a bridge into a nice two mile stretch of rolling hills, perfect to stretch out.  I could tell the guy didn’t want me close, but he wasn’t fast enough to lose me.  Frankly, I could feel his attitude and it irritated me.  So I stayed ten feet back, matched his pace, laughed to myself as I watched him duck down to sneak a look now and then.  At the next stop light, I stayed behind him instead of pulling next to him and he didn’t attempt to make contact.  I let him go ahead again, this time staying closer, waiting for the hill I knew was coming up.  The guy was laboring to stay ahead, was obviously doing everything he could to stay ahead of me.

It was a mean thing for me to do.

One thing mountain biking has done for me is give me very strong climbing legs.  When I felt the resistance from the incline, I announced a pass then pushed hard past him up the hill.  He was twenty feet behind me when I crested the hill.  I left him in the dust after that.

Should I have bought him a beer?