Corey’s Stories – Having Fun With The Locals
Just outside of New York City over the George Washington Bridge lies the Henry Hudson Drive. Most people simply call it River Road because it runs beside the mighty Hudson River. It is seven miles in length and has smooth, well paved surfaces thanks to relatively low motor vehicle traffic. It has spectacular views of Manhattan and the river on one side, a rock face cliff wall and vegetation on the other.
I ventured out for an early morning ride with an old mountain bike buddy from Philly. Given that my fitness is pretty good from training and riding as a bicycle messenger, I rode at his pace. He was testing his brand new Independent Fabrications. It was super light, equipped with a titanium Campagnolo grouppo. I was riding my filthy sticker covered Specialized with 105. It was an easy paced ride where we talked about random stuff without trying to race the entire route. We’ve been friends for years so the competitive half-wheeling has long gone from our rides.
We rolled along the West Side bike path of Manhattan without the usual parade of weekend warriors due to both the early hour and the expectation of rain in the forecast. We quickly zipped by the few other users of the trail on the way to the bridge. Once over the bridge we passed dozens of joggers near the beginning of the path. Occasionally we stopped for minor adjustments of our bikes. For him it was saddle height position of a new bike, for me tweaking the bolts after unpacking out of a bike box from a recent trip to Toronto.
On the flat roads and mild rolling terrain we rode together and talked. On the first few steeper or longer hills I waited for my buddy at the top. At the end of River Road is Alpine hill. It is longer and steeper than most of the other hills along this isolated road. Because it is at the end of the road it usually feels more difficult. My buddy and I came to a truce about the hills and I rode at his pace up the final few hills.
Two men on road bikes passed us as we climbed the last hill. I am competitive by nature and was itching to unleash my hard earned fitness on someone. My buddy gave me the nod and I danced up the hill toward the duo.
I passed the first guy without a glance. As I caught the second guy I had a big smile on my face and stared at him as I passed. But then something unexpected happened when I got beside him: he had a serious face on, refusing to even turn his eyes sideways and began pedalling harder. My smile deepened almost to a laugh. This was going to be fun.
When one is really fit they need not stand to go faster, a simple increase in pedaling cadence is all that is necessary.
I smiled as I ascended the road to drop the guy. He was almost a memory in the rear view mirror when I heard a click. He didn’t want to get beat so he chose a harder gear. Didn’t matter to me. I have done 180+ rpms on my fixed gear mountain bike recently. I can churn chunky peanut butter into a frothy smoothie.
Then I heard it again. Click. I laughed in my head. Then again. And again. And then the grind-click that can only be the jump into the big chainring. Within that brief period he panicked his way through all of his gears to try to beat me pedaling rapidly in one. He caught up to me with the same stone face of intense concentration. I thought about shifting too, but that would have been too easy.
I learned racing on downtube shifters. I knew from experience that one shifts first then accelerates. Shifting while trying to accelerate up hills can put great strain on the derailleur hanger or throw the chain off of the cranks. Under load, chains can snap in two.
Rather than shift or stand on the pedals, I let Mr. Mask Of Anger ride onward ahead of me. About fifty meters later he gets to the police station near the top and turns around. As he began to head back down the hill we made eye contact. I still had the same menacing smile on my face, almost laughing. He gave me a head nod. I looked back down the hill and his riding companion was far off, my buddy even further down the hill.
I waited as planned for my friend at the top and we took the flat inland car route back to the bridge. I told him about me laughing in the guy’s face during this mini battle and him giving me the head nod afterward. My buddy told me that as he was still climbing, the guy descending gave him a look that said: drop dead. I laughed even harder.
Road racing is about inflicting physical and mental torture on your competition the same way that fire destroys a wax candle — it can melt through the burning wick or proximity to the flame. Either way, the wax resigns. I look forward to racing this summer in the heat.