On this morning’s New Pier Ride I slid to the back on the third lap around the Parkway and was, again, amazed. So many bicyclists on $10,000 rigs wearing hundreds of dollars of the latest clothing doing nothing but soft pedaling. No hard breathing. Tons of shelter in amongst the bodies. No ambition, desire, or motivation to move even so much as a bike length towards the front.
“What a bunch of wankers,” I thought. “Why don’t they go to the front? There’s no workout back here. What’s the point of all that carbon, of getting up at dark-thirty, of smearing your balls mistakenly with fiery ointment, of all those shaving cuts around the groin just to cozily coddle yourself in a big lumpish peloton?”
Then it hit me. They didn’t know they weren’t at the front. They would finish the ride, deem it a good workout, and get on with their day. Most would think they’d been on the front at some point in the ride. They’d be…satisfied.
So I’ve come up with a little primer to help you get “at the front” and to become a better cyclist.
1. What is “the front”?
This is conceptually difficult for most NPR riders to grasp, but here are some key pointers that will unequivocally tell you whether you’re “at the front.”
–There is no one in front of you.
–Everyone is behind you.
–It is very windy.
–The big fat walrus dude with the backpack is nowhere to be seen.
–Your eyes are watering.
–Your legs are screaming.
–You want to vomit.
–There isn’t enough air in your lungs.
–Your heart feels like it’s going to lunge from your chest.
–Your HRM has gone from a series of quick beeps to a sustained alarm.
–Sheets of drool and snot cover your lips, chin, and cheeks.
–You don’t think you can withstand the pain for even another second.
–No one is screaming at you to “pull through.”
–When you finish your turn “at the front” the next person in line says “good job” or is blown off his bike by the headwind.
2. Do I belong “at the front”?
After firmly grasping #1 above, it occurs to 98% of the NPR participants to ask whether or not “the front” is a place where they indeed have any business being. Unfortunately, they mostly seem to conclude that “at the front” is a place where other people belong in order to keep the speed high while they, the “not-at-the-fronters,” can chattily spin at the back. If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you unequivocally belong “at the front.”
–You have said, in the last ten years, that you “race bikes,” “want to race bikes,” “used to race bikes,” “train with a state champion,” or that “Paris-Roubaix is such a hard race.”
–You have spent, in the last fiscal year, more than $200 on any cycling item advertised as “carbon,” “aero,” “performance,” “bladed,” “lightweight,” “tested in a wind tunnel,” or “as used by xxx,” where “xxx” is someone who gets paid to race his/her bicycle.
–You belong to a cycling club, any of whose members call themselves “bike racers.”
–You have ever held a USA Cycling racing license.
–There is any point during the NPR when you do not feel like puking.
–You have two legs, both of which are long enough to reach the pedals.
–You have a penis.
–You have a vagina.
–You have a penis that used to be a vagina, or a vagina that used to be a penis.
–You have ever contested a sprint on the NPR, where “contested” means “finished within 1,000 yards of the fastest rider.”
–You have ever owned, thought about owning, or are planning to someday own a power meter.
–You have ever met professionally with Ron Peterson.
3. How long should you be at this alien place called “the front”?
Now that it’s become obvious where the front is and that, in fact, you belong there, there’s a third issue: Since only bad things seem to happen to those who dwell there for long, and since you are a firm adherent of the pleasure principle, it is important to know how long you’re expected to spend time “at the front.” Answer these handy-dandy questions for a rough guideline.
–Can you talk? Go to the front.
–Can you breathe? Go to the front.
–Are your legs still attached to your hips? Go to the front.
–Is the walrus dude with the backpack within 200 yards of you? Go to the front.
–Are you holding on for dear life? Go to the front.
–Are you at least 30% over your functional threshold? Go to the front.
–Are you about to cry? Go to the front.
–Is this the most horrific pain you’ve ever experienced outside of childbirth? Go to the front.
–Have you just been shelled? Do a u-turn and wait until the pack overtakes you. Then go back to the front.
–Is your cheek mashed against your stem? Go to the front.
–Has G$, Hair, Canyon Bob, Tree, Prez, Davy Dawg, G3, or Vapor just finished a pull so nasty and fraught with pain that you’ve shit all over yourself? Go to the front.
–Has the ride just started up Pershing and your legs are stiff as boards? Go to the front.
–Is Tinkerbell shredding you like cheese through a grater? Go to the front.
–Are you waiting for the sprint? Go to the front.
–Are you not at the front? Go to the front.
4. Okay, I’m “at the front.” Now what?
After you’ve mastered #1-3, you’ll need some instruction as to how you should behave now that you’re at this new, alien place called “the front.” Follow these steps and all will be well.
–Hammer. This is done by pressing down on the pedals with maximal force until you can no longer press down on them any more.
–Really hammer. This is done after you’ve passed the point where you think you can still stay upright on your bike.
–Hammer your fucking nuts off. This is where you no longer care about anything. Everything is numb except for the pain, which is unendurable.
Well, I hope this helps. See you on Thursday.