I used to be off the grid, you know, no speedometer or HRM and certainly no power meter, just riding in a fog on a steel bike pounding like an idiot until I couldn’t pound anymore and then slacking off until I could hear myself pant and then whaling away again at the pedals until I was gagging and crosseyed and had my face covered in the sheetsmear of snot and spit and then back it off until my eyes could focus again and then just pound and flail away to a fare-the-well. The thing about this methodology is that, often times, after a while there would only be one or two, or sometimes even no idiots left.
Other times, though, I’d just crack, fade, and watch the peloton whoosh away.
So I figured that I needed to take advantage of modern training methods, and along with a super pro doping regimen of corticosteroids, masking agents, blood boosters and coke and amphetamines and shit I would get a speedometer and a Garmin and a power meter and a copy of TrainingPeaks and then I’d read a bunch more shit and analyze my numbers and track my FTP and learn about my power-to-weight ratio and understand how many matches I could burn in a race and then periodize the whole shebang and, along with the drugs and the new carbon bike and the carbon wheels and the computer technology I would be bad ass, just like I imagined I used to be back in the day, when in fact I wasn’t really bad ass at all, and was pretty much just half-bad ass, or really mostly nice and obedient ass.
Problem is, I couldn’t afford the drugs or understand how to use them without killing myself or growing a third eye, and even the new bike and wheels took a one-year no-interest payment plan from Specialized, and by the time I’d added the power meter I was flat fucking broke-er than I’d ever been before and was having to seriously consider starting the year with something less than $900 in new kits designed by Joe Yule and StageOne.
Other problem was that after close to three years of data and power analysis, I still sucked. The numbers didn’t lie, and although they’d occasionally whisper sweet nothings in my ear (“Today’s 20-min power was the best in six months, you powerful cycling stud and overall sexy dog!”), those occasional sweet nothings were invariably drowned out by the raucous jeering of race day results: “YOU–YES, YOU!!–SUCK! Go home now! You’ve never been any good and you never will be!”
Strava to the rescue
Somewhere along the way I discovered Strava, which was kind of an antidote to race day suckage in that I could always go create a special segment that went from, say, from the garage’s electronic gate that no one can get behind without a buzzer, to the entrance by the apartment tennis courts, and then I could own the shit out of that segment. KOM all fucking day, poseurs. Eat my bytes.
That brief bit of consolation turned to gall and wormwood when GregBot sniffed out my KOM’s and one by one took them all away, often teaming up with Wankers Deluxe like Douggie and Fireman. And because GregBot has a Ph.D. in psychology he was even able to reprogram the garage’s electronic gate. The one segment I was sure I’d own until doomsday is now his. You can look it up if you don’t believe me: Lowridge Apartments Garage Gate to Tennis Courts, RPV, California. Eleven seconds. KOM: GregBot.
The final straw, though, was sixteen days ago. I’d forgotten my Garmin for the first time ever. It was the morning of the New Pier Ride, and without my computer I was lost. How many rpm’s was I doing? How close was I to my threshold? How fast was I going? What time was it? How many kilojoules had I expended? What was the current lap time, lap power, three-second power, and total elapsed time? What the fuck was I supposed to do?
As we hit Pershing I fell into the Old Way. The Way before power meters, before carbon wheelsets, before plastic bike frames, before brake lever shifters, before calculations and analysis and review and segments and training regimens and all that other shit.
The Old Way of Hammer
According to the Old Way of Hammer, one simply hammers without regard to anything other than how long one can continue hammering. The only limiter to the Old Way of Hammer is pain. You are not slowed down by wind, power, heart rate, spoke count, lack of aero equipment, hills, dirt, rain, gear ratios, strategy, distance, size or quality of field, red blood cells, glycogen, oxygen, water, time or space. You are only slowed by pain.
As I fell into the Old Way things felt suddenly better. It no longer mattered how many watts I wasn’t producing, because ultimately I would run out of oxygen, my legs would seize up, and I would spin off to the side like a jettisoned rocket booster. It no longer mattered how fast I was going because, until someone came by, I was going faster than everyone else. It no longer mattered how badly it hurt, because once I could no longer tolerate the pain I would stop, and then the pain would go away, and I could hammer again.
Many years ago my granny made me an Afghan blanket that says in the bottom left-hand corner in her neatly embroidered hand, “1974, For Seth With Love.”
Every time I pull that blanket over my knees, curling up to write nasty political diatribes to strangers on FB I feel all cozy and warm, from the soft texture of the wool yarn but also from the comfort of that familiar blanket. That’s how I felt rolling up Pershing in the Old Way, wrapped in a warm, familiar, sweat-soaked, snot-covered, heaving, choking blanket of pain. Welcome back, Kotter.
Moderation is a sign of instability
No matter the side of the fence you’re on, whether you’re Beachbody or ViSalus, Amway or HerbaLife, Ambulance Chaser or Insurance Whore, you’d better be all in. People who try to find the best out of various alternatives end up as appealing as a rum-soaked Christmas fruitcake with fifteen different kinds of dried fruit. Like Jesus? Spread the fucking word and don’t take “Sorry, I’m Jewish,” for an answer. Think Ron Paul is the answer to our problems? Tell the world, adorn your ass with his bumper stickers, and don’t be deterred by the fact that he’s a crazy, right-wing, mysogynistic, racist whackdoodle. As Mark Bixby said, “Go big or go home.”
So when I realized that the Old Way was really the best way for me, I sent TrainingPeaks to the recycle bin, then stripped off all the data measuring devices from my Specialized Scratch and retired them. PowerTap hub and Zipp 404’s to Ebay. Garmin to The Box Where Used Bike Parts Go To Die.
And the more I thought about it, the happier I became, which was almost reason to put them all back on again. The numbers never really told me anything anyway, at least nothing I could use. On the other hand, they constantly reminded me of how hopelessly out of reach true ability on the bike would always be. Cycling, the ultimate sport of fantasy, where everyone can be a winner if he just ignores all the people around him, had become like golf: cold, hard, numerical, unwinnable, and impregnable to the prodding penis of fantasy.
You know how no doctor has ever said, “Well, Joe, you should take up golf in order to get a handle on this high blood pressure”? That’s how biking had gradually begun to feel. It was like golf without Tiger’s tawdry tabloid stories, which frankly were the only thing that ever made golf seem remotely like an activity that might appeal to me.
Best of all, this newfound love of the oldfound way has allowed me to do the one thing that makes the entire cycling endeavor worthwhile: buy new stuff. Without the PowerTap Zipps I needed a new set of wheels, and it just so happened that the bike shop had a brand new pair of Mavic Open Pro 32-hole clinchers built up on–gasp, sweat, palpitate, throb, swoon–Chris King hubs. My very first day going commando on the new wheels in the Old Way, I got that rarest of rewards, an NPR vee thanks to a hard effort and an auspiciously timed red stoplight.
This weekend is the Torrance crit. I’ll be off the grid and, after a thorough Old Way flail, likely off the back. But I be listening to some liquid crystal display tell me how badly I suck. I’ll be listening to that mellifluous, deluded inner voice telling me I just won the Tour.