I am pretty sure that when Foghat recorded the song Slow Ride, they weren’t talking about cycling, but hey, you can listen to it and decide for yourself.
The old hack saying about the best way to learn something is to teach it, I’m finding, has some truth to it, along with the corollary that it’s also the best way to go insane in the shortest period of time.
Harsh reality repeatedly slams on my ego like the steel door of a safe on a tender thumb in this way: Each year I am unable to ride as hard as long as I did the year before. The booted-off-the-top-floor phenomenon of rapidly declining everything really picks up steam after fifty, and by the time you hit the mid-50’s it is a luge on a world record run.
As I’ve been riding with my wife, I’ve had to slow down, way down, way way way down, ultra down, dragging a ball and chain down, and as Ol’ Grizzles put it during a long phone call between L.A. and Fresno, when he offered me much in the way of marital and psychological counseling, “Riding with your S/O is terrifying and tedious.” His other summary was equally pithy: “No one gives a shit about your problems.”
The re-education of Wanky
While I wouldn’t say that S/O riding is tedious, I would definitely say that it’s horribly tedious. This is simply because as a lifelong #profamateur the only time you ride 12 mph is when you are walking, sleeping, or dead.
But repeatedly taking 3-4 hour rides where the average pace is in the low teens has had surprising results. First is that I’ve learned to enjoy it. The terror-tedium phenomenon has given way to mild fear and relaxation.
Of course relaxation on a bike ride is pretty much the opposite of why I ride a bike. If I wanted to relax I’d learn ancient Egyptian. So relaxation as the outcome of a bike ride pretty much ruins the bike ride. We all know that if you don’t finish the ride depleted, wrung dry of all fluids and minerals, whimpering, a wrecked bag of wrinkled skin and raw sores, the ride was an unequivocal failure.
However, and there’s always a however, it turns out that slow riding actually increases your ability to achieve a successful (i.e., miserable) ride on the other days. Therefore, it is totally worth mastering.
Complex physiological concepts
Every cyclist understands the crucial concept of rest, which is why we ignore it so utterly. It’s our disdain for rest that turns our “easy day” into a 45-mile “spin” with 5k of climbing and a few sprints to “keep the legs loose.”
This is why cyclists are always exhausted and nonfunctional during crucial times of the day (work, coitus, etc.). They simply do not know how to rest.
What you will find if you ride your bike for a couple of hours at 12-13 mph with a fairly high cadence is that you return home un-tired. It is as different from the standard cyclist recovery ride as Trump is from an adult. And as I’ve been doing one to two of these “non-rides” a week, I’ve been able to achieve two seemingly impossible objectives, that is, both ride my bike AND be fresh.
Along with achieving true recovery, the crazy slow, moderately high rpm ride has another, even more important benefit. It is extremely efficient at burning calories. Hard 3-4 hour rides burn more, but something about hard rides and the concomitant fatigue also drive your hunger through the roof. There’s nothing more depressing than clicking on the Stravver, seeing you burned 4,000 calories, and then mentally calculating that in the eight hours after the ride you consumed 8,000. Yes, I’m talking to you.
In my slow ride experience, there’s something about the low-level, non-tiring exertion that burns calories without also spiking appetite. Sound magical? Well, it pretty much is.
Learning to crawl
Slowing down is safer. Slowing down is conversational. Slowing down is discipline. Slowing down lets you go harder, faster, longer, and exponentially increases the pain and misery the rest of your rides. And of course slowing down is maddening, but like Charlie Christian’s Blues in B, it is rewarding beyond any words when you finally understand it.
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