Guest post: the theory of relativity

© EnKayTee

speed is similar to a family funeral or wedding; all relative. we are disparate inhabitants of the same world, trying hard to remain insouciant in such matters, pretending not to train in the same way that we told our schoolday peers that we never studied for exams. the blame currently falls mostly upon television coverage of world-tour races, whereas historically it would have been via inscrutable race reports in a language not our own. a single black and white photograph would have doubtless reinforced that which we failed to comprehen

this relativity, however, becomes a problem of regionality or domicile. i was recently a guest on a resolutely ‘non-training’ venture to european parts; southern france if you wish to put a face on it, and while i had little allusion to leading the randomly selected peloton, i did expect to give a good account of myself. after all, my daily writings surely have to be founded upon something concrete? you can but imagine my sense of confoundment on discovering that not only was i not leading the peloton, i was struggling to keep it in sight.

i am, perhaps, a poor example of an approach to relative comparison. in the same way that the island’s pipe band has had to recruit more non-islanders than those resident in order to make their way up the false road to success, a local peloton of rarely more than four, gives distorted hope to the virtuous. though all but devoid of challenging climbs, those that do exist on a flat island in the atlantic have allowed a misplaced zeal for robert millar-like ascending. in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

i should, of course, have seen it coming. previous attempts at international riding ought to have provided ample evidence. my first two forays into french france were undertaken in the slowest of four individual, yet substantially constituted groups. in hindsight, reaching the top first with a self-satisfied grin quite probably failed to demonstrate an ability that i never really had. it seems that a marco pantani poster on the back of the office door is a portent of very little.

and both my ventures across the pond, ostensibly to ingratiate myself with those immensely approachable portlanders, should have offered obvious clues. in fact, they advertised those clues on a larger scale than on any previous occasion, but i had the trump card of imperious jet-lag to explain away those black spots in front of my (very) slowly climbing eyes.

as age takes its inevitable toll, i am resigned to the fact that reading richard moore’s ‘in search of robert millar’ is probably the only training to which i am likely to accede. the dutch may claim that endless riding into a gale-force headwind is an appropriate substitute, and i have convinced myself that they are indubitably correct, for i have headwinds that i haven’t used yet. there are sparks of apparently increased velocity, but on a bicycle devoid of any measuring data, that could be just wishful thinking.

it is euphemistically referred to as ‘character-building’.

however, if i might invite you to revisit my cycling of the early 1990s, when skinny tyres and bendy bars had yet to enter my personal lexicon, i was surely far ahead of my time. in recent years there have been many ‘slow’ movements brought to light, ranging from ‘slow’ food, all the way to ‘slow’ reading. i may have been in the vanguard all those years ago, for i was immeasurably content to ride marginally above snail’s pace and truly thought little of it. there may have been modest mocking from my fellow pelotonese, but it was like water off a rapha hardshell.

those who race with a will to win will pay little heed to my words, and that is exactly how it should be. but tell me who seems the more foolish now? in that brief expedition to southern france, who spent longer on the bike and saw more of the surrounding scenery? and by extrapolation, who got more than their money’s worth?

i don’t look so foolish now, do i?

Brian Palmer is the man behind the washing machine post, a splendid cycling blog written from the whisky-soaked Scottish island of Islay. In reverence to Brian’s “continuing disagreement” with capital letters, we leave his poetic prose untouched. Why not follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Colin

    I ride alone. Two years ago I joined a local group for a day – it claimed to go for rides that people of all abilities could take part in, provided they could ride for 20 miles. It was miserable. I was continually left far behind, and for me the group ride ended when I saw them all turn right at a traffic light three hundred yards ahead of me. I pretended not to have seen them turn and headed off alone, happy once more to ride at my own pace and whim. Last year I went for a fun ride with a friend. we rode flat out to a cafe, had a cuppa, and rode flat out home. It took two hours or so. My friend checked the stats on his computer and declared it a good ride. All of my cycling friends seem to describe their rides in terms of speed and time.
    So I ride alone. I pootle. I ride for hours, stopping at junctions to check a map to see where previously unridden roads might go. I pause to watch wildlife and explore villages, I stop to chat to farmers and I wheel my bike through woodlands to ring the changes if it looks interesting.
    When I was young I was fast. I hurtled through London like a fearless maniac. Now I ride through the Lancashire countryside to engage with the world. I’ll ride for five, six or seven hours – I spend a day cycling and arrive home, barely out of breath, with memories of the things I’ve seen and done. I’m not knocking those who use their bike as a fitness machine, the bike has many uses, but I do wish that one day one of them would tell me that they’d seen something interesting on their ride instead of just how many miles they covered and how fast. To me it’s about as interesting as saying ‘I read a really good book – it had 247 pages and it only took two days to finish’.

    1. David Rae

      Thanks Colin – I think the weight of your bike is inversely proportional to the number of memories you take away from a ride 🙂

      I tend to go for speed, first because it’s quite addictive; but also because I can only afford a certain amount of time on the bike, having two young kids. The more miles covered, and energy expended per hour is the better.

      When I grow up, though, I plan to do just as you describe – although real ale will feature far more prominently…

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