Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym. Those who can’t teach gym, play fantasy sports. Or something like that.
So apparently, fantasy cycling is a thing. I just learned about this, days before the Tour de France begins. So I joined the 12 other Americans on Velogames and made a team (it’s free, probably because there is no money anywhere in pro cycling). Excuses to talk shit to your riding buddies are always nice, and it will probably make following three weeks of skinny guys pedaling around Europe more interesting.
It’s pretty simple. There’s no draft. You pick a team of nine riders. You have 100 points to allocate; better riders cost more points. Here’s who I picked and why:
Team name: No Americans
Sprinter: Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) Best in the world, and this video. Mostly the video.
All Rounder 1: Thibaut Pinot(FDJ) It would be bad form not to have at least one Frenchman.
All Rounder 2: Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) Someone from Trek will win a stage, and it won’t be Contador.
Climber 1: Esteban Chavez (Orica-Scott) This is the year he wins his first grand tour.
Climber 2: Gianluca Brambilla (Quick-Step Floors) I got him mixed up with Gaviria. Hard to tell the Italian prodigies apart.
Wild Card: Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) My favorite large German sprinter.
Unclassified: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) Dude is in literally every break.
Unclassified: Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) I think I’ve heard the announcers say his name before.
Unclassified: Nikias Arndt (Sunweb) I didn’t have many points left and I like the Sunweb kits.
“You’ve got those cheater gears,” he said into the growing gap between us as we rode up a steady 6% climb.
Let me explain. My road bike it set up with compact gearing: 50/34 chainrings up front, 11-32 cassette in the back. It wasn’t a conscious choice; I bought my bike when I had decided to get into riding as a hobby, and back then I didn’t have much of a clue about gearing. I ended up with an “endurance” bike (I love the seemingly endless categories the industry creates, trying to mine profits out of slight differences) with the 11-32. I never thought much about it until I started doing group rides. People would point it out to me, say that I didn’t need such a big gear. They always seemed to say this as I spun away from them on a climb, or when we reconnected at the top.
After more riding and racing, I realized just how much disdain people have for this apparently wimpy gearing. I discovered that, among all the nonsensical things riders do mostly just to look cool on a bike (slammed stems, superstiffultralightweightcarbon, etc), riding aggressive, race-oriented gearing is perhaps the most common. There is a macho culture within certain areas of the sport (which, weirdly, embraces shaved legs) that seems to prevent people from doing what makes sense for them and their riding style. Do you live in a hilly area, or ride for fun instead of racing? Doesn’t matter. 11-25 it is. Maybe, if you are really weak, an 11-28. The bigger gear you can push up a hill, the better–despite the fact that it’s more uncomfortable and usually slower.
By all means, small cassettes make sense for some cyclists. Racers (though I’ve done all my racing with my wimpy gears and have done just fine). People who live in Florida. People who want to know what it was like to ride in the 1960s. But not for most.
I think the roots of this really lie in cycling’s nature as a sport. Capacity to suffer is considered a virtue. Hurting is a form of currency, a badge of honor. The ability to withstand pain is, to a large extent, what differentiates riders. And even if you aren’t great at withstanding pain, you can look the part by using equipment that denies you a certain degree of comfort. If you ride an 11-25 with a 53 or larger up front, you’re essentially saying to other riders, “I know I’ll develop arthritis in my knees grinding up this hill, but I’m tough enough to do it. I’m not a pro but I can tackle this hill the way a pro would.” But you’re also saying, “I’m willing to sacrifice common sense for the sake of looking cool to myself and other riders.”
So when riding buddies call them “cheater gears,” or joke about the size of my cassette, I just laugh. I don’t mind it. I poke fun at myself, say that I’m too frail to push a bigger gear. But I kind of feel bad for them. I can go up hills without killing myself, while they labor at 55 rpm. And for what? So they can look cool and have slightly smaller jumps between mid-range gears? It just doesn’t make a lot of rational sense.
I’d rather have a bike that works for me and the riding I do. The vast majority of humans who ride bikes embrace that idea. It seems self-evident, obvious. Why would you set up your bike to make riding more difficult, to make moving slower and more painful, with relatively small benefits? But in this little corner of the cycling world, people value other things more. Impressions, reputations, self-image. I think that’s kind of a shame.
I own three bikes, each with their own distinct purpose. I figured would make sense to introduce and share my thoughts about each one.
First up is the Masi CXR Comp. This is the newest bike to the fleet; I’ve had it for about six months now. I bought it from C3 Bike Shop in Denver. It’s technically a cross bike, but I got it mostly to fill the gravel/adventure/all-road niche that my road bike cannot. Maybe I’ll race cross at some point, but right now that’s not in the plans. Overall, I’ve been really happy with this bike so far.
$1,800 list price (the newer model has worse components and is a few hundred dollars cheaper)
Sex appeal. I mean, look at that paint job. They call the color “Rorange”; I call it “pretty badass.” I actually expected the bike to be more of a red color, and was pleasantly surprised when I picked it up from the shop. The fully internal cable routing also adds to the aesthetics.
Wide tire clearance. Bikes with room for big tires are all the rage now, and, unlike some bike industry trends, that actually makes sense. We’re seeing a shift to versatility rather than specialization, which is good. With 28 mm slicks, this is a somewhat burly road bike; with 40 mm knobbies, it’s basically a hardtail mountain bike.
Solid components. Shimano 105 is a reliable workhorse, the Ritchey cockpit is very nice, the Stan’s wheelset has performed well so far. Just a solid build across the board. Nothing fancy, but everything is high-quality.
Stopping power. I hate the constant adjustments that disc brakes seem to require; rubbing has always been an issue for me. But the improved stopping power is undeniable. After some initial issues with the TRP brakes rubbing, they’ve been great. For a mid-range set of brakes, they work incredibly well. I wouldn’t see any reason to get more expensive ones.
Comfort. I’ve done some long rides on this bike, and am impressed by the comfortable ride feel. Though the geometry is more on the racy side, it’s great for longer days in the saddle. I feel more like I’m sitting into the bike than on top of it.
Value. For the price, I don’t think you can get a much better cross/gravel/adventure bike.
Not light. This bike is pretty heavy. Not terrible, but certainly heavier than a comparable road bike. I feel it especially going uphill; there is a distinct sensation that I am dragging the bike with me. Some of that is the frame, but it’s also due to the 30 mm tires I’m currently running.
Not totally pimped out. Adventure bikes these days have a whole host of mount options, from bottle mounts underneath the downtube to fork mounts for cages, as well as other adventure-oriented details that make life easier for a bikepacker. This bike, although it can be used for adventures, doesn’t have the variety of features that a dedicated adventure bike would. Yes, there are rear rack mounts, but that’s about it. This makes sense; the bike is primarily designed to race cross.
I’m a big fan. If you’re looking for a versatile bike at a fair price point for cross racing or just bombing down your local fire roads, the Masi CXR Comp is a good option.
I didn’t post on the blog yesterday. One reason is because I was out on the bike for eight and a half hours, doing the longest ride of my life so far. One hundred and thirty four miles, with 7,500 feet of climbing. I’ve done a handful of centuries before, on all of them I stopped pretty much right after the arbitrary but nice-sounding 100-mile mark. And I’ve never really wanted to go any further; my mental limit seems to be around 80 miles. After that, I start asking myself what I’m doing. I start getting frustrated by the smallest gusts of wind, the tiniest patch of loose gravel, the slightest hill. The fun/pain balance starts sliding in the wrong direction pretty quickly. So every time I’ve made it to 100 I’ve thought: okay, that’s good. Never: I could use some more time in the saddle!
But lately, perhaps inspired by all the videos I watch of people completing inspiring and downright crazy endurance events (Dirty Kanza, Leadville 100, etc), I wanted to do something big. Maybe not big like riding 200 miles in a day on Kansas gravel, or running 100 miles above 10,000 feet, but big for me. Something that would challenge my understanding of my physical and mental limits, something that I wasn’t sure I could do.
The origin story of this idea is pretty simple. There’s a group ride up in Millersburg, a small town along the Susquehanna nestled in a valley of rolling farmland between ridges, that I’ve been meaning to join for awhile. They say the riding there is fantastic. But it’s 30 miles upriver from here, and I hate driving somewhere to bike. Hard to justify, carbon footprint-wise. So I decided I would ride there, do the group ride, and ride home. It would be a big day, probably over 100 miles.
Then on Thursday I saw the planned route for the group ride: 80 miles with close to 7,000 feet gain. I did the math and came to the conclusion that, yeah, it would be a big day. My previous long was 102; this would be quite a bit longer. But I broke it into sections. Getting there wouldn’t be hard; 30 flat miles on fresh legs. The group ride would be tough, but having other people around to talk with (and draft) would make it easier. Then the last 30, home by myself on tired legs, would be…pretty tough. No way around that. I would just have to embrace Rule #5 and get through it.
After staying up later than I wanted to, and not sleeping well, I woke up at 5:30. Breakfast was a bit of oatmeal, a sweet potato, and a banana smoothie. Fuel for the ride, carried in my jersey pockets, was a bag of dates and a bag of Skratch powder to add to my water. Nutrition was maybe the biggest concern for me; I’ve bonked at much smaller distances. I left a little after 6:00, wondering what I was getting myself into and reminding myself how good it would feel to return to that same spot later in the day and press “Save Ride” on my Garmin.
As I predicted, the first 30 were easy. After warming up, my legs felt good. It was a beautiful morning, nice and cool, the sun emerging into a clear sky. I arrived in Millersburg in good spirits. The ride leave’s from Bob’s house (ride leader/local tour guide/all around good dude), so I was able to refill my bottles and pull a Dumolin. Tyler and Jake joined us, and we headed out.
Imagine riding 80 miles through a postcard of farm country in the summertime. That’s basically what we did. The ride had it all: quiet back roads, perfectly planted rows of corn just starting to come up, clear streams, shaded climbs up to ridgetops with gorgeous views. There was even a brief, successful hike in search of a rumored water source (no reports of e coli poisoning yet.) I expected a great ride. But what I didn’t expect was to feel fresh as the miles kept piling up. Sixty, 70, 80…I wondered when it would begin to hurt. Other than a few gusts of headwind on the way back through the valley, it never really did.
Then, homeward. Surely that would be a struggle. Thirty miles feels like a lot when you’ve already done 106. But it was…enjoyable. Passed quickly. I didn’t even need to resort to the Sam Harris podcast I had saved to help get me through. Other than some foot pain and butt stiffness, my body felt great. And I’m not even saying this in the afterglow of hindsight; I remember thinking it while riding. Part of me wondered if I was being Punk’d by my odometer. I felt the way I normally would at the 70 or 80 mile mark. Fifteen miles left, then 10, then five. I came into Harrisburg along the river, past the miniature Statue of Liberty and Fort Hunter and Interstate 81 interchange. Then through the familiar outskirt neighborhoods, past Gabriel’s pizza/deli/Mexican restaurant (WTF?) and the handsome solitude of Italian Lake. Eventually I was home. I pressed “Save” and walked up the stairs into the empty apartment. That was it.
I don’t know why it was so easy, relative to my expectations. I don’t know if “easy” is the right word. Maybe “painless” or “fun” would be better. Was it the dates and Skratch and consistent hydration? Better fitness overall? Does Strava add extra incentives for completing an impressive ride? Just a fluky day? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter though. I did the ride. It happened.
More and more to me it seems that growth only comes when you choose to put yourself in difficult, frightening, or uncomfortable situations. There’s a common theme that unites my most memorable rides, my mental collection of favorite days on the bike, despite the differences in mileage and location and weather: I was nervous when I left the front door. And on all of them, the nerves were at some point replaced by exhilaration, and after the exhilaration burned off it was replaced by a new layer of confidence. As the layers grow, one atop the other, they push your boundaries outwards. They change the scope of your expectations for yourself, and you respond by seeking bigger challenges, and the cycle continues.