Something from Nothing

If the only kind of wind they have in Belgium is a headwind, then the only kind of flats they have in Northern France are false. In Vlaanderen, they specialize in a delectable combination of the two. (Everything that isn’t a windy false flat, it appears, is a windy cobbled climb.)

The most obvious way to get your head kicked in on a bike is to point your bike down a road bespeckled with loads of climbing. It doesn’t matter what sorts of hills or mountains you’ve got at your disposal; the Commutative Property of Climbing states that big climbs and little climbs will jack you up equally so long as you do the same amount of climbing. But a long grind into the wind on a dead-straight false flat might be the most mentally agonizing kind of riding you will ever do.

The riding we do on Keepers Tour generally revolves around the iconic roads in the region, but to focus on those portions alone is like evaluating an individual’s life via their photo albums; some of the most amazing moments are experienced in the margins where no one is looking for them.

The rides we set upon were long days in the saddle, often leaving from the gite and requiring some time to arrive at the spectacle of cobbles or climbs; 20km to the Trouée l’Arenberg or 30km back from the Carrefour de l’Abre, for instance. For me, the rides back are what stand out the most; the group is weary but excited from having ridden some of the most amazing and difficult roads our Sport knows, and the late afternoon winds are blowing swiftly across the landscape. Talk is sparse as our legs are heavy with fatigue and we are each of us confronting the familiar barriers our minds and bodies lay before us at times such as these.

These moments when the body and mind want to give in but something intangible drives us on are my most cherished moments of Cycling in general and Keepers Tour in particular. These are moments when each rider is riding on the strength of those around them. The Laws of Physics tell us that it is impossible to make something from nothing, that the only energy we get out of the system is that which was fed into it.

The Laws of Physics obviously don’t apply to Cyclists.

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61 Replies to “Something from Nothing”

  1. Think I tore the space time continuum on the group ride this evening. Started 10 min. late from my doorstep. Chased hard to intercept. Stopped for 30 sec. at the half-point to ingest some caffeine. The group rode up behind me. Then the second half was much harder. That’s as close as I can relate to something when I’ve got nothing. If I don’t see the group (or virtual group that is not in front of me) then I decide to go harder.

  2. Okay, I’ve got way too much time on my hands.  We can measure calories consumed and burned, watts generated, lactate threshold, watts per kilo, etc.  But when “something intangible drives us on”, we must look beyond the directly measurable for an explanation.  I believe Theoretical Physics offers some guidance.  

    The Dark Matter of cycling can’t be seen directly, its presence can only be inferred from the motions of cycling bodies.  It has a strong gravitational effect.  For example, when on a solo ride (no matter how tired) if I see another cyclist up the road, I immediately start calculating the time gap.  I tether myself to them and begin to bridge. 

    Dark Energy is a complete mystery, but its accelerating effect as time and distance increase can be observed in those “…moments when each rider is riding on the strength of those around them.” 

     If I were to propose a self-contained, all-encompassing framework linking all fundamental forces and physical aspects of cycling it would look like this:

    Unified Theory of Cycling: V = n+1 / #10

  3. The lead photo of Micky in the box says it all. What a day that was. Mud, rain, cobbles, crashes and the V Collective that was the only thing keeping our legs turning. No data devices could measure what we were expending, or feeling. This is why the V-Meter is the only way to ride.

  4. I remember coming out of the trench with the first burn of the day in my legs. As we grouped up for the road to the next secteur I latched onto Franks wheel and copped a massive Flemish Facial. You know you’re in for a proper hard day when you get to chose between riding in the wind and eating shit (literally) in the wheels.

  5. I look at that photo and say, ugghhhhh. It doesn’t look like fun. Just looks cold, grey, sloppy, muddy, wet and we then we hear about the wind? Doesn’t sound like fun. Yet, why is it that I wish I’d have had opportunity to experience the ride? I want to have been there? Strange sport/hobby/passion. Cheers

  6. Great writing here, Frank. Lots to ponder as well.

    As for the margins, mine are the ones overlooked in my cycling life, when I’m not road or cross riding for training, but commuting. I have a mental database of dastardly climbs and false flats all over town that no matter how many times I ride them, or how I say I’m just commuting, I won’t try to go fast…they still are damn hard.

    Every time I see them I think “that doesn’t look steep,” and yet I’m out of the saddle and stomping the pedals just to get up it.

  7. If I have learned anything from the lack of riding that I’ve done lately, or would it be the riding that I haven’t done lately, is that so long as I’m on the bike, things are good. When I’m not riding, I become an incorrigible human. So, please, bring me the time to ride. The time to remember the rules. I don’t care what the weather is like.

  8. @Frank

    “But a long grind into the wind on a dead-straight false flat might be the most mentally agonizing kind of riding you will ever do.”

    Spot on.  I have lived this truth over my past dozen or so rides.  Likely to have it occur again today.

    The only saving grace for you Frank was the fact that you were riding on holy ground with fellow Velominati.

  9. @frank the deep dull ache that’s been hiding in my legs since Sunday has been driving me harder on the bike this week. Not because I need to get back from some hallowed parcours but because I know that to give in to it would waste the effort I’ve put in already and that Friday’s rest day and diner out will be all that bit sweeter for it.

    Off the bike, I’m better for it as well.

  10. @brett

    It may be immeasurable but it will help you to hit and/or hold the numbers on the Other Meter when your body is screaming at you to make it stop.

  11. Something found in the margins of a book I read somewhere;

    But they that wait upon [insert deity/inspirational noun] shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

    But since I’m not that keen on the walking part;

    “But they that meditate upon the V shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall face the wind, and not be weary; and they shall climb, and not faint.”

    Vive La Vie Velominatus

  12. long wet flat into the wind was the hardest part of 200K event I rode last year that had 3K of climbing in it.

    and the last 40K when I was delerious (first one of these events for me), riding along the coast of the Irish sea, in late afternoon sunshine, with 0 gas left in the tank, and one other rider to keep me company  – was pure magic

  13. Love the lead picture. Looks like every morsel of food and conversation has gone and all that’s left is solitary suffering.

  14. Its great how the for-shit conditions make for the epic rides, though that fact is little appreciated when in the midst of it.

    And I’m sure no one was wearing those compression garment thingies later.

  15. @KogaLover

    @Optimiste

    Like your formula, why not make it V= #10^(n+1) (pronounce ten to the power of n plus one)

    Assuming n here represents the number of riders in the group and #10 being Rule #10, wouldn’t it be

    V = (Rule VV)^(r+1)

    I love this by the way.

  16. @wiscot

    Love the lead picture. Looks like every morsel of food and conversation has gone and all that’s left is solitary suffering.

    Possibly my favorite photo I’ve taken of a Cyclist. Over the shoulder while riding, no less.

    Mickey’s face says it all, and the gray skies set the mood. But @Rigid and @Harminator round it out perfectly; they are in opposite cadence and both obviously wrestling with their machines. The gap is there but they will claw it back, side by side.

  17. @Ccos

    Its great how the for-shit conditions make for the epic rides, though that fact is little appreciated when in the midst of it.

    And I’m sure no one was wearing those compression garment thingies later.

    Yes, but one person was wearing toe cozies.

  18. @DeKerr

    Something found in the margins of a book I read somewhere;

    But they that wait upon [insert deity/inspirational noun] shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

    But since I’m not that keen on the walking part;

    “But they that meditate upon the V shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall face the wind, and not be weary; and they shall climb, and not faint.”

    Vive La Vie Velominatus

    This is absolutely spot on. Strong work, Pedalwan.

  19. @Chris

    @frank the deep dull ache that’s been hiding in my legs since Sunday has been driving me harder on the bike this week. Not because I need to get back from some hallowed parcours but because I know that to give in to it would waste the effort I’ve put in already and that Friday’s rest day and diner out will be all that bit sweeter for it.

    Off the bike, I’m better for it as well.

    I love that feeling. My training was waaaaaay behind before KT and mostly every day of the trip was just good solid base training, sitting on the front in the wind and tapping out a tempo. That’s what my legs felt like every afternoon, so good.

  20. @unversio

    Frank, you finally made a Rush reference.

    If I did, it was by accident. Fucking Rush.

    @Erik

    If I have learned anything from the lack of riding that I’ve done lately, or would it be the riding that I haven’t done lately, is that so long as I’m on the bike, things are good. When I’m not riding, I become an incorrigible human. So I will make the time to ride. The time to remember the rules. I don’t care what the weather is like.

    Fixed your post.

  21. @frank

    @unversio

    Frank, you finally made a Rush reference.

    If I did, it was by accident. Fucking Rush.

    And even better it was early Neil Peart, Rush — 2112

  22. As a wise man once said (I”m sure he was a cyclist as well) that with rides like you’ve described: “90% of the ride is half mental”. And that truth is multiplied by a factor of 10 when said difficult hill and headwind infested ride is a solo ride.

  23. Fab! That’s an amazing shot, even more so that it was taken over your shoulder Frank.

    Wiser folk would never tolerate the kind of abuse we put ourselves through, especially since we do it on purpose. There are only a very few sports I can think of where the participants not only seek out, but live for this kind of experience.

  24. @frank

    @Chris

    @frank the deep dull ache that’s been hiding in my legs since Sunday has been driving me harder on the bike this week. Not because I need to get back from some hallowed parcours but because I know that to give in to it would waste the effort I’ve put in already and that Friday’s rest day and diner out will be all that bit sweeter for it.

    Off the bike, I’m better for it as well.

    I love that feeling. My training was waaaaaay behind before KT and mostly every day of the trip was just good solid base training, sitting on the front in the wind and tapping out a tempo. That’s what my legs felt like every afternoon, so good.

    I’ve just read that women can orgasm whilst taking part in Yoga, a Yogasm. I wouldn’t know about that but I suspect that it has nothing on the feeling we experience when pushing our  weary legs to hold cadence and power to drive us across the grey desolation of Northern France.

  25. @unversio

    @frank

    @unversio

    Frank, you finally made a Rush reference.

    If I did, it was by accident. Fucking Rush.

    And even better it was early Neil Peart, Rush — 2112

    I thought we were talking Limbaugh – either way I did not catch the reference.

    I did see Rush my sophmore year in high school at Reunion Arena in Dallas and it was my first concert with lasers. They were rocking Tom Sawyer and this fan of green lazers came shredding through the smoke machine.

    My twin brother and I turned to look at each other with this gob-smacked look on our faces. It was epic.

  26. Cycling, Rush, and Bubbles ‘n’ Ricky. My universe is unified, my life is complete. All is well on this Friday.

    Can’t wait to see Maniac Cop tonight on 35mm at the retro showing at my local theatre…

  27. @rfreese888

    @unversio

    @frank

    @unversio

    Frank, you finally made a Rush reference.

    If I did, it was by accident. Fucking Rush.

    And even better it was early Neil Peart, Rush — 2112

    I thought we were talking Limbaugh – either way I did not catch the reference.

    I did see Rush my sophmore year in high school at Reunion Arena in Dallas and it was my first concert with lasers. They were rocking Tom Sawyer and this fan of green lazers came shredding through the smoke machine.

    My twin brother and I turned to look at each other with this gob-smacked look on our faces. It was epic.

    I saw them at some point at the Target Center in Minneapolis. They sucked. I was actually a fan before that (hence, I went to the show) but never since. Worst show I ever saw, and I’m including frat parties and coffee shop gigs in that list.

  28. Awesome words Frank, powerful and poetic. KT16 for me maybe.

    As a lowlands dweller (Norfolk, UK) I get plenty experience of these soul searching stretches through unsheltered terrain, nose full with the smell of fertilizer, squinting down through sweaty brows to check my HR in an effort to convince myself that ‘I’ve got more to give’. Times like these I call to mind words from legendary figures like Voigt, LeMond, Hinault – praying at the ‘Altar of Pain’ to keep me strong, keep me quick.

    The thing I really love about this whole game of ours is how it hardens you for life’s other events, the knowledge that you have (and can) gone beyond, in torturous conditions – flipping the V in adversity’s face. My non cycling mates just can’t fathom it. That, to me at least is pretty fucking cool.

    As a newly anointed Velominatus I’ve become a bit obsessed with Rule #5 and made myself a phone screen saver. V inspiration is now but a button press away!

  29. I ride mainly in the Vienna Woods, its hilly in my view it’s still the Alps, or in Toscana if I am lucky and on vacation… So when I read the article, I thought to myself ok its cold and muddy looks unpleasant but whats all the whining and what the hell is a false flat?

    Today I rode in beautiful weather but with a very stiff headwind on the supposedly non-hilly side of Vienna, and was confronted with false flats, strong winds in every direction except as a tailwind, and non-mountains that turned out to be tough hills. That was tough, and I get the point… another step in my V education and Chapeau gents.

  30. I am reminded that after the tearing, roaring wind as you climb a false flat, there is nothing like the turn home with a tailwind.  The gentle hand of Merckx on your back, the unearthly quiet while flying at magnificent speed — clearly beyond the laws of physics.  Great article, thank you!

  31. Did our annual “Ferry-Roubaix” yesterday 90 miles with about 30 of it chunky gravel.

    Last 45 miles steady rain and temps dropped to 40*, under dressed, means pain cave the rest of the ride.

    Shear mental will, and Rule V, amen.

  32. @Roger

    Did our annual “Ferry-Roubaix” yesterday 90 miles with about 30 of it chunky gravel.

    Last 45 miles steady rain and temps dropped to 40*, under dressed, means pain cave the rest of the ride.

    Shear mental will, and Rule V, amen.

    Sounds like fun, cheers

  33. Just back from the Hot Chillee Dunkerque – Roubaix ride.  Imperial Ton through France and a bit of Belgium including 9 sections of the Paris – Roubaix Pave, plus a timed section incorporating 5 sections of Pave.  Great event which with the weather on Sunday gave us dry Pave, Wet Pave and Wet Muddy Pave.  As others here have said, nothing can prepare you for the beating the Pave lays out for you.  The thing that surprised me was that the part that hurt most were my upper arms.  Just felt like the muscles were being flayed from your bones.  Finished in the stadium and we were able to shower in the shower room.  Geraint Thomas and Stephen Roche were the special guests.  Seeing Geraint riding the Pave at speed after you have ridden the Pave yourself was something else.

    Finish in the Stadium

    Bike room the evening before

    Ready to go

    Pave section list

    End of the timed section at Cafe L’Arbre

    The Showers

    I’m only clean as I was wearing a rain gilet for most of the event

  34. @Hoover

    I am reminded that after the tearing, roaring wind as you climb a false flat, there is nothing like the turn home with a tailwind.  The gentle hand of Merckx on your back, the unearthly quiet while flying at magnificent speed — clearly beyond the laws of physics.  Great article, thank you!

    I read that the tailwind is actually a disadvantage, relatively speaking, because your increased speed means you start generating more drag, relatively speaking, which means you’re not getting an equal return on the investment you made on the way up.

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