Speed

Pozzovivo goes more faster at the 2013 Giro d'Emilia. Photo: Pedale.Forchetta
Pierre-Roger Latour goes more faster at the 2013 Giro d’Emilia. Photo: Pedale.Forchetta

I wasn’t anywhere near old enough to hold a driver’s license but my dad had already bought me a motorcycle. It was a late seventies BMW R100 RS, dark blue. I loved that bike; I polished it fortnightly even though it never left the garage. I spent hours sitting on it, twisting the throttle and squeezing the clutch, diving in and out of turns on a twisty road somewhere in my imagination. My dad sold the bike not long after I got serious about Cycling, making the shrewd observation that if I was able to land myself in the emergency room as often as I did under my own power, then from a Darwinian standpoint my chances of survival would be dramatically decreased by the introduction of a 1000cc engine.

To this day, I love speed. I feel it in that layer between skin and muscle that science will tell you doesn’t exist but that anyone who has ever taken a risk will tell you does. On a bicycle, it doesn’t even have to be high speed; descending, cruising along a valley road, or climbing – any speed that comes as a result of that familiar pressure in my legs and lungs is a thrill.

Cornering at speed will amplify the feeling of speed as your muscles press against the change in tangental velocity. But even the slower speeds of climbing can produce the exciting effects of speed; diving into a tight switchback on a fast climb can provide the distinctive exhilaration that comes with needing to brake and lean while climbing. There is no sensation in Cycling that will make one feel more Pro than needing to control your speed while going uphill.

Cobblestones and gravel also provide their unique doorway into the feeling of speed. The bouncing of the machine under you as you push a big gear along the road will amplify the sensation of going fast with the transitions from tarmac to rough roads and back again playing their own part to demonstrate speed through the power of contrast.

Riding along a road that has a lot of shrubbery or tall grass that hugs the roadside, my peripheral vision will quietly inform me that the blurred motion at my side is the direct result of my own burning engine and the effort I’m putting into the pedals. To experience under our own strength that which others require a motor to accomplish is what makes us stand apart. We are active participants in speed. We are Cyclists.

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78 Replies to “Speed”

  1. @Ron

    Okay, question for the off-roader background folks – when taking a right-handed turn, inside foot up, weight on right side of bars and the rear wheel starts to wash out/slide to the left, how/where do I adjust my weight? Push harder on the bars? Lean harder to the right? Push back off the saddle?

    It depends on why the wheel is sliding. And it really isn’t something I think you should be thinking through because you won’t think fast enough. Practice practice practice, it will start to come naturally after a few crashes and a few saves and you start to sort out what’s working and what isn’t.

    That said, some high level thoughts: if your wheel is washing out because it has too much weight on the inside, your best bet is to unweight the saddle a bit and get your weight more over your bike. You might also steer into the slide which is a mechanical way of adjusting your weight.  If you’re sliding because you don’t have enough traction you might have to push down on your outside leg and possibly even start pedaling to get the tire loaded.

    The most important tip I think anyone has ever given me on any kind of technical activity, whether its riding in traffic, through a CX course, doing a tough MTB climb, or skiing trees: Look where you WANT to go, not where you DON’T want to go.

  2. @frank

    The most important tip I think anyone has ever given me on any kind of technical activity, whether its riding in traffic, through a CX course, doing a tough MTB climb, or skiing trees: Look where you WANT to go, not where you DON’T want to go.

    This times a thousand.

    This is almost universally good advice, to which I would merely add (what might seem obvious but is sometimes hard to remember) that the faster you’re going the farther away where you WANT to go IS. As Frank said, when you’re going fast, you can’t think your way out of trouble once the trouble has started; what you can do is give your central nervous system more time to react to what’s ahead–which means getting your eyes/focus/will/intention farther down the road/trail/whatever.

    On a motorcycle, this will save your ass six times per mile, and I find that the more I do this on my mtb the less I use my brakes and the faster I go and the more fun I have.

  3. @PeakInTwoYears

    @frank

    The most important tip I think anyone has ever given me on any kind of technical activity, whether its riding in traffic, through a CX course, doing a tough MTB climb, or skiing trees: Look where you WANT to go, not where you DON’T want to go.

    This times a thousand.

    This is almost universally good advice, to which I would merely add (what might seem obvious but is sometimes hard to remember) that the faster you’re going the farther away where you WANT to go IS. As Frank said, when you’re going fast, you can’t think your way out of trouble once the trouble has started; what you can do is give your central nervous system more time to react to what’s ahead-which means getting your eyes/focus/will/intention farther down the road/trail/whatever.

    On a motorcycle, this will save your ass six times per mile, and I find that the more I do this on my mtb the less I use my brakes and the faster I go and the more fun I have.

    Times a thousand again makes it something like times a million.

    Approaching a turn, if you are concentrating on the track out rather then apex you will be much better set up for the apex.  At the apex, if you are concentrating on the next approach, again you will be much more set up for that turn.

    Driving at speed at the track or Auto-X, I am looking out of the side window, (sometimes even over my shoulder) almost as much as I am through the windshield.  Somehow your brain calculates the step you are in just fine as you concentrate on the next step or even the one after that.

    Much of performance driving translates to descending.

  4. @Rigid

    That’s a gorgeous photo to emphasize the point – all the perspective lines are warped by his speed (and the wide angle lense) to move the vanishing point off the page.. I’m always trying to explain the joy of cycling to non-cyclists but they never understand – Bretto, Bianchi Denti, Kah and I rode an extended ride on gravel beside a river in Wellington last Sunday to celebrate Strada Bianche. We were recovering with an ale in a pub when a motorcyclist comes up and says ” why would you bother pushing on those pedals?”. We had earned our beer, riding miles racing each other, physically tired, covered in dust and satiated as opposed to the fat fucker in the bandana who sat on his machine for a speed kick all day. Like you say Frank speed is best experienced when it’s earned through hard toil

    Just tell them its because we Love the Work http://www.velominati.com/tradition/on-rule-9-love-the-work/

  5. @Rob

    @antihero Gentlemen.  Be smart.  Enjoy your speed.  Acquired taste or not,  ‘playing’ with traffic can only end one way.  Cheat it at your peril, but if you try to occupy the same space as your four-wheeled friends, the result isn’t worth the thrill.  Not to mention the ill will you are spreading darting in and out.  Commute?  Then commute.  You want thrills? Find your descents as you contest townlines.  I like reading your entries…be safe.

  6. @The Pressure

    @Rob

    @antihero Gentlemen. Be smart. Enjoy your speed. Acquired taste or not, ‘playing’ with traffic can only end one way. Cheat it at your peril, but if you try to occupy the same space as your four-wheeled friends, the result isn’t worth the thrill. Not to mention the ill will you are spreading darting in and out. Commute? Then commute. You want thrills? Find your descents as you contest townlines. I like reading your entries…be safe.

    I’m not sure anyone is talking about taking cars head-on here; surely these guys are riding at the side of the road, just racing the traffic?

    I strongly believe in taking the lane whenever a situation gets sketchy, you have to hold your position because cars don’t realize the danger they put you in when they pass in those cases. That said, you have to have the chops to go the speed of traffic to stay there or have the courtesy to only take the lane so long as your safety depends on it. As soon as you have a chance to pull to the side, pull over, slow down, and always wave a thanks to the traffic that waited for you.

  7. On the other hand I got hit going straight through a green light, so even with all the right precautions you’re pretty much fucked.

  8. @DerHoggz

    On the other hand I got hit going straight through a green light, so even with all the right precautions you’re pretty much fucked.

    yup, had a very close call with a dumptruck full of moron this morning when climbing around a blind bend. Genius decided to crawl around me (wouldn’t have been going more than 5km/h faster than me) straddling the double solid lines (no passing). When the traffic came he naturally pulled to the left, luckily for your truly the hillside wasn’t flush against the road so with an impromptu cross session disaster was avoided. See below:

    Red = Truck

    Blue = Where Mikael escaped to

  9. @frank

    The most important tip I think anyone has ever given me on any kind of technical activity, whether its riding in traffic, through a CX course, doing a tough MTB climb, or skiing trees: Look where you WANT to go, not where you DON’T want to go.

    Too right – first tip of skiing in trees – look at the gaps not at the trees!

  10. @frank

    @The Pressure

    @Rob

    @antihero Gentlemen. Be smart. Enjoy your speed. Acquired taste or not, ‘playing’ with traffic can only end one way. Cheat it at your peril, but if you try to occupy the same space as your four-wheeled friends, the result isn’t worth the thrill. Not to mention the ill will you are spreading darting in and out. Commute? Then commute. You want thrills? Find your descents as you contest townlines. I like reading your entries…be safe.

    I’m not sure anyone is talking about taking cars head-on here; surely these guys are riding at the side of the road, just racing the traffic?

    I strongly believe in taking the lane whenever a situation gets sketchy, you have to hold your position because cars don’t realize the danger they put you in when they pass in those cases. That said, you have to have the chops to go the speed of traffic to stay there or have the courtesy to only take the lane so long as your safety depends on it. As soon as you have a chance to pull to the side, pull over, slow down, and always wave a thanks to the traffic that waited for you.

    @frank is correct here:  at no time do I ever violate traffic laws (save perhaps for the speed limit on a good day.)   As a Velominatus (in training) I am an ambassador for our sport, and not a some idiot messenger boy.

    I always take the lane when riding in the city – it’s the only safe option in many places.  Riding next to the gutter in the city is a sure way to 1) Have flats every day, and 2) beg drivers to intimidate you.  The faster you ride, the safer you are.  Like @frank said:  if you start holding up traffic, you pull over and let folks by with a friendly wave.  Or, you just lay the fucking hammer down and give folks in the cars a show.

    It’s been months since I’ve had even the slightest trouble with from driver, and I’m out on the city streets every single day.  Vehicular cycling and good manners are the key.  Plus speed.  Lots of speed.

  11. @Mikael Liddy

    @DerHoggz

    On the other hand I got hit going straight through a green light, so even with all the right precautions you’re pretty much fucked.

    yup, had a very close call with a dumptruck full of moron this morning when climbing around a blind bend. Genius decided to crawl around me (wouldn’t have been going more than 5km/h faster than me) straddling the double solid lines (no passing). When the traffic came he naturally pulled to the left, luckily for your truly the hillside wasn’t flush against the road so with an impromptu cross session disaster was avoided. See below:

    Red = Truck

    Blue = Where Mikael escaped to

    I had this thought on a bridge the other day that all it takes is one car swerving to avoid another to throw me off into the abyss.

  12. @antihero

    For some reason I can’t quite explain, I get my jollies from playing in traffic at speed.

    My commute home has a lovely set of hairpin turns that terminate in a long straight runout of perhaps a mile. It’s two lanes per side with heavy car traffic in this spot. The turns are tight enough that I can beat the cars out of the corners every time, and then it’s a flat-out sprint to the bottom of the hill. Drivers won’t usually play along, but every now and again some kid will pull alongside and redline his engine. Makes my day.

    There’s another lovely dead-flat run of about 1.5 miles by the river where the winds are almost always at your back and the speed limit 2omph (which of course means they go 30/35.) There is no excuse for failing to stay on a car’s wheel for the entirety of this run. Bliss.

    You’ll eventually take some sort of badge for this matey.

  13. Don’t draft cars (30, 35) only trucks (40, 50). Cars will stop on a dime. I won’t draft trucks anymore either — you’re too close to fully see what is coming.

  14. @unversio we have lovely trucks here. Big water tankers that do about 50 or 60 km/h , maybe up to 70 when they are up to speed. Catch one coming out of a roundabout and you can go for miles.

    I have a bit of a reputation for doing it – like a rat up a drainpipe as someone once said to me.

    but then we have near perfect roads with multiple lanes and I’m usually doing it on roads I kW with no interruptions like lights or intersections. And 10,000 gallons of water ain’t stopping any faster than me.

  15. @DerHoggz

    @Mikael Liddy

    @DerHoggz

    On the other hand I got hit going straight through a green light, so even with all the right precautions you’re pretty much fucked.

    yup, had a very close call with a dumptruck full of moron this morning when climbing around a blind bend. Genius decided to crawl around me (wouldn’t have been going more than 5km/h faster than me) straddling the double solid lines (no passing). When the traffic came he naturally pulled to the left, luckily for your truly the hillside wasn’t flush against the road so with an impromptu cross session disaster was avoided. See below:

    Red = Truck

    Blue = Where Mikael escaped to

    I had this thought on a bridge the other day that all it takes is one car swerving to avoid another to throw me off into the abyss.

    That is why you take the lane under those circumstances. Of the two of you, you are likely the only one who realizes you don’t want them passing.

  16. @ChrisO

    @unversio we have lovely trucks here. Big water tankers that do about 50 or 60 km/h , maybe up to 70 when they are up to speed. Catch one coming out of a roundabout and you can go for miles.

    I have a bit of a reputation for doing it – like a rat up a drainpipe as someone once said to me.

    but then we have near perfect roads with multiple lanes and I’m usually doing it on roads I kW with no interruptions like lights or intersections. And 10,000 gallons of water ain’t stopping any faster than me.

    Used to do this in college. They (truck drivers) did not like it one bit. At least, that’s what we would gather from the hand gestures once we broke off.

  17. @ChrisO

    @unversio we have lovely trucks here. Big water tankers that do about 50 or 60 km/h , maybe up to 70 when they are up to speed. Catch one coming out of a roundabout and you can go for miles.

    I have a bit of a reputation for doing it – like a rat up a drainpipe as someone once said to me.

    but then we have near perfect roads with multiple lanes and I’m usually doing it on roads I kW with no interruptions like lights or intersections. And 10,000 gallons of water ain’t stopping any faster than me.

    Thanx for clarifying the drafting episode(s). Perfect example!

  18. @unversio

    @antihero

    For some reason I can’t quite explain, I get my jollies from playing in traffic at speed.

    My commute home has a lovely set of hairpin turns that terminate in a long straight runout of perhaps a mile. It’s two lanes per side with heavy car traffic in this spot. The turns are tight enough that I can beat the cars out of the corners every time, and then it’s a flat-out sprint to the bottom of the hill. Drivers won’t usually play along, but every now and again some kid will pull alongside and redline his engine. Makes my day.

    There’s another lovely dead-flat run of about 1.5 miles by the river where the winds are almost always at your back and the speed limit 2omph (which of course means they go 30/35.) There is no excuse for failing to stay on a car’s wheel for the entirety of this run. Bliss.

    You’ll eventually take some sort of badge for this matey.

    It’s Commuter Grand Prix, I know.  Sad but true.

  19. ….and I thought I had a nice Dad!  When I myself was on the verge of driving lessons my Dad bought HIMSELF a 1964 Jaquar 4.2 sedan with burled dashboard and burled stick-shift, leather seats. Wicked fast- A sports car in old man’s clothing! It had a pushbutton start, and I practiced moving it up and down the driveway for a few months. Tough break: just before my 16th birthday the car developed brake problems for which parts had to be ordered from England, and while waiting out the winter the engine seized and the car never returned.  Had to satiate my need for speed on my Raleigh Supercourse- until I bought myself a Yamaha 650 (a Triumph copycat).

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