Our balaclava wearing friend, @Oracle, submitted this winter reflection on the V. The article is a little ripe, but for many, spring is still a long way off and the gym or a balaclava are the only solutions to some tough questions.
Yours in Cycling, Gianni
This past winter, I went round a bit in the comments about whether variances to certain Rules could be allowed on the basis of climate and geography. Balaclava’s, their utility, and their inability to ever be considered casually deliberate, were at the forefront of the discussion. While grinding out some miles in some (for me, unseasonably warm) 0ºC temperatures last December and January, cheerfully sporting my admittedly ugly balaclava, that discussion came back to mind, and I began to ruminate on what other items could be lumped in together with the balaclava in that category of things that are Anti-V, yet whose use paradoxically enables our continued pursuit of the V in the face of adverse conditions. The topic has stayed with me off and on for a while, and today while I was strapping on my Sidi’s, it struck me that perhaps the most divisive piece of such equipment was sitting right in front of me.
The spin bike.
Generally, I have always loathed this contraption, and much of what it represents, even before I became initiated in the ways of the Velominati: rooms full of pseudo-cyclists performing loosely-described cycling-like activities. Many of them in yoga pants, gym shorts, tennis shoes or some other shamefully non-compliant garb. Or, worse yet, cadres of willful Rule #42 violators. None of them (including several of the ladies) Rule #33 compliant. The “ride” quality does not even come close to real cycling, and obviously, being stuck in a climate-controlled room spinning in place cannot approach the sensations of the open road (although, I suppose, in that it shares a certain similarity to riding the trainer for hours on end). It occurs to me that nothing can be more antithetical to the V or the letter and spirit of the Rules. I can’t imagine that Merckx has ever ridden a spin bike, unless it was part of some scientific experiment in an attempt to quantify the essence of the V.
Over much of the winter, I willingly climbed on a spin bike two or three times a week, and have been known to attend an actual spin class once in a while with the VMH on Saturday mornings. How can I do this, given all I’ve said above? Am I sick? Do I betray all it means to be a Velominatus every time I click into that battered set of Keo’s that someone mounted onto one of the spin bikes at the gym?
I tell myself that I have no choice; that circumstances have driven me to this—my office is far from home and doesn’t have a shower, so commuting and lunchtime rides simply are not possible (I sweat buckets even on cold days, and I have to wear a suit and otherwise be presentable for work). Lately, kids and work have been so taxing and, coupled with the dark, cold Midwestern winter mornings, that has pretty much meant “early to bed, late to rise,” for this nascent Velominatus. As much as I’ve tried, early morning or late night trainer sessions just haven’t been in the cards.
Consequently, I joined a gym near the office in order to break up the day and get in some cardio over the lunch hour. I didn’t do it with the intent of using the spin bikes; rather, I was all set to put in some treadmill miles, weight training, etc. One day, while trotting along and thinking about how much my knees hurt, I said, “what the hell. Tomorrow I’ll try one of those spin bikes.” The next day, I suited up, slapped on the Dark Knights, and started spinning. At first, it was horrible. All of the things I described above came to mind and I was sure that I’d never do it again. However, after a while, a funny thing happened. I got over the differences in geometry from my road bike; I got over the annoyingly short crank arm length and annoyingly wide bottom bracket; and I got over the weird feel of the flywheel and the squishy, outrageously non-Rule 61-compliant saddle. Instead, I cranked up the tunes and started focusing on form. Without traffic or weather to contend with, my mind was freed for deep, unbroken meditation on the rhythmic movements of my legs and the way my whole body was working together to achieve the magnificent stroke. The spin room is surrounded by mirrors, so I was able to watch my motions and correct irregularities. My imagination wandered, and instead of being in the spin room, I saw myself ascending the twists and turns of L’Alpe d’Huez. In short, I was channeling Rule #6 and finding the V-Locus.
When my time was up, I jolted out of my reverie with something akin to shock. I think that… I kinda just enjoyed riding a spin bike! I felt a little bit filthy, true, and yet somehow, I had a similar sensation to when I come home from an honest, physically demanding effort on the road. How could this be?
Don’t get me wrong. Given the choice, I will choose the road over spin any day and twice on Sundays. There is still no comparison between actual riding and the pseudo-cycling spinning activity. However, winter cycling in Wisconsin for someone whose only time to ride is early in the morning is difficult: snow, ice and bone-chilling temperatures make night-riding difficult and dangerous. After winter sets in, I’m unable to resume my regular early-morning rides until March at the earliest. It could be that I’ve found a new tool to keep the fire burning a little bit higher during the dark months of high winter here in the Midwest.
However, when I get home at night and go down into my basement to grab something out of the freezer, I have to walk through my little bike maintenance area. I can practically hear my bike whispering as I walk by: “I smell the stink of that unholy creation on you. Why are you not riding me? You do not deserve the Velominati name badge I bear!” In the face of that recrimination, all my rationalizations turn to dust. And yet I cannot help but think that the effort it takes to find the V while sitting atop such a contraption, ironically, can only bring me closer to la Vie Velominatus.