One of greatest cycling pleasures is riding with a mate. Riding ten centimeters off each other’s rear wheel for hours; trust is a beautiful thing. You swing over, ease your effort slightly so your mate rides through, you then tuck behind, in the draft, close and fast. It is the best. @Kah touches on this and other transcendent benefits from a ride with a mate.
I sometimes wonder if the Rules were meant to be followed backwards, from 93 to 1. For example, the Principle of Silence in Rule #65 decrees that the bicycle should be silent. The mechanical benefits of a well-maintained steed are clear: respect for the machine and in return, speed and efficiency. Now, a silent bicycle with a smooth rider on board is well on his or her way to achieving Rule #6: a free mind via fluidly harmonic articulations.
I went for a road ride with my friend Brett today. The weather forecast wasn’t great, but he had spotted a gap in the passing showers and we meant to make the most of it.
After the usual early gasbagging we navigated traffic through town and settled into single file, and I was led towards the highway. For the most part we’re close enough that he fills my immediate field of vision, and I’m afforded to admire the ocean at my periphery and trust him with the road ahead. As I follow, I don’t really have to think twice about what I’m doing, but rather just respond to body language interlaced with hand gestures. We didn’t speak for a while, both seemingly left with our own thoughts as we swapped turns seamlessly.
As my legs started to settle into their own rhythm I got a chance to watch him ride. The cliche joke is that cyclists spend a lot of time staring at each others’ arses while out on our bikes (a thought commonly shared by the most homophobic). There are so many better things to look for when following a fellow Cyclist who knows what he’s doing. Brett has still shoulders, a good position, and an elegant supplesse to his pedal stroke. Similarly, watching his hand gestures gives a glimpse into his mood for the day too.
When I take my turn on the front, I try to emulate this stillness while maintaining our silent communication of the road conditions ahead. When I’m looking ahead at him, I’m not staring at his arse, I get to see through him – his experience of cycling means I am never surprised by the road conditions and for the most part our speed ebbs and flows rather than jerks and surges. This trust means eventually, slowly, finally – my mind cleared itself from the chatter that the typical work week leaves me with and a stillness follows.
I guess the difference between the tacit knowledge embodied by my riding buddies and the explicit knowledge that the Rules are trying to impart is the same as my Gran being a phenomenal chef; instinctively knowing just when and how to do the right thing, and how I have to Google how to hard-boil an egg. Obviously the difference is in our relative amounts of experience preparing food, but also in our interest and care in cooking. At some point, we just have to head out and learn through doing, transforming the theory of the Rules into innate knowledge.
As we rolled back toward the city, my legs burning from our earlier effort, my mind maintains that same stillness. Except now I’m more aware, awake, alive. I’m looking closely at my ally and adversary knowing he’s going to jump at any moment. When he doesn’t go, I have a dig (only friends attack friends right?), and this time I know whether he’s following when I hear the click-thunk of the derailleur engaging the sprint cog as we headed for the town-line sprint.
My world shrunk to the immediate visceral sensations of hurtling towards the end of the ride, tucked into The V-locus with my legs burning as I desperately try to gasp in air, I didn’t even care who got to the line first. For a few glorious moments, my mind was free.