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. Speed is dynamic and beautiful. Like that we think of you now as s teen in the garage — you must have owned the neighborhood just having that motorcycle in the garage. Speed. To that I say carry on!

  2. The bite of the tires through the perfect arch of a turn when you know you couldn’t do it any faster without crashing, feels so good.

  3. I just love speed and descending, I think it is the art of cycling on the edge that gives such joy.  Great piece @frank.

  4. Speed. Isn’t that in the Top 3 of why we do this? I do know that speed, and my love of it, is why I’m not allowed to buy another ZX6 or any other sport bike.

    The feeling of a wicked fast descent down a buttery smooth mountain road is like none other.

  5. A-Merckx to that Frank. Even when I get back from a ride and see my own miserable max speed on the local awesome descent I still get a buzz recalling the pure sensation of speed that I had.  I’ll take 70kmph on a bike over 200 in a car any day of the week.

  6. To go fast is to live. We are never in a hurry we are just going fast. UK roundabouts are dangerous yet thrilling taken at speed….

  7. Excellent!

    I was just working on my cx cornering today, determined to not touch the brake levers through the tightest corner. It is definitely thrilling to rely on position and handling skills and not the brakes.

    I rarely get to corner at speed on the road though. The corners are either full of gravel and other debris or there are just too many cars around, or the chance of a car popping up. I gotta go PRO and get closed courses…

  8. @Ron My entire fall riding season was spent trying to get this down.  I spent hours weaving in and out of cone marked corners.  Racing was fun, but trying to get the feel for this was a source of joy all its own.

  9. Just did a short hilly ride, my first of the year with bared guns. Fabulous sensation. Wind on the guns increases the perception of speed. The county needs to sweep the gravel off the roads. I need to call them and tell them that I can’t feel the speed I need to feel on Palo Alto Rd. until they sweep the fucking gravel.

  10. You’ve done it again @frank. Beautiful.

    Your uphill thought reminded me of the wonderful sensation of reaching a mountain hairpin as I climb, taking the outside line and being able to spin that much faster, almost a feeling of flight after the grinding that my climbing style resembles.

  11. 1000cc beemer is a lot of bike – my first was a 500 suzi thrashing machine. Speed is exhilarating, a celebration of being alive. Speed is fun. Speed + cornering is scary fun. But I also like Power, the parent of speed. When you can rise out of the saddle and the power comes on smoothly. Just brilliant. Great article.

  12. @Mike_P

    You’ve done it again @frank. Beautiful.

    Your uphill thought reminded me of the wonderful sensation of reaching a mountain hairpin as I climb, taking the outside line and being able to spin that much faster, almost a feeling of flight after the grinding that my climbing style resembles.

    This. Maintaining the magnificent stroke while on a longer line climbing much quicker than the shorter inside line is a definite thrill…

  13. Hey, how did Pedale managed to make Pozzovivo look non-mini?

    raz – It’s fun to work on and thrilling when you hold a line you’ve been too nervous to just roll through. I lack an off-road riding background, which I think can really, really help in cornering of all types on a bicycle. Especially if you start at a young age when crashing isn’t so scary or life-interfering. Heading to 4th grade on crutches or in a wheel chair is cool, heading to work…not as cool.

  14. Great article Frank.  I must admit to having never felt the need to brake for terrain whilst rounding a switchback on a climb, though I have had brake to for other cyclists crossing my line, and that feels anything but fast.

    Last night’s hilly ride ended around at 8:30, so there was plenty of descending in the dark.  Fifty Km/h with only the light of your headlight and that of  your mates to illuminate the road ahead definitely makes one feel an active participant.

  15. Speed in itself is one thing, but it’s thrill is greatly enchanced when cornering. The thrill is high, but the speed comparitivly low, hence where I prefer to get my jollies. 100km/hr plus on a straight is great, but I shudder to think what would happen if I came off at that speed. I wised up and sold my motorbikes, using the cash for a new #1. I’m not 100% convinced but fairly sure an accident at speed (in a corner) on a cycle is going to be less life threatening than on said sports bikes. Bit more gravel rash though. Actually, my first attempts at decending were hampered with my motorcyclists brain screaming “you can’t go this fast without a full covering of leather!” I have managed to kill that voice off.

    My club crits are my favourite because they are run on a very tight and technical course on the local uni’s private roads. As they are private, they are closed, as they are tight and technical I get to leave those who cannot corner well eating my dust (thank you motocycles for teaching me how to corner at speed). I love dusting guys in a Crit that on a road race I would have no chance of getting away from. Last race they had to make a new rule: Anyone seen to be trying to hit the witches hat in the apex of corners with their knee will be disqualified. Party poopers.

  16. Roundabouts…a new feature in our community.  Traffic-permitting I will give trailing motorists pause as I accelerate through the apices as if chased by the television helicopters at the TDF.

  17. @Gio

    Hecks yeah, yo!  When drop down from the stayer’s line accelerating fast around the bends enough where you start to black out a little, only to recover your wits again on the straights – that is speed.

  18. @Ron

    Hey, how did Pedale managed to make Pozzovivo look non-mini?

    Check out his head tube cluster dude. That ain’t a Strackian frame.

    Also I might have the rider wrong.

  19. @PeakInTwoYears

    @scaler911

    The feeling of a wicked fast descent down a buttery smooth mountain road is like none other.

    This.

    +1 .   I often get the the bottom of climbs after screaming down at speed and think ” shit that was awesome” then the little voice in my head says “youd be pretty fkd up if youd fallen at that pace !”

  20. @Barracuda

    @PeakInTwoYears

    @scaler911

    The feeling of a wicked fast descent down a buttery smooth mountain road is like none other.

    This.

    +1 . I often get the the bottom of climbs after screaming down at speed and think ” shit that was awesome” then the little voice in my head says “youd be pretty fkd up if youd fallen at that pace !”

    And that same little voice sometimes talks me into going back up so I can do it again.

  21. @brianold55

    But I also like Power, the parent of speed. When you can rise out of the saddle and the power comes on smoothly. Just brilliant.

    This. This is the basis of it, isn’t it? I hate being scared, but love the thrill of finding the line between skill and chance – that feeling of confidence is what makes speed really fun.

    Of course, if you are scared a make it through unscathed then that’s pretty fun too, purely from a 20-20 perspective.

    Had a great ride today, really easy on a very easy route. On easy days I like to explore new route possibilities, which is a risk because you never know what hills you might encounter around here. But off I went and it was awesome. I came flying down a hill into a perfect 90 degree bend from sunlight into shade. Almost pulled an Olympic Cancellara as I got to the apex and saw nothing but potholes and manhole covers peppering the other half of the corner. I took a quick survey of the empty road and just rode off to the other side but if there had been traffic, it would have been a bad thrill.

  22. @scaler911

    @Barracuda

    @PeakInTwoYears

    @scaler911

    The feeling of a wicked fast descent down a buttery smooth mountain road is like none other.

    This.

    +1 . I often get the the bottom of climbs after screaming down at speed and think ” shit that was awesome” then the little voice in my head says “youd be pretty fkd up if youd fallen at that pace !”

    And that same little voice sometimes talks me into going back up so I can do it again.

    If you didn’t know that it would fuck you up, it wouldn’t give you the thrill. (Said the guy who does *not* claim to have the big balls.)

    If you didn’t know that it would fuck you up, you wouldn’t be a Cyclist, you’d just be yet another candidate for a Darwin Award.

  23. @razmaspaz

    @Ron My entire fall riding season was spent trying to get this down. I spent hours weaving in and out of cone marked corners. Racing was fun, but trying to get the feel for this was a source of joy all its own.

    You don’t have to do those tight turns without brakes. You just have to keep pedaling; use the front brake to control your front wheel traction and use the pedals to control your rear traction and speed. You can take the turns much tighter and carry more speed that way.

  24. @Beers

    @Mike_P

    You’ve done it again @frank. Beautiful.

    Your uphill thought reminded me of the wonderful sensation of reaching a mountain hairpin as I climb, taking the outside line and being able to spin that much faster, almost a feeling of flight after the grinding that my climbing style resembles.

    This. Maintaining the Magnificent Stroke while on a longer line climbing much quicker than the shorter inside line is a definite thrill…

    Yeah, Cougar Mountain here has a particularly steep hairpin and everyone hits the inside but steep side of it. I go wide and loves me the easier gradient.

  25. @Ron

    Hey, how did Pedale managed to make Pozzovivo look non-mini?

    raz – It’s fun to work on and thrilling when you hold a line you’ve been too nervous to just roll through. I lack an off-road riding background, which I think can really, really help in cornering of all types on a bicycle. Especially if you start at a young age when crashing isn’t so scary or life-interfering. Heading to 4th grade on crutches or in a wheel chair is cool, heading to work…not as cool.

    The most valuable thing offroad cornering will do is teach you at lower speeds (i.e. less consequence) what happens when your wheels slide.

    Spoiler alert: wheels sliding do not mean “crash”, they mean adjust weight. If you adjust wrong, then maybe it means crash, but your wheels can slide any direction (independently) and you can still come through the corner just fine.

  26. @Jamie

    Great article Frank. I must admit to having never felt the need to brake for terrain whilst rounding a switchback on a climb, though I have had brake to for other cyclists crossing my line, and that feels anything but fast.

    There are three climbs on one route in Seattle proper (I admit its one of my favorites) which have a corner that if I ride it well enough, I will need to break or keep a pedal up on the way uphill to avoid a problem.

    I’ll show them to you one day. It is a real thrill, especially because they are on my medium-hard routes, which means I do that route when I’m not feeling 100% so the mental boost is always welcome. When I do them when I’m 100% I curse myself for not choosing a better line. Its win-win because no one curses themselves for their chosen line going uphill unless they’re PRO.

  27. @Gio

    Is it just me or does this sensation of speed amplify on the track?

    It is not just you; except it only amplifies once you get how to ride the track. On your first trip up the embankment, your only sensation is how fucking slow you are and that you’re about to fall off.

    @The Pressure

    Roundabouts…a new feature in our community. Traffic-permitting I will give trailing motorists pause as I accelerate through the apices as if chased by the television helicopters at the TDF.

    You and me both, brother.

    @titirangisi

    @Gio

    Hecks yeah, yo! When drop down from the stayer’s line accelerating fast around the bends enough where you start to black out a little, only to recover your wits again on the straights – that is speed.

    OK, haven’t experienced that. Chapeau!

  28. @scaler911

    @Barracuda

    @PeakInTwoYears

    @scaler911

    The feeling of a wicked fast descent down a buttery smooth mountain road is like none other.

    This.

    +1 . I often get the the bottom of climbs after screaming down at speed and think ” shit that was awesome” then the little voice in my head says “youd be pretty fkd up if youd fallen at that pace !”

    And that same little voice sometimes talks me into going back up so I can do it again.

    Today’s ride was intended to be super easy. The normal route has a little leg breaker and I realized a could reverse a section of the route to avoid it, but it meant going down the major 2km climb of the shorter version of this route that I use for hill repeats. Never been down it before (there’s a small loop to take to bring you around in about 2 min for the repeats; perfect recovery time.)

    Fuck me was that a thrill. Perfect tarmac, perfect bends, only one road where someone could kill me if they pulled out. Feather the brakes, and badabing badaboom. Almost did an about-face to go do it again!

    But alas, I know how to train properly and instead headed to the harbor to have a coffee on the shore before heading back home.

    Today was Leg Day, but only in the recovery sense.

  29. One of the more exciting aspects of a new bike is working out the braking requirements for certain descents…I have to admit to pulling a Voeckler on one of my fave descents last week after getting the calculations a little wrong.

    Thankfully it was on the hairpin with a driveway on the outside of the corner & not the previous one that drops off over a quarry face!

  30. @Gio

    Is it just me or does this sensation of speed amplify on the track?

    Local bike club runs a session once a week at the local outdoor velodrome, road bikes only, but going even at 30kph seems fast when there are 10 of you in a group

    Ok who am I kidding, I’m doing 30 all the others are at 33+. I think to myself, och they’re not that much faster I’ll hang on the back for a few laps but do you think I can close that last half metre, can I balls! I also now realise how huge franks achievement on the track was when I could only manage 30 k in an hour. It’s amazing the extra effort you need just for a small increase in average speed.

    As for proper speed, downhill inches behind some one else, yah beauty, as we say here! It seems to be easier to draft at high speed and then my extra body mass means I can just put in a little extra effort to get past skinny hill climbing monkeys on the way down.

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. @frank

    @Ron

    Hey, how did Pedale managed to make Pozzovivo look non-mini?

    raz – It’s fun to work on and thrilling when you hold a line you’ve been too nervous to just roll through. I lack an off-road riding background, which I think can really, really help in cornering of all types on a bicycle. Especially if you start at a young age when crashing isn’t so scary or life-interfering. Heading to 4th grade on crutches or in a wheel chair is cool, heading to work…not as cool.

    The most valuable thing offroad cornering will do is teach you at lower speeds (i.e. less consequence) what happens when your wheels slide.

    Spoiler alert: wheels sliding do not mean “crash”, they mean adjust weight. If you adjust wrong, then maybe it means crash, but your wheels can slide any direction (independently) and you can still come through the corner just fine.

    Yep, I have been learning this. After a few years of riding cyclocross, my handling and cornering are vastly improved. On the road I feel really strong and confident cornering.

    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?

  34. @frank

    @Ron

    Hey, how did Pedale managed to make Pozzovivo look non-mini?

    Check out his head tube cluster dude. That ain’t a Strackian frame.

    Also I might have the rider wrong.

    FWIW, found a couple of starlists that said #41 was Pierre-Roger Latour. Pozzovivo was listed as #48.

  35. The London Olympic Velodrome opened up for public use this week and my club has organised a three hour session with coaches. It’s not till November, but I cannot wait.

  36. Speed, in terms of “how fast I’m going,” is a fickle thing, and not necessarily related to how I feel on the bike.  Sometimes I’ll get home after a ride that felt “fast,” and see that it’s one of my more pedestrian efforts on a given route.  Other times I’ll get home feeling as if I just wrestled a bear for two hours, and I’ll find that it was one of my faster efforts.

    It’s when the sensation of speed and effortless power come together, as noted above, that I feel the deliciously addictive nature of true Speed.  It doesn’t happen a lot (especially this time of year), but it’s one of the sensations that keeps me climbing into the saddle day in and day out.

  37. @Chris Neat.  Wish I was within easy striking distance of one.  Calshot is not too far, must arrange to go for a course there sometime.

  38. @Ron

    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?

    Personally I stay pretty centred and opposite steer (or reduce steer to control the skid) – that is of course on the assumption that there is room.  I would not lean harder to the right as that is more likely to shift your weight inside the point of contact and the bike will go out from under you.  If you are staying with the skid you need to stay balanced over your contact point(s).  Just like skiing – don’t “hill hug” or you will end up hugging the hill.

  39. The roads have been so bad around me in the UK through the winter that any notion of speed cornering was a commitment to eat tarmac (or drown in the floods).  However, now it has stopped raining the roads are dry and the mud and gravel has (mostly) gone.  So (potholes aside) I can now let fly down my local hill  with a sweeping left right at the bottom.  On a bike its a buzz to sweep the bends at speed but in a car the line is such that you can’t hold the same speed without being a bit nutty as it’s a bit of a blind bend so you can’t cut the centre line.

  40. @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.

    @The Pressure

    @antihero or Foolish

    I’m with @antihero on this and after forty years of killing it in traffic with, ironically, no accidents except when I was training to race! My current commute is 16km in traffic usually with a wind. It is the best when my fitness and the wind coincide to keep me in the flow of traffic. Drafting scoters and trucks are icing on the cake.  I just broke 30 minutes (with stops for the big lights) and am aiming for the mid 20’s by summer.

    @The Pressure, your right – do not try this at home! Seriously I started at 17 with a daily commute across central London for 4 years then back to Boston for 12. After that 25 years 90 miles from NYC where I’d train in and ride all day in the city 2-3 times a month. Now in Miami where traffic is flakey but manageable as the city has made bike awareness much better.

    Like @antihero playing in traffic is, I think, an acquired taste. It also carries a risk that is not there when riding at speed with no traffic. I think of it like a sword duel there is no monkey mind or sight seeing the focus is 100% and acceptance of the risk is part of the deal!

  41. @Rob

    @antihero

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

    Like @antihero playing in traffic is, I think, an acquired taste. It also carries a risk that is not there when riding at speed with no traffic. I think of it like a sword duel there is no monkey mind or sight seeing the focus is 100% and acceptance of the risk is part of the deal!

    Back in high school, I was an avid mountain biker.  I grew up following Tomac, Overend, Cuddles and Hejsedal on the World Cup circuit.  I had a dream of being a professional cyclist.  Between HS and smart school, I fulfilled that dream by being a bike messenger.  Playing in traffic is definitely an acquired taste, especially in the core zones of major cities.

    There is also nothing better for your guns than 8 hour interval sessions, racing against cars and trucks to the next light, trying to cross 4 lanes of traffic before they get up to speed, or trying to stay on their wheel at 50-60kph in order to make the green at the end of the block (or a few blocks away).

  42. @Teocalli

    The roads have been so bad around me in the UK through the winter that any notion of speed cornering was a commitment to eat tarmac (or drown in the floods). However, now it has stopped raining the roads are dry and the mud and gravel has (mostly) gone. So (potholes aside) I can now let fly down my local hill with a sweeping left right at the bottom. On a bike its a buzz to sweep the bends at speed but in a car the line is such that you can’t hold the same speed without being a bit nutty as it’s a bit of a blind bend so you can’t cut the centre line.

    There’s many a car around my corner of our county that happily cuts that centre line and to hell with the risk of taking a cyclist out. I get your meaning though and it’s such a pleasure to get home from a ride without being covered in crap.

  43. @TheVid

    Yes to all that. I never made it to smart school(+1) and had dreams of messengering but the real job and racing got in the way… My days in NYC had me having lots o fun with the bad boy messengers of fixiedom, the skids, the moves, the run ups, to and through the red (them not me). It was always fun to duel with them and on the rare occasion get a nod of “for an old fart you’ve got something”, which was gold.

    back to topic:  I’m now riding with a small group and although they ride well and put some hurt in, in what seems to be typical Miami style they are one speed ponies and I have to warn them that on certain rides if a faster group or the right scooter/truck comes up I will be jumping on.

    Its not about showing off, nor trying to beat anyone, it’s all about just loving going fast and if it’s too long at one tempo I get antsy.

  44. @frank

    @razmaspaz

    You don’t have to do those tight turns without brakes. You just have to keep pedaling; use the front brake to control your front wheel traction and use the pedals to control your rear traction and speed. You can take the turns much tighter and carry more speed that way.

    That was a revelation for sure as I started doing them faster.  It was amazing how that back wheel slides in the turn but completely holds traction because I’m putting force to it. I still need to learn to front brake to finesse it.  It has completely changed how I go through corners.  There were some off camber s turns on the local circuit that went from being impossible to navigate to breezing through when I just kept pedaling.

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