Get fast: ride chaingangs. © David Evans
by David Evans
If you’ve been browsing the Cyclocross Magazine website this past week (and I assume that you have, unless in your unconstrained rush to my column you didn’t chance a click on other delights) you’ll have noticed the CrossVegas coverage headed up in part by Molly Hurford. As noted elsewhere she’s a girl (woman) on the move. With notable high five skills.
Cyclocross rarely knows such glamour, despite richly deserving it. And Vegas had it all: shiny things, light things, new things, expensive things; trade shows were ever thus. Oh, and the hangovers. I’m sure there were some immense hangovers.
A casual glance at this array of goodies might convince you that their purpose was to make you faster. Anyone who has ever pressed a pedal in anger can tell you otherwise. These gadgets exist solely to tell you how slow you are. They can express inadequecy in figures accurate to the third decimal point. The all-consuming guilt that can be inspired by a powermeter is phenomenal. If I ever find myself poor (poor in a serious way, not poor in my current self-proclaimed, irreverent, slightly flippant way) I will qualify as a psychoanalyst and specialise in treating the anxieties of middle-aged bike racers. I would never go hungry again.
If you want to feel fast ride with a chaingang, ATMO (Thank you, Mr. Sachs). In fact, if you want to feel anything, ride with a chaingang (again, ATMO). I travel between various relatives’ homes between the terms of my university. Despite this being a royal pain in the saddle, it allows me to ride with an array of different clubs and riders. I have yet to meet a chaingang I didn’t like.
I recently rode two chaingangs with South London’s Dulwich Paragon. I acted like a cycling anthropologist, assessing heirarchies and systems of power. Then all cognitive powers ceased and it was all I could do to stare blankly at the brake of the bike in front. It’s at times like that when I realize that all my fantasies of my friends and loved ones sharing the experience of cycling with me are entirely misplaced. They wouldn’t see me in the pursuit of athletic and aesthetic glory, gamely plugging away, feeling truly alive. They would see my mouth half open, snot drying on my lips, eyes crossing at ever more accute angles.
The Paragon club rides all winter, and rides at this time of year fall at dusk. At the turn-around point the sun has already gone down and the fields of Kent’s North Downs bask (that’s right, I’m unafraid of cliche, bask) in moonlight. It’s bloody gorgeous. And then you have to cling on to the paceline for the return into town. It makes you fast.
It can be easy to reduce the act of riding-bikes-quickly into parcels of data, and easy to try to quantify the significance of experience. Don’t do it. Stay cheap, ride chaingangs.