Waldman, racing for the love of it © Annette Hayden

Masters racer Lee Waldman makes the official transition from road to cyclocross bike. Lust for new bike bits and perhaps a super-charged body get in his way, but Sheryl Crow, and Lennon & Yoko see him through. Missed Lee’s last column, where he learns to ride each race like it’s his last? Catch up here.

by Lee Waldman

Finally! It took me a while, but I’ve put my road bike away for the season. As a responsible bike parent, it went to the bike doctor – better known as Jason, my mechanic – for its yearly check up and dose of TLC. When I get it back it will hang in the bike room for most of the winter. I’m now fully committed (actually I should be committed) to riding the ’cross bike every day.

I’ve found that I need one-on-one time with the cyclocross bike to get comfortable with all the challenges riding skinny tires off road presents. The bike fit isn’t drastically different from my road bike, but there are those tiny adjustments in balance and feel that come only with consistent, extended time on – and off – the bike. Today, for example, was a ’cross ride on some very rocky and bumpy singletrack near my house. It was amazing how in tune I felt with the bike at the end of the ride, completely different than riding a cyclocross course. I was able to take time to feel the balance points, to play with just where and when the back wheel would break into a skid in a dicey corner. I just played.

A funny thing happens, though, when I make that seasonal transition. No matter how satisfied I am with my equipment, I invariably look at the bikes that others are riding and begin to suffer a case of the dreaded (drum roll please) . . . “bike lust” (da, da, du). Don’t get me wrong: I have incredible equipment that I feel lucky to own and race. My bike is brand new, hasn’t even seen mud yet. But be honest … you’ve done this too – you’ve fallen victim to that heinous disease, to the belief that someone else has something that would in a New York minute make you faster. Admit it, you’ve had those thoughts, you’ve strayed from the path of brand loyalty, even if you were only lusting in your mind.

I’m as guilty as the next guy! There’s always something, isn’t there? There’s those feathery-light carbon wheels, the ones guaranteed to carry you to the podium, or the newest lightest brakes (stopping is highly overrated in my opinion). If we have Force, we want Red, if we have Chorus, we want Record, and on and on, ad infinitum. All I can say is that it’s a good thing I can’t go to Interbike. Can you say, “kid in a candy shop?”

And if you’ve found yourself straying from the path, you might want to consider this advice from Sheryl Crow. Remember, “It’s not having what you want, but wanting what you’ve got.” I myself need this little dose of reality, this reminder to pull me back from the brink whenever bike lust rears its head and I drool like a starving dog over someone else’s good fortune. I forget how good I have it sometimes. Her words bring me back to my senses and remind me that, although this might be a painful reference for Ms. Crow, it isn’t only about the bike, but about the rider. That there is no magic bullet.

From the always-wanting-to-upgrade way of thinking, it’s a really short journey to wishing that we could be different riders. Bottom line for me: I won’t ever be on anyone’s short list for Elite Worlds or be invited to race on a high-octane cyclocross team. My age has nothing to do with it: Like most of us, I simply don’t have the talent. Does that mean we should leave the sport to the truly gifted? Absolutely not. Should we stop training, stop trying, just show up and ride around for exercise. Nope.

I was finishing my training ride this past weekend – three hours on the cyclocross bike Saturday, three hours on the road Sunday – and thinking, “Why do I do this? Why do I pound my 60 year-old self into the ground every chance that I get? What’s the point?” It’s not just for the chocolate chip cookies, believe me. The point, my friends, is this: I may not have everything that I want as an athlete, father, husband, teacher. None of us do. But I’m going to damn well appreciate everything that I do have no matter what my limits are.

I know I’m showing my age here, but I’m going to end this column with some words of the famous duo John and Yoko. Just remember that when you die, “you don’t take nothing with you but your soul.”

Why are you reading? Go ride your bike!