Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mountain versus Road

In the twenty plus years I have been cycling, a constant battle has been waging between my love for mountain biking versus road riding. We have been through many different seasons and changes in our 2 wheeled passion. This weekend, I came to terms with the new phase I have entered.

Saturday, we joined in yet another mountain bike birthday ride. Carebear's birthday party was held on the Bear Creek/Pinhoti trail of North Georgia.
It was sooooooo cold, and the 240% humidity made it feel even colder. But we bundled up and generated plenty of heat pedaling up the singletrack climbs.

The guest list included the entire gamut of cycling ability. We had top ranked expert racers playing alongside regular Joes.
Males and females, twenty-somethings to forty-somethings, slow and tentative to wild n wooly. But we all had one thing in common; a passion for mountain biking.
That passion was evident by the smiles on our faces and laughter to be heard.
We were freezing our tails off,the trails were muddy, and we worked hard, but we sure had fun.
Sunday, the forecast called for sunshine and temps in the 50's. Practically a heat wave compared to what we've suffered through lately. An email from a roadie friend prompted us to lean toward a paved ride for the day. We knew we were in dire need for such a workout. Our last group road ride was Dec 18, 2007. Ouch. I wonder if I'll remember how to do this.

I grabbed my red Rapidade water bottle filled with a fresh new sample of the energy drink. Shane and Carebear were kind enough to give us samples to try from yesterday's ride. (See, mountain bikers are like that. Fun, friendly, generous, and fast!) I liked the new flavor better than what I tried from the sample Shane gave me in September. Good stuff, Shane! That's what got me through today's ride!
I always forget that on the road you have to bundle up much more than for a mountain bike ride. The faster speed makes a 50 degree day feel like the 30's to me. Even though it was warmer, I didn't feel it.

We met up with 5 of our atlbike riding buddies for a 40 mile loop out of Hiram. Right off the bat, I could feel my legs screaming in protest. Yesterday's fun had left its mark. Honestly, it felt like my quads had been beat with a baseball bat. No worries, I thought. A nice spin on the road will help flush things out.

One problem, there's no such thing as a "nice spin" when you're riding with others. Male roadies are physically incapable of spinning. Sprinting and hammering are the only thing they know how to do. Trust me, I spent 15 years proving that theory over and over on many a ride.

As we headed out towards Hulseytown, I could only watch as my riding posse sprinted away into the sunset. That's when I had plenty of time on my hands to ponder and think about the battle waging within me.
What happened to the girl that used to jump into the middle of the action? I used to look forward to the group road rides we did. We literally used to spend hundreds of hours logging thousands of miles on the pavement in packs of 20-50 riders. Now, I consider five a crowd.

Pardon me as I toot my own horn, but ten years ago I was a bad-lass roadie. We did all the hard core training rides with the hardcore road racers, and I could hold my own quite well. Hanging in on the Tuesday night training criterium was no big deal for me. If I had a dime for every time I've been around that course, I'd be a billionaire. Riding an inch off a wheel in a paceline was as natural as breathing.

The best part of all that was being able to stick it to the guys! Sure, I admit it. I loved putting the hurt on some big headed egotistical roadie that looked at me as a tiny 5'2" runt not even good for drafting. I went for the kill, smelled the sweat, tasted the blood, and saw the glory. Mmmm, yes, it's quite the rush.

So why after all those years of blood, sweat, and toil am I no longer at ease in my own "living room", so to speak? I draft off someone's wheel and get nervous and jittery. I'm uncomfortable with the speed as we fly downhill. What's up with that? As I climbed up Hulseytown in my off-the-back position, I thought about all these things.

From my experience with riding, it seems that once you have the strength, you can handle the road. If you're strong, you're in. There's no "fudging" on the road bike. No strength, no hang. You're off the back. Doesn't matter how skilled you are or what your history is. Don't use it, you lose it.Cam, my current day roadie friend, is strong as an ox. He could ride the rest of his life, and never learn the first road technique and it wouldn't matter. He's always too far ahead for anyone to notice. Fortunately, he's not lured into the present day roadie scene. I'm glad. Their cockeyed attitudes would surely ruin a good thing. I like keeping this gem to myself. Whenever I need a good road beating, I just call on Cam and hang on to his wheel.

Mountain biking is like a fine wine. It gets better with age. Once you learn those skills and develop a certain finese, you're in for good. Maybe you're not as strong as you used to be, but you can still do it and enjoy it. You can fudge in mountain biking, as long as you have finese.
I can honestly say that I am a better mountain biker now than I was 10 yrs ago. Even though I'm no where near as strong or fit as I was, I have all those years of experience under my belt. And you can't take that away from a mountain biker. Even when your lungs can't step up to the plate, a little skill and technique will carry you a long way on the dirt.

I could give you an ear full on how to survive a WBL training ride, but I couldn't actually pull it off today. Why? Because I'm no longer at that fitness level. But you throw me out there with some expert mountain bike racers, and I'll survive. I may not be on their tails, but I'll finish the ride and look good and have fun while doing it.

The highlight for Sunday's road ride was when we hopped off the road onto the dirt in order to get back onto the Silver Comet Trail. Ahhhhh, now I really feel the bike beneath me, moving my body in rhythm to the bumpy ground. It was all of 100 yards, but immediately I relaxed. It was then that I realized how tense I had been during the road ride.

My glory days of being good at both road and mountain biking combined are over. I'm no longer willing to pay the high price of admission to keep up my membership in the bad-lass road club. I'll have to stuff my ego in my jersey pocket and suffer at the hand of my smack-talking roadie friends. We'll laugh together and ride hard, but it's a different kind of riding for me now. I'm merely surviving.

The pendulum has swung back over to the Mountain Bike side for now, and I have a suspicion it will stay there. Riding the long paved road while spinning my legs at 100rpm no longer tempts me. Now I only do it so that I can have my fitness for the mountain bike. So when you see me out there on the road, I may be there in body, but my mind is riding somewhere off in the woods.


Andrea said...

This was an interesting post to read. There is a distinct difference between riding with roadies and riding with mountain bikers. I have spent most of my riding days with roadies (although not high-speed, competitive types) and have only recently started doing group rides with mountain bikers. The attitude is almost completely opposite. I have a feeling I'm going to be spending a lot more time on the trail this coming spring and summer than I do on the road.

BTW, I just found your blog and I love your pictures and how many of them you post. I'm too lazy to take more than a couple photos during a ride, but I really like how you move the story along with the photos.

Mallie said...

Great post. I have never been, and never plan to be, a real roadie, able to keep with the pack and all of it's etiquette, yet I spend time on the road to add to fitness. And that's enough road time.

Funny note, way back in the day you were an Atlanta Sports & Fitness Athlete of the Year. My husband was in the same issue. Thought you might find that funny. He was the non-MTb/roadie bike guy.

i8chocolate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
i8chocolate said...

Hey Mallie! Oh my, Atl Sports/Fitness. Thank goodness that passed under the radar. I'll have to dig out my copy and look him up. And you know who also was in that issue...A very young unknown boy by the name of Thomas Turner! Also featured, the late Bob Kassow. It's special to me now, not because I'm in it (HA), but because of Thomas, Bob, and now I learn..your hubbie! Cool!