Cycling has never been like my running. It’s always been harder. And it’s always been easier. I’m sure you understand. You don’t have to be a runner to know what I mean. You don’t have to be a cyclist to know what I mean.
First of all you’re sitting down! Then, you have all those gears. And the down hills! Imagine being able to take a load off your feet as you become tired running. Just sit down, shift into an easier gear. Ah, there you go. And coast! It’s payback time. All that work getting up the hill, now you get paid back going down the hill.
But, the difference between going comfortably and going hard is huge! I could run along at a seven minute per mile pace and gently pickup the pace and I’m cruising at six minutes per mile. I just saved one minute ever mile I run.
I’m cruising along at a nice clip, say 19 to 20 miles per hour. I go to pickup the pace and … 21, 22 are a good bit of work. If I try to go 23 or 24 miles per hour, just two or three miles per hour faster. Well, I’m red-lined, all out, everything I have.
So, I’m cruising along heading north on 9W. If you live in NYC and cycle or do triathlon, 9W is your home. If you run in NYC Central Park is your home. The trip up to the George Washington Bridge, usually along Riverside Drive or St. Nicholas Avenue, is just an easy warm-up. City streets, traffic lights, taxis all conspire to making sure you warm-up gently.
But, when you get your passport stamped on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, you are definitely in a different country. A short trip up Hudson Terrace, with that one nice little hill and you are on 9W. Don’t get me wrong. 9W doesn’t strike fear into cyclists hearts. It’s only as hard as you make it. And only as long as you want it to be.
It’s typically the out and back route that is most frequented by NYC cyclists. After a local bike race in Central Park, you can see the teams putting in their extra mileage on 9W. There’s a nice shoulder, the pavement is smooth and there are practically no cross streets on the east side of the road for 10 miles!
And there’s not much to distract you from your task. Trees are the dominant scenery. No stores, no billboards and hardly a house. Put your head down and push, get on a wheel and cruise, it’s your choice and there’s nothing to worry about. Just ride.
It’s a late spring morning. I’m riding alone. I can’t remember why I’m alone, but I’m enjoying the solitude. I’ve eased into this ride, staying pretty relaxed for the NYC segment and gently accelerating once across the bridge. I’m down in my aero bars spinning along. There aren’t many cyclists to pass and there are none passing me. I don’t think much about my solitude. Just the effort, the cadence and relaxing.
Now, just before you cross State Line, that invisible demarcation between Jersey and New York, there are a series of rolling hills. Heading north they are predominately down hill. My speed is increasing. My vision has narrowed. I’m focused on a small patch of road ahead of me. I can hear my heart beat. I can feel the wind. My legs are spinning.
There’s one last down hill before the climb to State Line. I shift into my big chain ring. That big solid Dura Ace 56 tooth ring. As I click the bar end shifter to pull the chain on to the big ring, my body tenses. My legs explode with power, preparing for the added resistance that big chain ring will give me. And the added speed! CLICK! Don’t let the cadence drop. Push, turn, harder!
That last down hill is a long sweeping right hand turn. I can’t see much in front of me, the road is dropping and curving to my right. There’s an overpass ahead and the road jumps back up. All the elevation I’ve been loosing for the last few miles are coming back to me. In about a quarter of a mile!
As I fly under the over pass I see them. A small group of maybe six riders. Tightly grouped and standing as they climb that last hill. Then I feel it. A surge of adrenalin. CLICK, CLICK! I’m in my smallest cog and I’m in chase mode. I stay seated as long as possible. I push as hard as I can. Faster and faster.
The road sweeps up under me. Click, click, click. I shift into an easier cog. I’m still closing on them. I’m standing and jumping on the pedals. I’m straining to hold the bike still.
I’m really not looking at the group I’m chasing. They are just this blur in front of me, working their way up that last hill to State Line.
They know nothing of the race I’ve enrolled them in. They can’t imagine the competitive chase that’s going on behind them. Harder, harder! Don’t let your cadence drop, keep accelerating, keep closing!
Just before they crest the hill I pass the last rider in the group. I sit down and join them. A slight nod of acknowledgement and a small smile ends the chase. We’ve crossed State Line and we are one group now.
The asphalt gives way to concrete and the road drops away and swings to the right. The shoulder is narrow and we are in a tight pace line. About seven of us in close formation. I’m not in my aero bars now, fingers resting lightly on my brakes, but not pressing them.
Then I hear it. It’s got to be an 18 wheeler. Big, noisy and pushing a ton of air as it barrels down the hill just a couple of feet to our left. I check my speed and we’re about 45 mph. I start to push a bit and the guy in front feels my pressure and he pushes too.
The 18 wheeler is even with us. We press on down the hill. 50 mph and the 18 wheeler is falling back. 55 mph and the 18 wheeler is behind us. We don’t let up. At the bottom of the hill the traffic light is green in our direction! We continue pushing. The lead guy pulls off to the left and I take my turn pulling. A short down hill and another short climb. I glance back as I start the climb. We’re all together and the truck is not in sight! I stand and push up the hill.
At the top of the hill is a flat stretch along a golf course and a driving range. I sit up and let the pace slow. In a mile there’s a choice – turn right and hit some last hills before the next town or continue straight. Our pace slows and we bunch up. Grins and hello’s are shared.
I turn at Tallman Mountain Park and they continue straight.
As I peel off I start to grin and say to myself, “you can’t do that running!”