How many ways are there to enjoy life on two wheels?
In the last month, I’ve ridden the track and the trail as well as the road. All have brought great dollops of pleasure (along with great dollops of mud in the case of the trail). While cycling has many disciplines, not to mention a few ‘rules’, the practice of one should not disbar participation in another.
Track and road are closer bedfellows than the road and the trail.
Until recently, a winter on the track was a financial imperative for the Continental road man. Merckx and Sercu were among those who teamed up for a lucrative winter of six-day races in the closed road season.
Among the contemporary peloton, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas has proved the possibility of competing at the highest level in both disciplines, although his road season this year required a little tailoring to build the speed required for his Olympic gold medal ride with Great Britain’s team pursuit squad.
I can claim no such specialization, merely the good fortune to be offered a place in a track session organised by my LBS. It wasn’t my first time on the track (and I sincerely hope it won’t be the last) but the exhilaration was fresh. The sensation of riding high up the banking, at speeds seemingly too low to remain upright, like aircraft ‘stacking’ for a landing slot, an inch from the wheel of the rider in front, was a gripping contrast to the sudden release of energy required for the lung-bursting, one lap sprint from the front of the group to its tail.
My mountain bike is one rarely pulled from the quiver, with precious time on the bike devoted to testing the road stock arrived at RCUK Towers. Very occasionally, work duties require its deployment and I’m always surprised why I don’t ride it more often. Mountain biking is an entirely different pleasure to that found on the road, and a world away from the exhilaration of the track, but there’s room for each in the lives of those lucky enough to have access to the tools and facilities required for all three; indeed, one of my riding colleagues for last Saturday’s off-road adventure had spent two hours the previous day riding the boards at Newport Velodrome.
I’d forgotten how enjoyable – and muddy – time aboard a mountain bike can be, climbs excepted. Ascending is my favourite activity on the road, tapping out a steady rhythm, an occasionally rising smoothly from the saddle as required, but this approach is a world away from the thigh burning grind required by most off-road climbs, where the rider is forced to battle the terrain as well as gravity, and where pedaling out of the saddle is rewarded by little more than wheelspin.
The road, naturally enough, is my favourite discipline: clean, smooth, unhindered progress (on days when I’m not faced with a block headwind); the ability to travel significant distances in a relatively short time. There can be few better ways to spend a sunny October Sunday: warmed by the gentle rays of a weakening winter sun, the countryside a little more threadbare than in recent months but beautiful nonetheless, enjoying a well-deserved cup of coffee at a café of choice, and soaking up admiring glances at the gleaming steed before remounting and pedaling back out on to the road.
“How do I love cycling?” as Elizabeth Barrett Browning nearly said. “Let me count the ways.”