(This post is a submission from SuperStorm, a regular reader of Twisted Spoke. With just days before the queen of the classics, Paris-Roubaix, it’s a good reminder of the timeless joys of the bike and bike racing.)
I guess I’m a pushover for the Le Grand Spring Flings. Milan San Remo along with the Great Cobblers; Ghent, Ronde, and Paris–Roubaix. Then the Ardennes; Flèche, Amstel and the oldest of them all, Liege. Paris–Roubaix still being my favorite of them all.
It is where, when I was very young, I would drift off and dream of riding the beloved cobbles of the Arenburg forest in the rain on my trusty Motobecane Le Champion; chasing down the De Vlaeminck brothers, Godefroot, Zotemelk and Merckx to the applause and accolades of the locals in my wool shorts and jersey, Duegi wood shoes, and my trusty well worn Campagnolo cycling cap.
I miss those days, more than anyone will know. We talk about how corruption, corporatism, drugs, and money has ruined our sport. It has to an extent. Then I see a young neo-pro ‘Kid’ charging through the snow and rain just to finish a race, even though he was outside the time limit.
It says to me there’s hope. Hope that our sport may once again return to a time when cycling was simple. Get a good bike. Train like hell, eat a good meal before the race, and then kick some ass and take names. It created a spectacle for the fans, the cyclists, and all involved. They did it for the pomp and adoration. They did it because of their love of the bicycle.
That’s right. The bicycle.
The bicycle today is much different than the handmade statements of cycling’s past. No more, are the masters of steel artistry by the likes of Masi, Colnago, Confente, Gios, Pinarello, or Raleigh of Nottingham; all trimmed up, with their polished chrome and beautiful lug work gracing the cobbles.
What has replaced them? Outsourced homogenized, blacker than black, “your name here” branded utilities of Carboneze design. A techno geek with Dr. in his name and a computer, now ‘models’ the new bike in a computer simulation program and then a prototype is built for ‘wind tunnel’ and ‘stress’ testing to find ways to cheat gravity and the wind. Automatic “transmissions” and brake levers that serve as shifters have replaced the down tube levers.
Today, we talk watts, rpms, cadence and optimum nutritional intake. Not the days of yore where we had a few beers or passed a bottle of vino among our compatriots after a long road race. You need more power? Better belt up to the dinner table. A sports physiologist says; “you must train within your zone for optimum performance and always use the right gearing.”
I used to climb mountain passes in a 44×18! Some may see this as suicide, but I’m still standing and cycling 35 years later. And yes I still have “short stacks”, or “corn cobs” on the rear of my trusted steeds. And yes, I get comments from the newbies, saying things like “how can you ride in gears like that, with that heavy belly and bike?”
I ride because of my love for the bike. The soul of the bike is in me and I in it. I still ride hand-made chrome polished stallions from master craftsmen of days gone by, tipping the scales at 23 lbs. or more, and loving every damn minute of it. Nope, i’m not fast anymore, unless its downhill where I have a serious advantage over the lean 2-5% body fat pros. I can take any of them down any hill on my old steel machines, because we are one, together, a system of form along with a slight weight advantage and gravity.
I never got to race in the spring classics, and I still haven’t made it over to the north country to watch them either. Life got in the way. But one can still dream, can’t we? The Bicycle and the racing of them will always be part of my life.
I still marvel at its simplistic nature and its beauty, even in todays world. It’s why we love them, isn’t it? I see kids running around on “fixies” or “townies” and they seem genuinely amused to hear me regale them with the history of the steel chariots they bought used for running about town. They’re in awe when I roll up from time to time on one of the “oldies.” Yup times have changed, the bicycle has changed, but have all of these changes been for the better?
I leave you with this quote from a cycling legend. “I would advise all youths aspiring to athletic fame or a professional career, to practice clean living, fair play, and good sportsmanship.”
Marshall W. Taylor “The Whirlwind”
aka Major Taylor. Our First World Champion