Making dumb decisions while still enjoying the ride

(From the August 2018 issue of Road Bike Action)

It didn’t take but a few seconds to realize that I’d just made the stupidest decision ever. There I was in a pack of four riders that were big-ringing it into a majestic valley at around mile 30 of the Campagnolo Gran Fondo. With a few hundred riders behind us, the four of us made up the early break on the 70-mile Medio route. Making matters even more ideal was that two riders in the group were aboard a tandem, and they’d already waved me onto their rear wheel in a most accommodating way. Nice! With the lead we had already built, I began getting ahead of myself and imagining a potential top-five finish.

Just as we crested a climb out of the town of Jamul, the road delivered up an expansive view of a big valley ahead. As I looked over the backs of the tucked-in tandem riders, I could see the paved road rolling on for miles under a glorious morning sun.

That was the moment when I fell victim to my own bald-faced stupidity. As with most events I participate in, I’m not only there to ride but to also cover the event, which includes writing duties as well as shooting photos. When I peered up ahead and saw nothing but beauty, I knew it was a moment worth capturing.

The second I sat up and took my hands off the handlebars to fumble for my camera and get the shot, both the tandem and other rider stayed on the pedal and gapped me like no tomorrow. “What a dope,” I thought to myself as I hurriedly tried to get the camera back into my jersey pocket and start pedaling again.

Alas, all the effort was in vain, as my three former BFFs sailed on without me. Most painful of all was spending the next 30 minutes catching glimpses of the solo rider planted on the tandem’s rear wheel as they pulled him along at a pace I alone could never match. With the damage done, I limped along hoping someone might catch me from behind so we could work together and still salvage a good finish.

“The second I sat up and took my hands off the handlebars…both the tandem and other rider stayed on the pedal and gapped me like no tomorrow.”

Eventually, that wish came true. I made friends with a handful of riders, and we rotated our way back into town. This was the part of every organized ride I’ve ever done that I value the most—meeting new riders, learning about their bikes and training, and just celebrating the wide swath of cyclists that make up the sport.

It’s with that in mind that on page 56 you’ll find a review of the group rides that we’ve participated in these last few months. And yes, they are all California rides, because not only are the rides local to us, but they are also those I think offer the widest range of terrain. From riding with the spray of salt water in the air to the scent of towering pine forests, I am proud to bask in all that California has to offer cycling enthusiasts. If you can’t make it to any one of the Golden State events, the encouragement is still there to get out and ride a gran fondo near where you live.

There I was out on another late-afternoon ride with my pal Tommy when he began peppering me with questions about chain lubes. Beyond wondering what kind of lube I thought was best, he also wanted to know what kind of long-term performance I could expect with certain lubes.

“Long-term?” I queried back. “Tommy, of all people, you know that I rarely ride the same bike for more than three weeks. How would I know anything about the long-term effects of any chain lube?!”

It’s no different than when I show up for the weekly Montrose ride and I get ribbed for always being on a different bike. What I have to remind everyone is that I am not showing off as much as I’m just doing my job. We test bikes for a living, and to test them means we have to ride them. While we do have test riders responsible for long-term testing, I’m not one of them. Most bikes come in, we build them, shoot photos, ride them, write about them, then box them back up and send them off to where their journey began.

Yes, it’s a privilege to be able to ride so many great bikes that I could never afford to buy. But, riding different-sized bikes week in and week out with different drivetrains and wheels can also get a bit nerve-wracking. And no, that’s not a complaint and you can’t have my job, but if you have any tips of a good chain lube, let me know.