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Tool: Vol. XXXVII, No. 182
posted: 06/25/07

For a while now I've been reading and immensely enjoying Bike Snob NYC's blog. Pithy and hateful; it simply rocks. I suspect I'm not unlike many of the blog's readers: I really hope he doesn't take a shot at me.

Oh wait. He already has.

This post, all about paying one's dues, does an incredible job of nailing the subliminal pecking order which exists in just about any competitive endurance sport (or any passionate pursuit, for that matter), but constantly lurks just under the surface in cycling. In particular, the last two paragraphs, all about newbies (or oldies-turned-new-again, and there seem to be a lot of us out there these days) pouncing on others' wheels, unannounced and univited, is bang on. It so totally happens so completely often.

"This may come as a shock to the newer riders out there, but there is absolutely nothing cool about trying to race somebody on your commute or on a recovery ride in the park. I know youíre very excited to be on your new Pista or Madone or whatever, and I know you feel like you need to prove yourself when you see someone else on a track bike or on a road bike in a team kit or whatever the case may be. But you need to learn something very importantóitís not always cool to attack, and itís never OK to sit on a strangerís wheel.

That guy on the track bike youíre killing yourself to pass may simply be on his way home from the velodrome, or from a dayís work as a messenger. The guy on the carbon wonder-bike in full lycra regalia may be returning from a 90-mile training ride, or a race, or may be cooling down from an interval. He sees you pick up the pace when you approach him, he hears you panting, he sees you look over your shoulder, and he knows what youíre up to. Thatís why he lets you get a lead and then passes you on the next hill, often making a point of making a cell-phone call or eating some food, so he can pass you no-handed."

Brilliant. So true.

And this weekend past I myself may have been guilty.

I found myself at the in-laws outside of Boston this weekend, so after a little research and with a free day on Saturday I decided to do a really nice ride from Sterling, MA to the summit of Wachusett Mountain. Wachusett is a well-known northeastern hillclimb, attracting all sorts of lycra-clad spokesfolk from all over the place. The mountain and surrounding area plays host to a number of races throughout the year. Rather than just drive directly to the base of the climb, which begins in earnest at a ski resort, I figured I'd drive out west an hour or so, park the car in Sterling and ride a loop from there. Make [something of] a day of it. Here's what I was in for. I planned to do a few laps up and around the mountain.

Note that if you should want to do the same ride, a few things:
  1. I missed the [potential] turn between mile five and six off Route 62 West onto Merriam Road, which leads up and across Route 31 to Mountain Road. I came back down that way. You can countinue on past Route 62 West, as mapped, and hook up with Mountain Road at any rate, which I did. Either route is a climb. If you want to have a little privacy whilst you grunt up, Merriam is the way to go (the road sign that's visible off Route 62 is Bullock Lane; Merriam is just past it). If you want to be on display to the whole town as you begin the climb up to Wachusett, start up on Mountain Road. I did the latter. It's probably a little more straightforward to take Mountain, which avoids a potentially awkward uphill stop sign and then right turn off Merriam on to Mountain.
  2. I wanted to do a loop to warm up before heading up the crux of the mountain, so a couple of miles before getting to the Wachusett entrance I took a left off Mountain Road onto Westminster Road and headed on around northwest. What I didn't know, having never ridden in the area, is that there's about a mile of unpaved road on this stretch. Not a big deal, but if you want to avoid riding on dirt, probably best just to hustle on up Mountain to the climb, or do some loopage further north if you want a little longer ride. Or hey, ride the Longsjo road race course instead.

The whole way up Route 62 from Sterling I was feeling underpowered. I kept eating and wondering when the legs would start to turn over. It was only much later, after I was heading back down to Sterling, that I realized the entire route to Wachuseett is subtly uphill (and also, in some spots, not-so). I realized this on my way back because my speed was roughly triple.

S M R T.

But here's the thing. Once I got on the hillclimb up Wachusett, I finally got my legs. I didn't take the time trial/race course route up, which hangs a left at the one way/wrong way road that serves as the correct/lawful way down from the summit, which made me feel a bit wimpy, what with several serious-looking riders going up that way, no doubt training for the race there next weekend. But I did do the longer, slightly less steep way up. Twice.

On my second lap up the thing, I caught and passed a reasonably fit couple. The guy out front was on titanium, had a power meter, and was rail thin. As I calmly but kinda forcefully rode past him I thought to myself, looking him over, "I may pay for this." But we said hello, I kept turning the cranks, and once around a little corner, I upshifted and rode like I meant it for a little longer. On the last stretch up the climb to the summit, I took the smartest line I could and got out of the saddle. I would not be caught back.

When I topped out I took a little lap around the summit area and saw the guy pedal up and pull over to a stop. I stood there half-looking at him while I choked down a granola bar. A bit awkward. After a few more seconds I plodded over to him. It was one of those "Fancy meeting you here..." moments.

"Bit of a hill, huh?" I say.
"Yeah," Razor Guy says.

A few moments later his riding companion pulls the last few vertical feet up to where we're standing over our bikes. The couple asked where I was from. I mention that I'd actually just been in town from two states away, this was my first ride out in these parts, that I'd ridden in from Sterling, which is, like, wow, sorta hard, eh? And, oh, I also should mention that this was my second lap up the climb.

And you two?

"Oh. Well, I'm normally all for repeats on Wachusett," says The Thin Man. "Great climb. But we rode in from Boston today. Sorta counts for something, I think."

Um. Yeah.

Here's what that would look like. Except probably even longer, because you almost certainly wouldn't ride Route 2 for 70+ miles.

"So for us, you know, probably 100 miles plus today."

Right. At least. And right now, at the crux of the ride, 52 miles in, the two of you are halfway home. Sweet.

I, on the other hand, have a car parked about 16 miles away. Oooooooooh. Hard day for meeeeeeeeeeeee.

And so, I remain, yr.,

Anyway, it's a great ride.

Especially from Newton, apparently.

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