Category Archives: culture

Cycling Terroir

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Wine people have this concept called terroir that they use when discussing qualities of wine that are due to local conditions. Wikipedia says it pretty well:

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had […]

Having ridden my bike in a bunch of different places, I’ve decided that terroir applies to cycling, too. This became apparent while riding in Tucson, then Phoenix, then back in Tucson again.

Adam Myerson (Team SmartStop) speaks to some of this, here.

Tucson and Phoenix are barely 2 hours apart by car, but couldn’t feel more different when riding.

After unpacking and assembling my bike in Tucson I rode out to meet Shawn, who was waiting at a coffee shop. I had a bike lane the entire way. A few minutes later we were on a path, then off, then were climbing up Gates Pass.

It went that way the next few days: ride on some city roads with bike lanes, then within 15-20 minutes be out in the desert or climbing up mountains. Coffee shops and gas stations that are cool with cyclists filling bottles. Traffic, yes, but mostly tolerant.

Up in Phoenix a few days later, I rode out from my hotel looking over my shoulder every few seconds to check the traffic bearing down on me. Zig-zag down a maze of side streets to get to something more rideable, 45 minutes later. Look back and see the expanse of concrete.

That’s not meant to be completely down on Phoenix. There are some nice places to ride: from Scottsdale out to Fountain Hills, then north. Or up through Carefree to Bartlett Lake. But riding there feels more like a battle to get to those nice places.

I’ve previously written about “feeling like a local” when I get on the bike somewhere else (and interestingly enough, the last time I wrote about that was from Phoenix).

“Feeling like a local” and terroir seem to come together. I’ve long felt that you can more readily get a sense of place being on the bike. Certainly more so than driving in a car, and as much or even more so than walking.

All these different places become “my place” for a while, even Phoenix, even if it means I am primarily looking to survive on the roads.


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Spring training starts now

Executive summary from 9 days of riding down south:

Blue Ridge Parkway: great road to ride on, but it actually gets annoying.
Savannah: food good, walking good, riding bad.
Greenville: challenging routes, courteous drivers.
460 miles over 9 days: feels like ‘spring training’ has already started.

The more complete story:

Somewhere in the middle of not being able to drive for 3 months, I had told myself that once I was driving again I was getting in the car and going somewhere … anywhere. I needed to at least get farther than Youngstown — the farthest from home I’d been since May.

Heading south proved to be a good decision: I missed the worst week of weather since last winter.

Blue Ridge Parkway
I stopped on the way down south, and again on the way back, to ride the Parkway where it conveniently crosses I-77 at Fancy Gap, VA.

It’s a unique road to ride on: limited entry and exit, no commercial trucks, good pavement, 45mph speed limit, great scenery. From that standpoint, it’s a pretty ideal setup for cycling. But riding it twice on this trip, something occurred to me: riding the Parkway can be annoying. You always seem to be going up or going down. The grades aren’t that steep or long, but it seems that you can rarely get into a nice riding rhythm. I know that sounds like heresy. It’s still a pretty special road to ride on … but day after day, I think I’d need a different option.

Visiting Savannah was primarily about spending time with my daughter. So we stayed in the city, where we could easily walk to where we wanted to go — and all the walking turned out to be really good for me. After walking around for 4 days I felt like I’d completed a round of physical therapy.

It’s a great city to visit: not too big, but big enough. Good restaurants. Beach 15 miles away. Lots of parks and other sights to see, just by walking.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, cycling-wise. I did what I often do when visiting somewhere new: go to and look for routes that people have submitted. Riding out of the city, there weren’t too many. I wanted to ride out to the beach (Tybee Island), but the prevailing opinion seemed to be “don’t even think about it” (dangerous traffic). So I essentially rode the same route each day. Anything different seemed to take me on 5 lane roads with heavy traffic … and lots of trucks.

Even on the route I took, there were lots of trucks — perhaps as a result of Savannah being a port city. The truck drivers weren’t obnoxious towards me on the bike, but it’s a little unnerving being passed by an 18-wheeler a dozen times on a 40 mile ride.

Overall, I liked Savannah, and I would visit again. But I can’t help but feel that they are missing out on something by not being more bike-friendly. It seems like a natural fit: it’s warm year-round, it’s flat, there are lots of pedestrians. Why not embrace cycling too? More bike lanes … rental bike stations for the more casual rider … and then outside the city how about some more roads where you don’t have to be looking over your shoulder for a lumber truck to come screaming by? It seems like a no-brainer to have a safe route to ride from Savannah out to Tybee Island.

Greenville, SC
In contrast, Greenville was riding heaven. Besides the courteous drivers, which I wrote about here, there are many great (scenic, challenging) roads to ride on. If you look on mapmyride, there are pages of routes for the Greenville area. Ride up towards NC and you are in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Just about every road that I was on seemed to have markings as part of some ride or another.

Overall I got the impression that Greenville really embraces the cycling culture. I will definitely be back.

9 days, 460 miles
… which included a 3-day stretch of 87, 75, and 94 mile rides (in Greenville). The day after the 94 mile ride, my legs actually hurt. I know I keep repeating myself here: I never imagined I’d be able to do this, so soon. I’m not able to go fast, but I can keep going.

I can’t express how good it felt to spend a few entire days doing nothing more than riding, then eating and resting afterward. I had told myself, back in May, that if I were able to get to “just riding” like this, then I would feel satisfied. And so I am.

The big shock came when I arrived home to 5″ of snow, no power, and downed trees everywhere. I almost … almost … turned around and headed south again.

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A funny thing happened on the way to Saluda

Something strange happened while riding today: cars were giving me lots of room when passing. On multiple occasions cars — and trucks even! — slowed behind me and waited for a clear chance to pass.

No horns honking. No shouts from drivers as they passed. No aggressive accelerations as they went by (yeah, I always love that … like it really makes a bold statement).

I gave a wave of ‘thanks’ to drivers a half-dozen times.

This couldn’t be just an odd coincidence, so I’m concluding that it’s something with the drivers here in the area — from Greenville, SC up into NC. Maybe it’s because George Hincapie is pretty well known around here. Or maybe it’s because so many people here cycle, or come here to cycle.

Or maybe the local cycling community has done something to engender such ‘sharing of the road’.

I stopped for coffee in Saluda, NC and a local guy struck up a conversation, asking where I had ridden from, which way I was going back, etc. Said he used to ride a lot too. I mentioned the drivers, and he said that people are used to bikes on the road.

But back at home people are “used to” bikes on Chagrin River Road, but that only seems to make it worse.

Something else is going on, and I’m guessing that it’s something about attitude. They just accept — however that came to be — that it’s OK for bikes to be on the road. They are not viewed only as an impediment or an inconvenience. I felt this way riding around Europe also. People don’t question that bikes belong on the road. Everyone knows someone who rides. It’s not a problem.

I wish I knew how to transplant this attitude. It would mean fewer riders in the hospital — or worse — as a consequence of road rage and impatient driving.

I think it would be healthier for driver’s mental health too. If only they could see it that way.

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Training by example

I started to write this a week ago, on Father’s Day, but got sidetracked … by riding then going out with my son for dinner at our favorite gourmet pizza restaurant (in Kirtland, of all places).

So riding can get in the way of things? Fitting, because that’s what I was starting to write about.

At various times I’ve been asked: how do you train and still make time for family? Don’t they resent the amount of time you spend training and racing?

It’s kind of moot now that my kids are well beyond that transition to wanting to do their own things. Actually that is part of the point: they have developed their own things that they want to do.

I’m mostly unapologetic about the time spent training and racing.

Parents push their kids to do sports, push them to do music lessons, to do activities, excel in school. But do parents do those things themselves? It seems to largely end up with the parents living vicariously through the activities and successes of their kids.

Why not show your kids a direct example of what it means to be engaged in something that is challenging, requires some discipline to be successful, and that you love to do? I think there is truth in the saying that kids learn more from what you do than what you say.

I could also talk about the different ways that you can do “opportunistic training” as I used to call it: ride early, ride at lunch, ride to and from work or family events. Ride a lot when you have the opportunity, and rest when other life circumstances come up. That worked pretty well for me.

More than anything though? I think they recognize that I’m just more agreeable when I am able to get out and ride.

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Vermont and change

I’ve been racing long enough to remember when you had to MAIL in race entries. Not e-mail but real, paper mail with a stamp on the envelope. And you found races by looking through announcements in VeloNews or USCF newsletter.

I can still picture the ad for the Killington Stage Race. It was a big race for the pros — last big race on the national calendar. It was big for amateurs too. A real stage race with big fields in all categories and big climbs in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

I did the race a couple of times, in 1999 and 2000 (after which the race went on hiatus until 2010). That’s long enough ago that it feels like forever. (I did the Masters 30+ race in ’99!).

In addition to picturing the old ad for the race, I also had a mental picture of the area. It was, as I remember it, beautiful. “Green Mountains” is an appropriate name. I also remember how refreshingly undeveloped the area was.

Going back this year for the first time since 2000, I was surprised to find that the picture in my head largely matched what I saw. How often does that happen? Seems you go back to a place where you have fond memories and then find that it’s not the same.

I figured we’d arrive to find lots of new, large condo complexes, chain restaurants, and Starbucks. But there was none of that. We stayed at a small inn on the access road. I got my espresso from a locally-owned bakery. We ate every meal at a local restaurant (including some amazing barbecue … in Vermont!). How often does that happen?

This is not just a random coincidence. I recalled reading about Vermonters opposing the growth of large “dollar stores”. So it seems to be a conscious thing.

Or maybe … it’s ingrained in how they see themselves in relation to their community and surroundings. Yeah. What if there was more of that elsewhere?

In any case, it was refreshing. I’m already thinking about going back: there’s another race in September (Green Mtn Stage Race).


(more on the Killington race itself to follow)

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Can’t fix stupid

I get annoyed when people say that cyclist should follow every traffic law to the letter so that drivers won’t get so pissed off and will give us more respect.

My argument: the drivers who are hostile towards cyclists are just hostile in general, and do the same thing to other drivers.

They are the same ones who aggressively tailgate me when I’m driving to work, and who honked at and flipped off my daughter when she had a learner’s permit and couldn’t go over the speed limit.

My theory is that these people just can’t stand the feeling of someone being in their way or inconveniencing them.

Tonight while riding I got direct confirmation of this theory.

I was out on the TT bike, moving along at a pretty good clip on a fast section of country road (Music St, for those who know). From behind I hear someone laying on the horn. Not a beep but a long sustained blast that intends to say, “get the f*** off the road!”

It was a diesel pick-up truck. He got in front of me and tapped the brakes like he was going to brake-check me. He then slowed and turned onto a side street. I caught up and pulled alongside.

He rolled down the window. Instead of saying “what is your problem”, I decided to ask, “why the hostility?”

Basically it came down to: bikes shouldn’t be on this road because I might not see them coming over a hill and my truck is big and has side mirrors. Yes, that’s it.

So it’s really about someone perceived as being in the way and being an inconvenience.

After a minute or so, I knew that talking to the guy wouldn’t make any difference. A rational discourse doesn’t change that kind of mindset, because it’s not rational.

So I tried the irrational approach, and just told him that he should be careful because he doesn’t know which cyclist might just have a concealed-carry permit.


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What do normal people do?

What’s your first thought on a snowy Saturday in January? (That would be last week for those of us “up north”; yesterday for those “down south” in Akron).

After “coffee”, it’s thinking about what is the training plan for the day. On a day like this you have to get into the right mental state to head to the basement and get on the trainer.

Is that what a normal person does? (no answer needed)

Most days are like this — not just snowy days. There is always that undercurrent of “where am I going to fit today’s training”, planning the next day, thinking of the next race coming up.

I’ve long felt that people who choose to race bikes have a compulsive nature. If it wasn’t bike racing it would be something else. The triathletes that I know are like this too.

I used to like brewing beer. I probably still would if I could spare the time. I couldn’t do it the easy way. I had brew all-grain, starting with the whole barley and grinding (I had a grain mill even). I made my own copper-tubed chiller to cool the wort before adding the yeast. It was an all-day affair.

A normal person just buys beer.

I used to think this was limited to bike racers and other athletes. But I know people at work like this too. The ones who are exceptionally good at what they do have a sort of compulsion about them too. They can’t do things partway. I’m pretty sure this is a characteristic of anyone who engages deeply in an activity — whether it’s bike racing, beer brewing, dog training, stock trading, writing, music …

So choose your activities carefully. The byproduct being a great brewer is that you have a lot of beer to finish. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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