Tuesday, September 28, 2010

While cycling in to work this morning...

... I was annoyed with the rain. True, I did cycle home in the rain last night, but it was much lighter, and stopped about half way home. ...and I didn't have to show up at home not smelling of the sweat that inevitably happens whenever I ride in damp weather (evaporation doesn't really work very well when vapor pressure isn't working in its favor). But this morning was different: the rain was falling hard enough at the time that I decided to pack things up for my commute that I had ended up putting on my rain gear -- light, waterproof trousers and jacket -- before heading out, and the problem with (most) rain gear is that, while it keeps rain water out, it also keeps body moisture (and a fair amount of heat, since evaporation doesn't work very well in enclosed spaces) in. Still, can't show up to work all drenched, right?

Part of my commute is to turn onto Washington, and I usually make the turn on Ashley (which one-way, thus making the left-turn-on-red, which legal in MI) to take me the one block north before I turn eastward again. Often, at minutes-to-nine in the morning, there are other cyclists (some in the road, others on the sidewalk), and I have a list of "usual suspects" that I am accustomed to seeing. Today, though, there was a guy on a fixie and a messenger bag.

Side-note rant: I don't understand the fascination with fixies. They (often) have no brake levers, and (as the name suggests) cannot freewheel. I suppose that benefits include their light weight (after all, there is no need for gears, derailleurs, brake levers, cables, chain tensioner, or a long chain), simplicity (there are fewer parts to worry about), the rider's ability to freely spin the handlebars in a complete circle (or even several revolutions, thanks to the lack of cables that would normally impede such a maneuver), and the rider's ability to move backward (since the lack of free-wheeling means that backward pedaling produces backward movement). However, other than that, I can't see much of a draw, since their lack of gearing means that you are either heavily over-geared on upward climbs (don't even think about an easy start from a standstill) or heavily under-geared on downward climbs (with legs pumping faster and faster just to stay on the pedals as gravity takes over). True: some people apparently think that this latter point is good, since -- if you provide backward resistance to the pedal as you move downhill, you are able to slow the bike down... just like braking does with a lever brake. And looking at how fixie riders actually slow down -- by skidding -- I'm even less impressed of the ability of such a bike to perform during a Michigan winter (even one of the relatively milder winters we get in SE Michigan), which makes the personal decision of purchasing one less-than diminishingly small. Side-note rant over.

Now, I don't know if fixie-riders with messenger bags are actually bike messengers, or if they are pretending to be one. All of the people that I've known who ride fixies aren't bike messengers, but that doesn't mean that any one fixie-rider might not be. That aside, though, I hadn't had the opportunity to test out my bike against a fixie-rider, and the wait at Main Street for the light to change provided me with the setup of such an opportunity. I quickly took off my jacket-cum-personal-sauna and -- slowly cooling in the damp, rainy air -- waited for the light to turn. Fixie-rider didn't know that we were going to have a race, but that would be fine by me.

He took off -- much faster than me on my significantly heavier bike in low gear -- and remained ahead of me while going through the intersection at 4th Ave. Coming up to 5th Ave., I saw the cross-traffic light change from green to yellow, and I knew that we would be all-go by the time we hit the intersection. Fixie-rider apparently also figured this out, since he didn't stop pedaling. However, the cars that were tagging along with us had to come to a full stop -- blocked by the one vehicle already waiting at the intersection: fixie-man and I had free-reign of the lane ahead, and I was fast catching up with him as I shifted from 3rd into 4th.

By the time we reached about mid-way of the next block, I noticed something -- my cadence (and fixie-riders are all about cadence) was slower than his, but my gearing was already providing a small speed advantage. I matched his cadence and soon found myself walking past him and on up to Division.

I'm not a racer... well anymore. The best that I've always felt in a race was when I was just behind the leader, though: I knew where I was in relation to the guy in front of me, whereas he (usually it was a he) had little good knowledge of where I was in relation to him. It's a major personal psychological aid, and it makes me very wary when I'm out in the lead, especially when I don't know where the finish line is. This is how I felt as I overtook fixie-guy out front of the Neutral Zone, speeding up to the light at Division. I was also getting a little tired after my three-and-change-mile hard bike ride, and I started to feel the energy drain. "If I make it to the front of ELI, that'll be fine by me," I said to myself as I took to the sidewalk outside the Google building, coasting along and pulling up in front of the bike racks. Fixie-guy rode by almost immediately after I stopped, glancing over at me and my bike: "the bike that beat him" is how I thought about it, imagining that he did know that we were in a race, and conceding grudging admiration. As it was, though, it was just as likely that he was wondering who the frick I was to pass him at an intersection, only to pull onto the sidewalk a few tens-of-yards later.

Still, I wanted to get out of the rain and start my day. And so I did, and I did.

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