By Joe Parkin
You’ll never truly enjoy the act of riding a bicycle until you learn how to ride one slowly.
Yeah, I know, you’ve just dropped twice the cost of your parents’ first house on your shiny new 15-pound Ferrari, you’ve been gluten-free for the past six months in order to get down to some magical race weight, you spent the entire winter doing core exercises, hired a coach, bought a six-pack of compression socks, upgraded to the newest Garmin and have sworn off sex because it interferes with your Strava-monitoring time. I don’t care. Learn how to slow down. Trust me.
During my first stage race as a professional cyclist, after getting dropped from the team time trial and re-grouping with a couple similarly sucky teammates, a sharp slap to the side of my head by the then Dutch champion interrupted my target fixation.
“Take it easy,” he said. “You’re not winning.”
Admittedly, speed is a relative thing. For someone with office-chair fitness, a tempo that would only be ever so slightly annoying to a ProTour rider could potentially be a coughing-up-blood kind of effort. Still, most ProTour riders I’ve ever known are undisputed masters at the art of noodling along slowly when the day calls for an easy ride. Their bicycles become strange, moving lounge chairs from which to carry on all kinds of conversations.
A few years into my pro career, at a race in Italy, I stood across from an old man with a gruff voice who seemed to be calling the race for Italian TV, radio or simply the spectators who’d assembled to see us off.
Years later, I’d find out that the crusty old man with the even crustier voice had been the legendary Gino Bartali. I’d missed a golden opportunity to recognize a living legend because I was young, dumb and in a big hurry.
One of my final events in the European pro peloton coursed down the Via Appia and into Rome, where we raced six or seven small circuits before finishing in front of the Coliseum. The Coliseum. On the short bus-ride to our hotel for the night, my director inquired as to what I’d thought of the Coliseum. “What coliseum?” I asked.
Once again, youth, stupidity and a singular focus on speed had gotten in the way of something important.
Forty-mile-per-hour sprints, mountain descents that push the speedometer toward the 70 mark and pushing the body and soul to the breaking point on leg-searing climbs: These are all important elements in the story of bicycling. But when you truly learn how to ride slowly, you’ll experience something sublime.