By Kevin Kolodziejski
Three Sprockets Shy of a Nine-Speed Cassette
Even though I’m three months into my seventh decade, I ride as hard as I can as often as I can and sometimes even mix it up with up-and-comers a third my age. A former training partner who’s much younger and now does all his riding recreationally recently asked why I still do so. The question caught me off guard. I shrugged my shoulders and asked about his wife and kids.
On my next day’s ride, I gave the question more thought and concluded the obvious answers wouldn’t do. Yes, I still see myself as a racer (even though a spate of injuries have dimmed the prospects of doing so again), and I still get a great sense of satisfaction from reaching my redline when the situation calls for it. But there has to be more to it to not only feel the need to push so hard at the age of 60 but also make it a priority to do so — besides being three sprockets shy of a nine-speed cassette. And there is, I realized. In Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021), Mark Bittman writes what I wish I would’ve said to my former training partner.
Everything Is Connected
“Everything is connected — the body, the natural and spiritual worlds, the wondrous and the inexplicable and the irrational.” While Bittman states this to criticize Western science for needing centuries to accept that fact in a book that focuses on the role of food production throughout history, it’s also an astute observation about life. Without hitting you with too big a dose of Dr. Phil, Bittman’s words confirm what I’ve learned from reading and teaching — and bike riding. And they made me recall another cycling conversation, one from the offseason of 2004.
After finishing fifth three years in a row, I had the good fortune (along with a ton of help from two talented and selfless teammates in particular) to win the season-long point series in Pennsylvania for 40-plus riders. That following fall, I happened to see a newcomer to the series who had sometimes asked for my advice in the season past. He wanted to do what I did, he said. He wanted to win what is known as the BAR (Best All-Around Rider) and asked what I had done differently leading up to the last season.
“Got a lot of sleep. Read a lot philosophy.”
He sort of smirked and said it was okay if I didn’t want to share my training secrets with him. But I wasn’t holding out. My off-season program hadn’t really changed. But two things related to my training had.
Sleep: The Dead-Leg Antidote
The Pennsylvania point series at that time took place over about 20 weekends, and more often than not races for points were held on both days. The schedule could really sap your mind and fry your legs. In the three years past, I would have a six-to-eight-race stretch where an explosive effort wouldn’t bridge a gap but burn a match and leave me in no-man’s land. But during the BAR-winning season, I made it a point to get nine hours of sleep as soon as the school year ended, would nap in the afternoon whenever I felt the need, and limited the dead-leg races that year to two or three.
Buddhism and the Art of the Breakaway
But possibly even more importantly than extra rest, the even-keeled outlook advocated in the books about Buddhism and Stoicism that I read just about nightly kept my mind right and helped me stay true to my style of racing. Even in my absolute prime, I was never more than an average sprinter. I needed to instigate small breakaways to be successful. But we all know that a rather low percentage of initial breakaways succeed. The odds increase, however, with each subsequent one. Conversely, if the same knucklehead keeps attacking, the tendency is to let him have his fun and reel him at the end. And that’s exactly what happened to me that year 200 meters from the line in a mid-season crit where I had soloed for the last few laps.
I took a ton of grief from my teammates that day for scoring no BAR points and finishing dead last. But those nightly readings had reinforced that failure was a necessary element to success, so I was undeterred — and kept racing like a knucklehead. It was only after three unsuccessful attacks in a hilly circuit race the next day that my fourth created a three-man breakaway that stayed away. (And because one of the guys sat up in the sprint, I didn’t finish third.)
Do You Compartmentalize or Connect?
The nature of this article required me to tell tales like some old-timer who sits and reminisces all day in the town park. Forgive me for that, but now let’s apply all this to you. Without sounding too much like Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (which is worth watching, by the way, just to see Phoebe Cates in a lipstick-red bikini emerge from a swimming pool), let me ask you: “Are you a slave to Western thinking, dude?” Do you compartmentalize all the pieces of your life or see how they all connect?
End the Dime-Store Philosophy and Get On with It
I can only assume cycling means a great to you. It means a great deal to me — maybe too much, to be honest — which can create problems in other parts of my life. Neither of us wants problems, so here’s my suggestion to you. Take pains to see how all the parts of your life connect. If you recognize that and learn from it, all facets of your life get enhanced.
Including your cycling.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.
Robert Ray says
At 65 and bike riding since I was in middle school, your words ring true. Many years of bike racing and the basic truth is “enjoy the hard work” (thanks to Craft clothing).