Power meters, aerodynamic framesets, deep dish wheels, and carbon everything; cycling is a seemingly endless quest to keep up with technology and the "new cool."
It is very easy to get caught up in the minutiae; watching every ride on the power meter, tracking every gram and chasing any aerodynamic advantage. Yet cycling is more than these things. It is the beauty of finding a new road on a long ride with friends. The thrill of a speedy and serpentine descent. It is discovering the glory of cycling's history, or learning a new trick from a grizzled veteran.
I would be willing to bet you have a group ride you do regularly. I would also bet that in the group is at least one, and likely more than a few, old school, hardcore, rip it up and "git 'er done" guys. I'm not talking about the up and coming super-talent, nor am I talking about the local pro(s) who can tear your legs off, and do.
I'm talking about those guys that have been part of the local scene for years. The guys that can hang on any ride, with anyone. They may pin on a number twice a year, every weekend, or never, but there is no doubt about their talent, skill and experience. Do you know that guy? You should.
Old school riders like these are stalwarts of every cycling community. They pass on advice, have lots of opinions, and ride with an effortless confidence that is enviable. Old school guys (and gals) grew up riding under a different set of "to do's" that were born less of hard science and physiology than lore and tradition. Too often we let lore and tradition slip away as we chase science and technology. Well, I want to revisit some of the old school standards to honor an old school hero.
Ride as far right as possible. That was Andy Hampsten's advice at a camp one year. He was only a couple of years removed from winning the Tour of Italy and he just didn't understand why people wanted to ride the white line and take the risk of an errant side swipe. Instead he extolled the virtues of the edge of the road. It's quieter, safer, and more fun!
Ride with the old school guys enough and you'll find they tend to err on the side of caution on the open road. They don't take unnecessary risks. They don't crash much. It's a simple question of survival. To survive twenty or thirty years of riding and racing you have to learn patience and common sense.
Train Heavy, Race Light
This is one of the oldest of old school mantras. I knew I was a "real" racer when I got my first set of race wheels. A sweet set of Mavic GEL280's to compliment my MA-40's (yea, it was that long ago).
There are few things better than the psychological lift of slipping on a set of ultra-light, scary fast wheels. They should have on a nice set of tires too. Train on the heavy, thorn resistant, 700x25's. Same goes for the cassette. Why burn through a $250 high-zoot cassette climbing dirt roads?
Climb To Get Fit
If you want to be a stronger, more complete, more competent cyclist—Go Climb! Climbing forces the body to ride at a higher level of focus and intensity. It leads to increased hip strength, a better pedal stroke and stronger connective tissue. Climbing also leads to descending, which is an all-too-often neglected part of being a complete cyclist.
Don't just climb, though. Climb remote roads in the middle of nowhere, preferably on dirt. Dirt roads take you places that deepen you. They teach you to maintain traction and pick lines on questionable surfaces. Dirt roads harken back to the origins of the sport and they make any ride feel a bit more hardcore. They make you tougher as a cyclist. You need to be tough as a cyclist.