Here in New York, yesterday was a lovely spring day, and the streets were teeming with riders of all kinds. To wait at a red light, ordinarily a solitary affair in bad weather, meant to be joined by a cross-section of fellow cyclists: old crappy ten-speed pilots; roadies; triathletes; and fixters complete with low-rise stems, riser bars, and u-lock holsters. (Naturally, I did my best to avoid waiting at any red lights.) It seemed everywhere you looked, somebody was awkwardly enjoying a bicycle.
But while people were racing in the local parks, or cruising around enjoying the weather, or watching the Tour of Flanders amongst friends, I eschewed such frivolity. This is because I take cycling seriously. And as a serious cyclist, it just so happens that today marked the start of my own "Classics" season as well. So any riding I did this weekend was simply preparation for the first true test of the Classics: my Monday Morning Commute.
I'd been targeting this commute for nearly a year now, and going in I knew I had the legs to deliver a great performance. My coaches at Carmichael Training Systems and I had spent countless hours in the wind tunnel, experimenting with various pant cuff retention systems. While we got decent numbers with the Stroke's Extra Leg, we ultimately decided that it was too risky to use new technology like this for a Classic. Instead, we ultimately opted for a traditional setup: Custom Fit Khaki Pleated Dockers complete with hidden waitband, button-through back pockets, and a permanent crease, wrapped from knee to ankle in Saran Premium Wrap in order to prevent interference with the Ironic Orange Julius Bike's drivetrain. Sure, the Extra Leg might shave a few seconds in theory, but during a one-day event it's best not to take any chances.
I awoke this morning to find that we had made the right choice. Spring in New York is unpredictable, and while yesterday's weather was warm and sunny, today's was cool and rainy. As such, after applying the Saran Premium Wrap to my Dockers, my longtime Polish soigneur Thadeusz also used an old commuter's trick and sprayed me from the waist down with 3M Scotchguard Protector for Carpet. I topped it off with a waterproof poncho.
By the time Thadeusz was done with me I was wrapped up like a Sears loveseat out for delivery. Not only that, but the rain had also stopped. Still, off I went. In the Tour of Flanders, things start getting serious on the Koppenberg. Similarly, on my Monday Morning Commute, the first major selection comes at the Yuppieberg:
This is the view from the top of the Yuppieberg, from which the people of Park Slope can look down upon their lesser neighbors below. On Friday and Saturday evenings rivulets of balsamic vinegar and Pinot Noir flow from their brownstone soirées, along the gutter, down the Yuppieberg, and into New York Harbor. Yes, the only thing steeper than the gradient is the percentage with which the real estate values increase as you ascend. Even ITTET, the climb is as wallet-sapping as it is leg-sapping.
Once the Yuppieberg was behind me, I needed a rest, so I stopped at the Gowanus Canal. Here, the only thing more overwhelming than the natural beauty is the noxious gas.
Whenever I seek profound insight, I sit beside the Gowanus, and inevitably it comes. In this sense, it is very much like the Delphic Oracle--probably because they were basically just huffing fumes there too. This visit to the Gowanus Oracle was no exception, and I sat there until a gefilte fish emerged from the murky depths. I knew he was a gefilte fish because he looked like Charlie the Tuna, only he also had a beard and was wearing a Tallis. The gefilte fish told me who will win Paris-Roubaix this year, and then proceeded to go on at some length about what he felt were the shortcomings of the latest Dura Ace group. I wasn't particularly interested in this, since not only did he admit to not having actually tried the new Dura Ace, but also because when Shimano changed the ergonomics they probably didn't have riders with fins in mind. However, instead of pointing these things out to him I simply made an excuse and left.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of the gefilte fish, but I did get one of a tan sedan with a tan raincoat stuck in the door:
I also got a picture of a bike with a pie plate and axle pegs:
Now that's a hot setup.
In Classics like the Tour of Flanders, there's always a lot of excitement when the race passes through the square and all the drunken townsfolk raise their beer glasses and cheer them on. On my Monday Morning Commute, the equivalent of the town square is Fulton Mall, and sadly the townsfolk don't greet me with the same enthusiasm:
Once through the square (I considered taking a feed at Popeye's but I'd wasted a lot of time with the talking fish by this point so decided against it) I came to the next epic climb on my commute, the Manhattan Bridge:
The approach to the Manhattan Bridge is a wide, sweeping turn:
Though some do cut it out cyclocross-style and take the run-up instead:
Once on the bridge, the mighty East River was on my right:
And the subway was on my left:
I always enjoy when the subway rumbles by on the Manhattan Bridge, because it gives me an opportunity to goad the passengers. And few goadings are more effective than those delivered by cyclists wearing ponchos and Dockers wrapped in Saran Wrap and who are still slightly buzzed from Gowanus Canal fumes. Here's one rider who's vainly trying to pretend it isn't happening:
As I crested the top of the climb while waving frantically, making faces, and snapping photos, I was pleased to discover that KOM points were actually on offer in the form of beer:
Not only that, but a little further along I encountered this styrofoam cup art:
If you find yourself Brooklyn-bound from Manhattan at any point today, make sure to grab yourself a cup from the styrofoam cup mural, then help yourself to a beer hanging from the fence in the middle of the span. If you're coming from Brooklyn, simply reverse these instructions. (Though if you're coming from Brooklyn, you're probably already half-drunk anyway.)
The Manhattan Bridge deposits you neatly into Chinatown:
The streets may seem clear and peaceful from up here, but as soon as you leave the bike path an alarm sounds and everybody starts leaping in front of you like when Jim Carrey tries to leave the island in "The Truman Show."
The climbs may have been behind me, but the worst was yet to come in the form of this sector of "urban pavé," or road resurfacing:
As I waited at the red light, I was nervous. Would I be able to make it through? I radioed my longtime Polish soigneur, Thadeusz. "What should I do?," I asked. Unfortunately, my radio wasn't working, but fortunately Thadeusz was right there next to me:
It turns out he'd been walking alongside me the entire time, since I'd only been riding at about 3mph. Thadeusz told me to stop being a "woosie" and to "put the hammer down." So I set aside my woodworking and gingerly made my way through the intersection:
It was treacherous, but thanks to my dorktastically wide tyres (that's the British spelling of "tires," and it's pronounced "tie-rays") I made it through.
Others with lesser setups were not so lucky. Here's a fenderless and bar-tapeless IRO that looks like it's just plotzed:
Here's the bike Boonen and Pozzato might as well have been riding in Flanders yesterday, since Pozzato didn't leave Boonen's wheel the whole time:
But as big a sense of accomplishment as I felt, it was suddenly diminished. After all, I'd only just commuted, which I do every day. I wasn't riding for a higher purpose, like curing cancer, or bringing about world peace:
I've often seen this bike in motion, though before now I'd never seen the "Love Your Lane" banner in the rear. This is because the rider is always going the wrong way in the bike lane. So, ironically, not only can I never read the message, but I also cannot love my lane because some hippie freak coming at me head-on is trying to flower-power my ass out of it. Of course, this hippie isn't all hypocrisy. I believe the front of the basket says "No War For Oil," and she's sticking to the anti-oil sentiment by using none whatsoever on her chain.
But while I may not have saved the world, I did "slay" my Monday Morning Commute Classic, and I plan to palp one of those beers on the way home.