There has to be a word to describe the collective sound cyclists make in bunches whilst grinding their way up an incline.
Early morning start, surrounded by strangers, it is quiet. Everyone is concentrating on making a start to the day in the saddle; banter is minimal, yet there are the unmistakable noises of huffing and puffing, the metallic crunching of derailleurs being shifted under load as the gradient increases (and light swearing as people realise they're in the wrong ring, let alone gear), general coughing and clearing of throats and I swear you can almost hear people thinking 'Remind me why I'm doing this again?'
Of course it passes as people warm to their tasks and the field naturally thins out but I was struck by the need to find a word - almost like a collective noun - ... a 'murmuration' perhaps ?, but I'm pretty sure that this describes starlings. I'll take suggestions on this phenomenon....... but it's like talking in a church; everything is done 'sotto voce' but your can't hide the sounds of physical and mechanical work being done.
Such were my thoughts at the start of this years Cornwall Tor, the Wiggle/Kilotogo Sportive thing that started at Lanhydrock House bright and early this Sunday just gone - well early at least. My roadie mate had come all the way from Derbyshire and although I consider myself mainly a mountain biker, I too had decided that what I really needed was to see if I could complete the landmark 100 miles with 10000 foot of climbing chucked in. God knows why but it seemed a good idea at the time. Ok, so it was 96.something miles and 9770 feet but the principle is the same. I now know that I can do the 100 and 10000 thing.
This is not an account of my day, that's personal. It's just that as I was in the saddle I was struck by the incidents, people, views and the random thoughts that occurred to me. Let me explain:
First - My roadie mate and veteran of these things had brought his new carbon bike all the way from Derbyshire for the event. 20 minutes in and the first cattle-grid of the day completely trashed his bike. Both wheels knackered, one puncture and some horrible grinding noises meant that his day was over before he'd got a proper sweat on. This after he had 'cheese-gratered' the side of his car on a dry stone wall as he dropped down into our little hamlet on his way down the day before.... after a 4 hour drive. Explain that kind of karma to me ? Thousands of people went over that grid; I was right next to him as it happened, yet he was the only one whose day was ruined right there. WTF is that all about then ?
He gave me the very British ' ..... must go on without me, must complete full course..' speech. Bugger - in light of his mishap I was thinking I'd just try for the 65 miler and then call it quits. Now honour was at stake (his and mine) and I'd just have to knuckle down and give it my best shot.
Second - moments later, some poor sod looked like he had hit a LandRover head-on and at speed. Prompt course marshalling and a speedy ambulance could not hide the fact that it was a bad one. I hope he's ok. I know that statistically bad things will happen, that's inevitable in an event with so many participants tackling the (damp) lanes of Cornwall but this seemed a bit excessive for a Sunday bike ride. We all offered up a silent prayer for his well-being and, I guess, a quick 'thank the lord' that it wasn't us. It seemed to me that collectively we had not offered up enough of a sacrifice to the Gods of Cycling that morning. Next time one of the chickens gets it.
Third - I realised that neither group nor solo rider's are moving at exactly the same speed/tempo as you. As we turned the metaphorical corner on the south coast at Looe the headwind came on strong. All I wanted was a back wheel I could shelter in. Obviously etiquette demands that you do your stint at the front from time to time - but no-one was moving at my pace. You catch up to people in the distance, people catch you. Banter is exchanged, mutual workload is shared, you meet decent folk and then they're gone. Either they are going generally 1 MPH faster than you, or visa versa. That makes a difference on the road. Burgeoning relationships are torn apart as one of you inches off into the distance. On skinny tyres, once you've dropped a fraction off the last persons' wheel, you are never going to make up that distance without killing yourself to close a gap of more than 2-3 meters and you are unwise to kill yourself when there are still 50 or 60 miles left to cover. Road cycling is harsh like that.
Fourth - You think you know an area but there is no substitute for seeing places from the saddle. Walking is fine but you can't cover much ground really. Running, or just thinking about running, makes this 47 year olds' knees explode but cycling is conducted at your pace and despite the effort you are expending you still have time to consider your surroundings and notice the bits that you fly by in a car. The same goes for motorbiking because you are in it, a, part of it, not shoe-horned into a tin can with the air-con blasting.
I noticed so many things that somehow had, up to that point, passed me by. I won't bore you with a list but offer up the Roche (pronounced 'Roach') Rock. Lord of the Rings improbability meets moorland granite outcrop. Spectacular on a sunny day as you winch your way up the hill right by it.
Fifth - (some) Pedestrians have no concept of the kinds of speed that you might be moving at, or in fact that the road might be used by something called a bicycle. I'm going to side-step responsible riding/strava/'I pay road tax' issues here ('cos we weren't riding like kamikaze lemmings - honest ) and concentrate on the couple standing in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill down into Padstow. Pay attention to your surroundings people. It doesn't cut it telling me to get a bell when I've been shouting at the top of my lungs for 200 yards previously riding at the head of a phalanx of clattering bikes speeding towards you, especially when you're standing directly under a neon pink cycling sign that that warns you (and us) of the sharp turn at the bottom of the hill and that there may be the odd cyclist using that bit of road that day. Rant over.
Six - Equipment doesn't really matter. Don't get me wrong, I can pore over kit and hold my own in a conversation about cassette ratio's, no problem. I am starting, however, to wonder just how much tech and new kit I really need. Will it make me that much better ? I am beginning to doubt it. Obviously you would struggle to complete the event on a 30 year old unloved Pashley shopper but after a certain point a bike is a bike. I saw straight bars, cyclocross knobblies, high four figure carbon/titanium beauties and all points in between. Likewise people rode in everything from old trackies to high-end Assos kit. Granted, a bit of a chamois is (in my case at least) a must, as is a bike that stops and goes correctly but generally it appeared to me that, kit aside, the determining factor in success was the person pedalling the damn thing. A bit of focus and determination goes a hell of a long way it seems.
Finally - Despite brilliant work from the Wiggle/Kilotogo team. And I do mean that - fool-proof signage, good feed stations, friendly smiling staff and volunteers - for me at least, please don't finish a near-100 mile sportive with a uphill immediately after a big down. It's not a make or break thing but it did irk me a bit. The final half mile should, I reckon, be a comfortable, flat and easy ride in to the the finish so you can take stock, savour the achievement .... and pose for the finish line video; not grind up the last bit on legs that can't support you when you get off the bike. Just a thought for the next one.
There are no photo's to accompany this piece unfortunately. I wasn't carrying a camera and probably wouldn't have stopped for a random photo opportunity anyway. Getting round required my full attention.