The Commuter-Core

Two blogs on commuting in a row? Gosh! It’s ok – if I can secure myself a CX or MTB there will be some posts about CX races soon. Or at least one CX race – hopefully fun enough to be repeated.

Commuting is one of the basic genres of cycling the brings quite a lot of sub-sects together. Many a mountain biker racer still rides a road bike to work, lots of road racers use their journeys to get a couple of extra miles in (in some cases even a high percentage of their miles), and for some people commuting IS their cycling.

I don’t intend to do nearly so much of it this year – looking at race results I did better when I spent a lot of my week Β  day morning sweating on the turbo. However, of course on the easier days I’ll still be tootling to work.

Most considered ‘normal’ methods of commuting involve quite a bit of irritation between journeyers. Drivers honk their horns, aren’t often too excited to wait for another tin-can-inhabitant to drive out of the junction. The train is often a ‘take up your space, as little as possible, and don’t make eye contact’ affair. I particularly dislike the tube. There’s nothing fun about being nose to armpit in a small, airless space.

Commuting by bike, however, has a very different feel. We all battle with the same stresses (pot holes), frustrations (being overtaken with a centimetres gap), angers (getting to work and realising we’ve left our bra at home and have to sit in a sweaty sports bra all day. Oh.. just me?)

When sharing the road, a simple ‘hi’ as you sail past is always nice, and the same when the reverse occurs (like, hardly ever, of course..). When passing on the other side, an appreciative ‘nod’, to say ‘Great day, isn’t it?’ or ‘I know your pain’ is a normal exchange.

There’s one bloke I see every time I ride to work. That used to be daily (except Friday), now it’s more like 1 or 2 days a week (leaving one for swimming, one for turbo, one for rollers, one for rest – just one long commute 😦 better be worth it).

This man always has perfectly matching kit – and in the summer it’s very bright, and accompnied by ‘Livestrong’ Yellow Oakleys.

He usually looks like this:

I wonder if my commuter friend is actually Jens Voigt?

I wonder if my commuter friend is actually Jens Voigt?

My theory so far is that he’s a vet road racer with a busy job, a family, and very little time – so he’s getting his high intensity reps and some tempo rides into his commute. The alternatives: he’s always late, or is actually Jens Voigt.

Mr Possibly-Voigt is never panting, and always looks like he’s perfectly capable of sustaining the effort (are these more 8-10 min reps, and he’s a tester?) – but mouth is always a bit open, and he’s usually clinging on to the tops of his handlebars with body low and a slow cadence, clearly turning a fat gear.

Every time I see this bloke, despite the pained expression of strain on his face, he always turns his head and nods. Almost as though setting an example for the ‘right way’ to be friendly on the road. It’s a shame he’s always going to other way, but that does mean I get to write little stories in my head about my commuter friend.

Last night, I passed a fellow commuter who I smiled upon a little less fondly. He looked like this:

Commuter in the dark

Commuter in the dark

Comparatively, I looked like:

Riding with lights

Riding with lights

I spotted this rider from a couple of metres away because I could just see a tiny reflection on the back of his pedals. Otherwise, he was totally invisible. First I overtook him, but though I thought he was a bit silly, I sort of hoped he might stick with me so I didn’t have to hear the crash as some car drove into the back of him. Bear in mind this is a busy, unlit road with quite a few junctions – it’s not impossible. In fact it’s more likely than not.

I carried on riding, and suddenly this silly little kid (I realised he was about 16) sprinted past me, head down, hands on the drops, actually out the saddle. Of course, he got about 3 metres away, then I gradually wound him back in at a comfortable pace. “Silly kid” I’m thinking.

I think the kid thought he looked like this

I think the kid thought he looked like this

I passed him again. I was tempted to point out he ought to have light, but decided against it. I continued my ride, again hoping he might do the clever thing this time and sit behind my light – which was not my massive Lezyne Mega Drive 1,200 lumen one (I don’t recommend it, by the way – get an Exposure Diablo), but enough to light the road a bit and certainly plenty to make me visible. The road is totally unlit, and there are a few holes, so I was watching out for those.

As I (we) emerged into the lit section at the end of the road, I noticed a figure behind me – my kid-hang-on was still there, and thankfully still alive. I was really relived to see him roll off into a cul-de-sa, hopefully safely home to his mum (who needs to take him to the nearest bike shop for a set of lights, please).

Though this kid was pretty dumb – and it was pitch black, I’ve had my own ‘not too happy about this’ moments. For example, I’ve ridden home with no lights in early autumn, taken a detour to TRY to find a TT secretaries house (to pick up my cheque for winning πŸ˜€ ), taken longer than expected and had to race home before it actually got dark. I’ve also bought lights and broken them, and ridden home with two white ones.

Moving away from safety, we’ve all done the ‘I wish I had brought my waterproof’ ride home, and the ‘why does the wind hate me’ commute. My point is that though I’ve never ridden home in pitch black with nothing to light me up, I’ve had the odd dodgy moment, and I understood in this case how the kid might be feeling (once he stopped trying to out-sprint me on my easy commute).

When it comes down to it, whilst I find driver commuters, train commuters and tube commuters pretty much all just want to climb over each other to get there first, cycle commuters share a short of friendship on the open road. Arguably, with my drop from 4-days-a-week to just a couple, maybe I’m not allowed to be part of the ‘hardcore’ club, but hopefully I can keep my visitors membership.

(PS I’ll be reviewing a couple of lights for Global Bike soon – so keep your eyes out if you want to find out what the new Lezyne generation is like. As mentioned before – I’m happy to review kit and guest blog – just check out ‘about me’)

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