Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Traction.



You will always hear me echo the Dane in saying that purity of the heart is to will one thing.

It is an appropriate retort every now and then, to others. But I don’t know that my life reveals my commitment to this idea. We are talking about religiousness, after all. 

Still, the latest ride in the rain has revealed something for the riders and equally foolish philosophers who are willing to set out in a storm just to see what they can learn.

As a rider I am dedicated to the improvement of my skill. For me, this means that I have to ride, to get my hours in, be on the road where things are learned. But it also means that I must think riding. I have to find the ideas that merge with my practice so that I can discern what lesson the road is trying to teach me in the first place. I am always in search of an ordering principle, an anchor around which my thoughts can weave. It is not about keeping things simple. It is about being centered in space so that one can preserve the awful complexity of life and traffic patterns. 

Many miles from home, I pulled in to a station to get gas. The card wouldn’t go through at the pump, so I went inside. By the time I got to the door, the skies delivered their promise. A sheet of rain came down so hard that I got wet yards clear of the edge of the huge awning. Cars in the street immediately put on blinkers and began driving at the snail pace that Floridians know well. 

I thought of Nietzsche. Then I asked the man behind the register for a plastic bag. I wrapped it around my phone and set out into the deluge. 

Rain drops can be cold, yo. It is hard to relax the body as the rider should. I was splashed up to my chest when I would pass a car, or get passed by a truck. I tucked and rode out as best I could. On even moderate curves I could feel the rear slide, connect, slide, connect. In the kind of rain I was in, it did not take much to encounter limits. 

Nor did it take much to encounter accidents. The highway was backed up miles out from any exit. Now we sittin in a drop top, soaking wet, in a silk suit trying not to sweat. I got back to the crib and fell asleep wondering how many days of steady rainfall would put rust on a brand new chain. 

Two days worth is the answer to that, if you are wondering.

When the sun finally emerged, I hit the streets on a regular cruise. Except I was hitting the known roads a bit harder than usual. The roundabouts were a bit shorter. My rear tire showed more signs of work. 

The difference, of course, was the rain. My concentration out in the storm was consciously directed at not getting hit by cars and such. But on deeper levels I was reaching out to feel the road, to apprehend my connection to it. What I gained from riding in the rain was immediately reflected on dry streets. All clear thinkers must work to make ambient or hidden processes explicit. 

Here lies the principle that perhaps should be put above all others for the rider on the path to skill. There is nothing more important that the connection of your tires to the road. I have heard more empirically oriented people give better senses, but we will be forgiven if we resort to the sign: Traction.

You set up suspension so that the tires can have optimum contact with the road. You are loose on the bars around turns so that you do not disrupt the connection of the tires to the road, or tell the bike to go a direction you would not really like to go. You improve your brakes so that you can better take advantage of the tire’s connection to the road. You might get stickier tires for the same reason. 

Implicit in the lives of most riders is the quest for Feel. For really good riders this quest is fully explicit. The better notion I have of the connection between tire and road, the harder I can push. If the connection is really on, I won’t even feel like I am going that fast. 

I think that good riders become great riders when they learn to develop feel. I suppose that some of us are gifted and blessed with this magical sense. I was not. To this day, I am not sure where the limit of my grip is on a dry road. I have never accelerated so hard out of corner that my back tire breaks lose. I have never pushed the front so hard that it slides on me. I live, like most riders, in that zone of comfort and ignorance. Out at the edges there is danger, but there is also true speed.

So I have been experimenting. I will ride in the rain, sure. But I will also cruise around sandy patches. I will also accelerate as hard as I can out of a turn, hoping for a moment that will give me knowledge but not freedom. 

Because it is not just about the connection. It is also about how one interprets lightness. 

Anyway. It is raining outside.

You should ride. 

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