Monday, February 7, 2011

The Classic Cyclist, Part Three

Above: The author on 17 Mile Drive in Carmel CA during the Million Dollar Challenge, a seven-day, 620-mile cycling event from San Francisco La Jolla in October 2010 on behalf of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Photo by Preston Sandusky.

The Classic Cyclist, Part Three

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Endurance News #73, February/March 2011. Read the full article online here.

Click here for Part One and click here for Part Two of this series. Click here for Part Four.

As I explained in the first two parts of this article, cyclists entering the sport of road cycling over the past fifteen or so years have tended to come in by way of mountain biking, triathlon, or fitness, rather than pure road cycling. As a result, most of these “cyclists” lack the knowledge which makes up the foundation of the classic cyclists’ repertoire and which respects the backbone of the sport. Continuing with the theme initiated in the first two parts of this article from Endurance News #70 and EN#71, here are some more things the classic cyclist knows and does:


The classic cyclist takes a seasonal approach to riding style and fitness variability, understanding that the highest level of cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance - and therefore cycling ability - cannot be maintained year-round. In fact, different parts of the year lend themselves to different types of riding. As such, a periodized approach to the year is naturally employed, for example: additional cross-training (on and off the bike) in the late Fall, fixed gear in the Winter, base miles as the new year unfolds, more speedwork and club riding in the Spring, then peak events and challenges in the Summer and Fall. The bottom line is a simple understanding that overall health fitness is maintained year-round, but top-level efforts are only possible a few times per year. Riding with the seasons acknowledges this truth and also lends variety to each year’s program or campaign.


The classic cyclist is primarily self-motivated and shares a deep camaraderie with other cyclists on the road. While out riding, cyclists seen ahead in the distance are often overtaken, but they are never passed as if they are competitors in the same race and the finish line is just around the corner. The classic cyclist doesn’t care to “beat” other cyclists who happen to be out on the same roads at the same time. Instead, the classic cyclist will, at the minimum, greet other cyclists and will often engage in conversation with them. When the time is right, the classic cyclist will politely move ahead, or drop back, depending on goals, schedule, fitness level, or whimsy. For pure performance training, the classic cyclist self-motivates by sprinting to city limits signs or other landmarks, or by joining racing-oriented club rides (or throws down the gantlet at special invite rides with other classic cyclists).


Because the bicycle is used as a tool for exploring the outer and inner universes, the classic cyclist appreciates cycling for the cycling, not for the equipment. The bicycle’s beauty and grace are appreciated for what they offer the rider, but whether there are six cogs or eleven on the rear wheel is insignificant to the classic cyclist. The same goes for shifter type and location. The classic cyclist often “retro-fits” a “modern” bike with down-tube or bar-end shifters to have a more authentic and organic feel for his gear shifting, and to intentionally make shifting less frequent. As well, “race wheels” - which have become ubiquitous as standard equipment on new bicycles today - are saved for just that: racing. Ninety-five percent of the time, classic wheels with 32 spokes and tyres at least 25mm wide are used, providing a comfortable ride, bullet-proof longevity, ease of repair or adjustment (if it’s ever needed) and very small likelihood of stranding their owner while out in the boondocks.


Cycling offers such a wide panorama of opportunity, it’s sacrilege for the classic cyclist to do the same rides week after week on a fixed schedule. As such, the classic cyclist uses a higher level of awareness - and map study - to search out new roads to ride, new ways to create loops in otherwise known areas, and new ways to connect disparate regions. The classic cyclist doesn’t wonder what’s down a certain road, or over that hill, she rides out there and finds out for herself. In the process, a deeper, richer understanding of the landscape, the environment, and the character of one’s region is acquired, offering more opportunities for creating new routes and for avoiding anything resembling a rut or a routine.

Bikes are the ultimate freedom tools: they let cyclists go to more places, more easily, and more simply than any other human invention. But in today’s era of high technology and equipment specialization, they can also seem incredibly limiting. In fact, the common misconception is that without the "right bike," one simply cannot partake in the wonderful landscape of cycling opportunities. “Dirt” must require a “mountain bike,” most assume. But how wrong that is: A “road bike” with tyres of 25mm in width can handle the majority of trails, gravel roads, and fire roads one might encounter. It might be more difficult or challenging to ride those unpaved routes on a road bike, but that is, of course, the point. (Remember, suffering is to be embraced and adventure sought.) Classic cyclists do not choose between "road biking" and "mountain biking" and subsequently let the bicycle determine the route and terrain of any given ride. Instead, creative, "first ascent-style" rides are strung together in one epic route which involves all manner of riding surfaces, sights, sounds, and scenes. Having a memorable, unique, and personal experience of the profound richness of the sport, and of the planet, is what motivates the classic cyclist.

Click here for Part Four.
Chris Kostman has been a classic cyclist since 1982. Besides competing in races as diverse as the Race Across America, the Iditabike Mountain Bike Race, and the 24 Hours of Canaan, he also organizes the Badwater Ultramarathon and Furnace Creek 508 races, as well as a series of four century rides. This is his seventeenth article for Endurance News. Learn more at