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Beginner's Mind.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly talks on phone.

I'm out of shape. A lot has been going on here. We've been incredibly busy. As usual I am one of the guys who pick up the slack being the HMFIC (Head Man Fully In-Charge) along with Mike O'Donnell. There has been no time for riding (and precious little for food, sleep and clean clothes) until this past weekend

We decided to close for two days in a row; Sunday and Memorial Day. It's the first time in ten years, since the day we opened that the store has been closed two days in a row. After consecutive days of working open to close and way beyond, many times over 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, we needed a break.

So we took a break and I did some riding. I have a new Cervelo Soloist to review so I wanted to get some miles on it with different wheels to form some good, solid opinions. It takes a minimum of 500 miles for me to really figure out the characteristics of a bike.

So I did what I tell customers to never do: I hit it hard. Saturday 38 miles, Sunday 35 and Monday 76 miles. 149 miles in three days is a lot for me, especially since I did less than that during the previous month.

Saturday I did a group ride, It rained and there was dissension on the ride, as is often the case on group rides.Our bikes got filthy from road spray off the wet pavement. After four hours of bike maintenance the whole mess was cleaned up. At least the bikes were.

Sunday was pretty similar but no rain. When you have group rides you have group ride dynamics. I don't know about you, but I ride to get away from hassles- not create them.

Monday, another group ride- out to the Island (Grosse Ile). A decent ride but still consternation on the ride. When the ride was over I came back to the bike shop. My computer was seized up, constipated with thousands of e-mails. Mike Aderhold, computer genius, got in it through a side door and cleaned it out so I could do a little work. Then it occurred to me: I hadn't really ridden yet at all.

Sure, I pedaled 114 miles but I really hadn't ridden. It had been a rolling social hour, rolling argument or both. I hadn't ridden my bike just to see what it felt like. So, after 38 to 40 miles that morning I put on a clean undershirt and a clean pair of shorts and went back out for another 38 by myself.Like I said, I am not in shape. Doing 76 miles that day, after already being sore and tired from the previous two days, was going to be a stretch. But a stretch was what I was looking for. I figured, "Well, I'll go out as far as I can and turn around when I don't feel good anymore. If I feel OK all the way out I'll just deal with whatever happens on the way back."

I had almost no food that day: A cup of tea, an orange, a banana, a cookie and two energy gels. That's it.

I switched from Mavic Ksyrium SSC SLs with new Continental TPS tires to Zipp 404s with Hutchinson Gold Tech + Carbon Comps. Then I was out the door.

Things went good at first. Very good. I was able to cruise at 23 m.p.h. Given my (lack of) fitness and the amount of miles over the previous days. The Zipps are definitely faster on the flats than the Ksyriums. Hey, I might be in better shape than I thought. After over 20 years of doing this I do get back into some kind of shape pretty fast. But not in just two days.

It caught up to me just outside of Northville. You know that feeling when you just can't maintain a given power output? All your fuel is gone. The Gels weren't enough anymore. I was terminally bonked. I went from cruising at 21-23 mph to 15 mph. This ride had become a death march. I had no problem with that though. I had all afternoon and nothing to do. It would be a long, slow slog back to Dearborn.

Somewhere in there I would gain some fitness. These are the miles won the hard way. By yourself. Hurting. Slogging it out. These are the miles that benefit you the most. They build character and toughness. When you're done you can be sure few people would put themselves through that. Some kind of adaptation happens out there on a ride like this. It is deep to your core and lasts like concrete.

I had forgotten how far it is from Northville to Dearborn. At 15 mph it is a long way. It was starting to look like rain. There were a few cyclists out that day, all of them now faster than me. They would pass me and I imagined them thinking "Why is a guy with such a nice bike going so slow?"

Earlier, before the blood sugar ran out and my legs filled with molten lead, I passed a guy on a blue Raleigh. It was the kind of bike you get when you walk into a bike shop and say, "I want to spend $500 on a road bike". He had on shorts and a jersey but they were flimsy and ill fitting. All of his gear looked like the predominant factor in its selection was minimal cost. I thought, "Hey, the guy is out here. At least he has discovered the sport and is putting in some time. He has a lot to learn." It was briefly hopeful. Sooner or later the guy will want a decent bike, and maybe he'll show up at our store.

Now it seemed like I was stuck in thick, wet liquid. The wind was coming from all directions and the sky darkening. My energy gels were gone and all I had was a pocket full of sticky wrappers. It hurt to press on the pedals now. This was ugly.

The man on the Raleigh appeared from behind me. The Beginner, and passed me. He finished his loop and caught me. He dropped me instantly. Actually, he didn't really "drop" me. I was never with him to begin with. A gap formed and he simply pulled away.

Years of riding in groups and being coached by everyone from Michael R. Rabe to Chris Carmichael to the ill-tempered director of the team I rode for in Europe (his name was Pierre, of course) drilled an instant reaction into me: Get on his wheel.

From somewhere I pulled the remnants of a response and managed to get on his wheel. It hurt like hell but I was back in the fight again. We were going 21 mph now. Damn, this was hard. It did feel oddly good though. Chugging along at 15 mph was humiliating.

As I rode behind this guy I noticed more about him. His bike was that common "one size too big" everybody gets with their first road bike. His shoes looked cheap but new. Someone had at least talked him into the benefits of clipless pedals. He pounded the pedals. His pedal stroke was not bad, but he worked the pedals like Hinault or Merckx in a rage.

There was a raw determination about him. Something new. He gave off the heat of a person ignited with the flame of new enthusiasm for the sport. There was some real strength there. While his style on the pedals was a bit ungainly, some of it due to rotten bike fit, he was unrelenting. This guy was on a mission. It was a good thing for me too, this was my free ride back to Dearborn. This guy, The Beginner, could knock ten or fifteen minutes off my return trip to Dearborn. Ten or fifteen minutes closer to a bag from Taco Bell and a warm shower. He was big so I got a lot of draft off him. His saddle was too high, he rocked on it. Why do all cheap bike shorts seem translucent when you wear them? A view of this guy's ass crack through too-thin Lycra for the next 40 minutes was a small price to pay for shelter from a confused wind and spent legs.

I thought back twenty years. This guy was exactly the same as me. Better than me now. He burned the white-hot fuel of new excitement. Hopped up on OLN coverage of the Giro and Lance's victories this guy was becoming A Cyclist right before my eyes. He could be doing anything right now: Hanging out with his buddies, watching TV at home, playing golf. But he was out here riding, handing it to a guy with a fancy bike, pale skin, no fitness and a burning crotch.

Changing of the guard.

Don't get me wrong, I love this sport more than ever and I always will. Always. But this guy, The Beginner, had something I didn't. He was fresh, utterly determined. As my strength seemed to leave me more and more with every pedal stroke his seemed to build. We got to a the bottom of a little hill on Hines Drive. This should do it. A big guy like this will blow on the climb. That would be bad for me. I don't want to talk to anyone on this ride. I'll have to find the strength to hold him off if he gives up on this hill.

At the foot of the hill he stands to climb. He does that thing beginners do when they stand on the pedals. He kicks his bike back about a third of a bike length, just enough to overlap my front wheel and take me down if I hadn't been ready for him to do that. But I was so he didn't. Old age and treachery overcome youth and strength. I stay seated, barely maintaining contact with the draft while he pounds up this little roller like Simoni on the Zoncolan.

There is drama here. I am just barely able to stay with him. With all the riding I've done, all the fancy bikes, all the trivial crap I have memorized about this sport, all the races I've done, all the stuff I know, this guy is still better than me.

It occurs to me that this guy has something I don't. Something I have lost and will never get back. He has his entire cycling future in front of him. He has the promise of years of great rides and great riders to meet. Whereas I live on a diet of memories and stories and the slim promise I can make a few more in my day this guy has his entire cycling world opening before him. That is what fuels him.
It is the beginner's mind.

So what he may lack in fancy equipment, perfect bike fit, good shoes and a real pair of bike shorts he more than makes up for in promise and enthusiasm. This ride is drudgery, albeit pleasant drudgery, for me. It is discovery and excitement and exhilaration for him. Even now I am infected by it as I fight for his wheel. Experience and great stories count for nothing now. My legs are tired from today's efforts, the on going war that is bike retail and a life spent in the saddle. But he buoys my spirit and I am so glad I am behind him, and not just for the draft. He and I are doing something new now. Completely unspoken. Before my eyes his cycling experiences unfold. It is very exciting. So exciting I forget about an empty stomach, tired legs and a numb crotch.

There is an intoxicating but ephemeral quality to a new enthusiasm. I see this again, for the first time in years, right before my eyes as this guy discovers cycling.

It feels good to be a beginner again, even if only in my imagination. I imagine what it must be like for him, what he has ahead of him.

Fantastic things. At the end of Hines Drive at Outer drive he finishes his long seven-mile effort at the front. I pull next to him, "Dude, You are really strong." I tell him. "Well, I'm trying" He tells me. He looks at his cyclocomputer, punches a button on it for validation of his latest effort.

"It looks to me like you're going really good. Thanks for the ride back, I was wasted. I needed a good wheel. See ya." He turns into a parking lot and I turn for the bike shop. Once again, I remember The Beginner's mind. I'm glad after three days of being on the bike I finally got in a ride. This is what it is all about. Keeping the Beginner's Mind.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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