Monday, September 18, 2006

This American Flyer

I've never really been a speed freak.

I downhill skiied some as a teenager, and while the speed of blasting down a hill well past any semblence of reasonable and responsible control was exhilarating, I never really enjoyed it.

I once pushed my father's Datsun 280ZX turbo up to 120 mph on a high country road, but I was too worried about the cop hiding behind the next curve or the tire about blow out to really enjoy it.

I even skateboarded down the mountain summit of Interstate 80 -- on the shoulder, of course -- until I got going so fast that the skateboard hit its natural frequency and started shimmering back and forth until I went tumbling for about twenty yards. My first (and fortunately last) introduction to road rash.

You'd think I would have learned a thing or two about my natural fearfulness when exceeding a comfortable four-mile-per-hour walking pace.

But no.

Here I am in my mid-40's and I love flying down hills on my bicycle. I've hit 52 mph twice. In the back of my mind, I was a bit nervous imagining all the horribleness that could befall me. But I had been riding long enough that the front of my mind was more confident and comfortable. And while 52 mph isn't so very fast compared to some others who brag about hitting the mid- or upper-50s, I still feel like I've done something that less than one percent of the population could ever do.

Tonight I watched the movie American Flyers with Kevin Costner about a pair of brothers dealing with impending death while on a bicycle race in Colorado. While filmed around a real bike race --the now deceased Coors Classic, formerly named the Red Zinger -- the action, the race strategies, and the bicycling footage were all legit. Howard even personally witnessed one leg of the Coors Classic in the 1980's. Not much to see, really. At one point in the film, Costner says they'll be riding up to 60 mph, which sounds impressive, and is true but misleading -- cyclists only go that fast on the steep downhills. Leg muscles can only do so much without the aid of bunches of gravity.

Yet, when I heard that impressive number -- 60 mph -- I thought to myself... I could do that. When I hit 52 mph twice, I was coasting. With the right hill, the right visibility, a total lack of traffic, and if I also peddled like mad from an aerodynamic crouch, I could do that too.

52 mph is top one percent. That's a satisfying achievement, particularly for such a wuss as myself. But 60 mph would be top one tenth of one percent.

Some day I'll get the chance (and the nerve) and let you know how it goes.

P.S. Remember when I said that Howard the Cyclist needs a challenge if he is to excel? Well, he's semi-seriously considering entering the El Tour de Tucson, a 109-mile bike race/tour in November. It's a "tour" in the sense that it's open to everyone willing to try and ride a 109-mile loop around the sprawling metropolis that is Tucson. It's a "race" in the sense that it's timed -- you get ranked from one to 4,018 (last year's results.) This appeals to Howard's competitive nature. He's certain that he can exceed a 20-mph pace for over five hours, which would keep him in the Top 800. (800!) But he's not sure he can maintain a 24-mph pace, which would be good enough to place him in the top 120 or so. Mrs. Howard is supportive, as usual. Just so long as she doesn't have to ride.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw that movie one night in golden colorado at about 3 am. did you notice where the race ends? DOWNTOWN GOLDEN. as i started watching mid-movie and was unaware of the fact that it was called the Coors Classic, i was completely blown away by that. there's a big banner in downtown golden that says "Welcome to Golden! Where the West Lives!" that i immediately recognized. it was a very spiritual moment for me.

3:44 PM, September 18, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Glad you saw the movie when you lived in Golden. I thought of you when I saw that banner.

However, I got a real laugh when the younger brother, who had been riding recreationally (and alone) for a while, was somehow allowed without any credentials other than sharing the last name of his brother to enter an exclusive and professional bike race. And then to win it! Oops, guess I should have said, "Spoiler Alert!"

My next bicycle film goal? To see Breaking Away again, a movie I haven't seen in over 25 years -- and considered by most to be the best bike movie ever.

12:34 AM, September 20, 2006  

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