Thursday, November 22, 2012

State of Grace

Mo Bruno-Roy
I saw her picture in a magazine and it was instant girl crush. I had never seen a creature so beautiful: She was like a graceful, violent, dirty Snow White. "That's Maureen Bruno-Roy," I was told, "she's a professional cyclocross racer." Half a year later, I was sitting in her kitchen. "Mo" was making tea while talking about her massage therapy business and riding Dutch bikes for transportation in Belgium. "Racing..." she shook her head with a smile when I brought it up, as if the concept both amused and confused her. "I am grateful that I happen to be good at it, but it's not everything." She showed me her pink Shogun mixte, which she rides to work in her regular clothes. She spoke about how much she loves bicycle infrastructure. Later we looked over her fleet of sponsored, impeccably tuned racing bikes in the basement. "You are welcome to borrow one," she said, as if talking about lending me a sweater... 

Richard Fries, Providence CX Festival
In between sips of coffee, I glanced up at the television screen with boredom, watching the race with unseeing eyes. A man in a zip-up sweater and a baseball cap glanced at me from the bar, then stood up and walked over to my table. He began to narrate the race in my ear as it unfolded, telling back stories about the riders and their behind-the-scenes dramas, then interrupting himself to describe what it was like to corner in the rain on a particular descent that was coming up, then interrupting himself again to speculate about the psychological state of the riders as they prepared to execute some maneuver I only vaguely understood. This was the 1989 World Cycling Championships race and he made it happen live, right in front of us. That was how I met the race announcer Richard Fries. Later I snapped some shots of him at the Providence Cyclocross Festival. I wonder whether he realised that in some way he was responsible for my being there... 

Pamela and Cocoa
When I started riding with the legendary randonneuse Pamela Blalock, the thing that stunned me was that I never felt slow or inadequate. How could it be that I struggled to keep up with ordinary cyclists who were just slightly more experienced than me, and yet the Climbing Goddess and I seemed so effortlessly in sync? This was my first taste of a strange paradox: Riding with people who are way, way better than me is easier than riding with people who are just a little better...

Fear Rothar, Photographer (Captured in Action)
For a brief portion of a group ride, my path once crossed with the awe-inspiring endurance racer John Bayley. He rode next to me in the tail end of the double line we formed as if it were the most normal thing in the world for the likes of him to be riding with the likes of me. He truly made me feel that it was. We entered a stretch of dirt road that was rutted out and iced over in spots. As we chatted, I saw that, side by side and at considerable speed, we were approaching a narrow ridge between two deep ruts that only one of our wheels could possibly fit through. Before I knew what was happening, he wiggled ever so subtly and I instinctively followed suit, and without breaking stride, we both ended up riding along that narrow ridge without crossing wheels or slipping off of it. I doubt John even remembers this, considering he just kept cycling and chatting blithely while it was happening. But the incident was etched into my mind. "So this is how you do it..."

As a rider, Emily surprised me with her psychic abilities. When we cycle on narrow roads with traffic, we will ride single file and she will go in the front. And when she does this, Emily somehow knows exactly what speed to maintain so that I am right behind her at all times. I want to go faster and suddenly she is pedaling more vigorously. I slow down a tad and so does she, as if anticipating my fluctuating energy levels. "But Emily, how do you do that?" She says that she can see me in the corner of her eye, but I don't buy it. I try this when I ride with others, and find it impossible. I never, ever know how fast to go when I'm in the front. I'll think that I am going at a consistent pace, but then I'll look over my shoulder and see that I lost people; I feel like a jerk. Some day I want to be psychic, like Emily...

Patria Lanfranchi, Ride Studio Cafe
I could not get over the way Patria rode her racing bike. It was with the attitude of riding a beach cruiser. Easy-peasy, fun-fun-fun. We rode so close that our handlebars were almost touching and I hardly noticed. We talked, we laughed, we gossiped, and before I knew it we crested the hill that I thought I was too out of shape to tackle without disgracing myself. It was 35 degrees Fahrenheit. A group of men from another local club passed us going in the opposite direction. Feeling feisty, we waved at them exhuberantly and they yelled something in a cheerful tone before disappearing. When I mentioned my struggles with clipless pedals Patria reacted as if we were discussing fashion accessories. "Why don't you try the shoes I wear? You might like them better. And they come in this cute color..." A week later I was riding clipless. No practicing in the parking lot, no problems. Everything is easy with Patria...

Ride Studio Cafe
When I first visited the Ride Studio Cafe over two years ago, there was a tall, boyish man working there, making coffee and sweeping floors. He made my Americano, and told me his name was Rob. I assumed he was the barista, and he did nothing to contradict this impression. We'd chat when I visited the shop. I thought he was nice. Some months later I asked the guy at the cash register whom to see about test-riding a Seven. He pointed to the barista. "Talk to him, that's the owner." "The owner of what?" I asked. "The owner of Seven Cycles. And the Ride Studio Cafe."

It's been almost a year now since I formally joined my cycling club. It is not my intent to promote them here, but only to thank them. It is through this club that I've met all the people described here, who have opened up my mind, challenged my pre-conceived notions and expanded my point of view. Some people help you and you feel grateful, indebted. Others help you and you don't even know it. A person who can do that has achieved a state of grace.

37 comments:

  1. You are blessed and a blessing. As graceful as your friends are with you, so are you with your readers. Thanks. Jim Duncan

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  2. Way to go! You should not think of yourself as slow and inadequate. I find it is easier to keep up with others as there is a psychological incentive at least for me to keep up and prove myself. I still don't have a road bike in my stable and am riding with my husband who is on road bikes. He's still way ahead, but only because i'm on a heavy raleigh sports. Mind you this bike has been the best in years for me, the right crank length has improved my cadence etc and that bike was well designed. It has momentum and the lack of gears forces me to work hard, so when I get back on a road bike I should be flying. I wish I had a club to ride with, few people in my area ride and wish I had some biking friends as my husband is still much faster and we sometimes argue about where to go..hee hee.

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  3. I just have to say I am so thankful for the RSC ladies ride where I met Velouria. It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know V over the last (almost) year. I have loved our rides together. I especially appreciate her fresh view of my old cycling routes. I always enjoy sharing what I think makes cycling special. Some folks might not be happy when I drag them up some steep dirt road climb, but V smiled the whole way and went back out to do it again on her own the next day. I've really enjoyed watching as her confidence has grown. Don't be fooled, the Lovely Bicyclist is strong! And she just keeps taking on new adventures and challenges. I look forward to seeing what the next year brings. I feel quite lucky and grateful to read, know and ride with Velouria.

    Pamela Blalock

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  4. Nicely said. I have learned (in my life) that the only way to pay these people back for all the wonderful things they do for you, is to do this for others.

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  5. And you, Velouria, have also achieved that state of grace. You help many without even realizing it, making cycling accessible. We are privileged to make your acquaintance through your writing. Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving.

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  6. Been reading this blog for a good while (couple of years?) and almost always enjoyed it as your personal cycling path developed.

    But I don't think I've read greater words than you've written on this Thanksgiving Day, 2012: "It is through this club that I've met all the people described here, who have opened up my mind, challenged my pre-conceived notions and expanded my point of view. Some people help you and you feel grateful, indebted. Others help you and you don't even know it. A person who can do that has achieved a state of grace."

    Kindest regards,
    Bill in Roswell, GA

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  7. What a lovely, no play on words intended, tribute to those casual but important mentors in the development of a cyclist. Many, like myself, will have such memories even if from the perspective of long past years. They are milestones in the making of a 'cyclist', or even a competent commuter.

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  8. Yes, what a blessing.

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  9. You've found yourself, through luck and hard work I'd say, in a great place surrounded by interesting, kind people. Enjoy yourself and keep on telling us about please!

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  10. How lucky that you have a place where such interesting people just pop in! Maybe some day you will write a book.

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  11. Thanks for the nice comments and I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.

    The Ride Studio cafe is an unusual place, and it is indeed pure luck that I live close enough to it. I wrote about the shop shortly after it opened and at the time no one really understood or could have predicted what it would become. There is an amazing variety of people who frequent the shop/cafe, from local residents who have nothing to do with bikes and simply go there to have coffee to pro cyclists who stop by when they are in town, to everyone in between. Lots of stories there just waiting to be told.

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    1. how is the coffee?

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    2. They change around the roast they use, but it's always pretty good. Wish they offered larger sizes though, like huge mug sized portions : )

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    3. Wow, it seems we are almost too much in sync at times. I swear I had 95% of *my* most recent blog post composed Wednesday evening. I didn't copy! I just needed some more photos from the T-day ride before posting...

      But as regards giant mugs of coffee, well... you know :-( I do still owe you a coffee, courtesy of our mutual friend Jim Duncan. And if you really want a giant one, we'll find a way to make that happen. You just have to take a break from frame building, so we can go for a ride!

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    4. What can I say. I am an addict ruined by the vulgar portion sizes of a certain American coffee chain.

      Pixie, the framebuilding life has been hard on me. I have grown weak and fat and jaded (even more so than usual I mean), you would hardly recognise me. Hopefully it won't sn*w this coming Tuesday...

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  12. nice post, however, it made me think about an aspect of American culture I both like and don't, the whole cult of personality thing, one the one hand it's positive and hopeful and about individuals enjoying and admiring each other - which is a more happy state of affairs than the kind of nihilism one encounters in England (fat chance of a blog like yours being born out of an English reality), but have you watched something like Montalbalno (Italian tv series)? on the continent it feels like people exist instead o thinking about each other. sorry if this comes across critical, it's not meant to, it is a thought provoking post

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    1. Interesting. As a native continental European who has spent much of her 20s in England, I do not see the cultural comparison as you do.

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    2. I disagree Derf. Even in England it is possible to randomly alight in a place where you feel totally at home with everything and everybody. All you need is luck, and/or divine intervention.

      On a much more English note, I would say that this post reads a lot like an extended Oscar speech, no matter how heartfelt it obviously is.

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    3. You are all analysing this too much; they are just some vignettes. That's a continental European word I think...

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    4. well, innuendo is very English, not to mention passive aggressive. I don't feel critical enough to compare t to an Oscar speech - I sincerely meant the hopeful bit. The problem is that if some things become idealised, others have to be rubbished (like people disagreeing with us), it's called splitting in analysis - there's a little analysis for you hon

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    5. I have never read any of Oscar Wilde's speeches, but will have a look now that you both mention this.

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    6. Nice one, couldn't resist THE TEMPTATION, eh Oscar?

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    7. I am just being earnest is all.

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  13. State of Agony is what I'd call it.

    What are we out here, chopped liver?!

    I told you these kind of people existed.

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    1. Ew chopped liver, let's not get carried away. I was thinking cheeseburger. There is always Xmas.

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  14. Regarding psychic Emily: she's a musician. A sense of ensemble is developed, especially among classical chamber musicians. Perhaps you could learn the recorder? FWIW, it's not hard on your hands.

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    1. I can play piano. Not whilst cycling though...

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    2. There's always the accordion... :-)

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  15. I have to say that Rob and Patria have done a great thing with RSC. The coffee (pour overs and expresso) and barristas are great, the bicycles are nice and sometimes inspiring background, and the bicycle service is exceptional - the mechanic exudes confidence and a calm professionalism. The coffee has always been to my taste and the bicycle service has improved greatly since 2010 when they didn't quite get it on a small job for me. I enjoy the camaraderie of the place, although I'm scheduled out of almost every ride.

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  16. "which she rides to work in her regular clothes"

    what the heck does this even mean?

    velouria, it amazes me that you cling to this ridiculous and artifical GP/MC-A dichotomy. spend some time in a bar/brew-pub/coffee-shop in pdx and you will see plenty of people who wear lycra/nylon/wool cycling clothing as "regular" clothing.

    /rant off

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    1. Sure. Her regular clothing is *her* regular clothing. That's all.

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  17. Velouria: Thank you so much for sharing your experience of the Studio. I'm overwhelmed by your words. I'm really glad to hear that you've met memorable people at RSC. And I'm grateful to have met you. You've given me, and a lot of people, much for which to be thankful.

    I can't wait to see you and your latest project - at the Studio.

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  18. I think this is a cool idea, highlight some of the best things about cycling as a shared adventure by using real people instead of just telling people to "Be more..." whatever. Hell, half the time we don't know WHAT to "Be more of/like/whatever till someone comes along who is something we WANT to be more like.

    It's so easy for the stuff that's important to us to become competitions and beauty pageants when it's best when it's about relationships and the people we love to be around. This blog is full of people I really like to be around and I'm enjoying my bikes more because of it and my friends from here.

    I don't think you're in any danger of creating any personality cults with this post but you do encourage those of us that want to be/have/appreciate better friends. On bikes. The runners can go to hell.

    Spindizzy

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  19. My bicycling has allowed me to meet, up close and personal, a half dozen 'beggars' every day. These are nice people who have not found a stable home or work situation. They've become friends and I'm grateful.

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  20. I am now a 47-year-old Frenchman with a slipped disk at the bottom of my neck, which is what started me browsing Sheldon Brown's website for tips about making my bike more comfortable so I could ride it at all, long before I even realized he was no longer with us; through this I discovered "Off the Beaten Path" and this blog, and I am now an avid reader of both, a subscriber to Bike Quarterly, the happy owner of a 1983 Raleigh Superbe(!?), and waiting for my pre-ordered Rawland Stag frame; I guess it is a sweet irony that somebody from my country should turn to the new world for a low-trail randonneur frame, but this is of course not the point of this post; nor am I going to write another one to Jan to thank him, I guess he can get the message here; I've just been longing to say thank you for some time, and I thought this might be my chance to; please keep riding, and writing so wonderfully, if anybody knows what it's like to be in a state of grace, you must be one of them.

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  21. I don't know how to properly give you thanks, Velouria, for your lovely words. The people of the Studio are what make the Studio such a special place. I enjoyed reading this so much. I am so thankful you are one of the people who makes this the community what it is.

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