There are times in cycling, or life for that matter, when you run into a person who boosts your spirit. It happened to me this past Friday afternoon on, what was supposed to be, a normal cadence training workout . . . little did I know. I had seen the man a few times around, but to be honest I paid him little attention, mainly because he was quiet and I thought he was one of those dudes who did his thing on his bike and wanted to be left alone.
The older gentleman rode up behind me and asked if I minded pulling him bit. Of course I didn’t care. I was riding alone anyway. Why not? Still not knowing who he was, pedaled along . . . warming my legs and get myself set. I watched my Garmin as my cadence and speed increased and wondered how long it would be before the old guy fell away. After all, I wasn’t going to slow my ride down to pull a guy around whom I didn’t even know. We hit a Strava section that lasts for about .75 of a mile, and I had already planned on stretching my legs at that point. My speed climbed and my cadence spun up. When I reached 27 mph, I could still see a “cycling shadow” behind me! Seriously? Okay then, here we go. I pushed myself into the red, touching 31 mph before a hard turn. Yep, he was still there.
Mike Howard is 71 years of age and the current time trial champion for New York state, in his age group. After the aforementioned turn, Mike came along beside me and asked me how far I was going and to where. I told him and urged him to come along. To be honest, my mind was still swimming with questions about him and myself. As a cyclist, I did immediately notice that his legs were not the legs of a guy who hangs out in bingo halls; for that matter, his whole body seemed taut. Although on a nice road bike with 404 Zipp wheels, Mike introduced himself to me and told me that he was more of a time trial guy . . . sprinter, if you will. “Had we gone much longer, you would’ve lost me,” he said, taking a shot of his water bottle. “As a man gets age on him, he loses his cadence but can still hold most of his power. I’m headed up here to this strip to do standing starts and high cadence returns. Wanna come?”
I told Mike that I would, but I wouldn’t stay for his set of ten repeats due to some mileage that I had to put down. Mike is the kind of man who talks about things he knows, but he doesn’t leave you feeling tired or like an idiot. Mike knows cycling. Sure, right now he’s into a certain kind of cycling, but he’s been around the sport for 60 years . . . so yeah, get out your freaking notebook. “Cadence is the key,” began Mike. He went on to say, after we did our first run, that if you have to make the choice between harder or faster . . . pedal faster. High cadence spinning is more efficient. Putting less force into pedal will cause a rider to fatigue less quickly. In essence a cyclist can maintain the same power output for a longer period of time.
“Ever hit 200 rpm?” Mike asked.
“No time like the present,” he said with a smile of a good coach. “The hill we just came up? I want you to pedal normal to the downward crest of the hill and then throw it into your small ring and smallest ring on your cassette headed down and spin the hell out of it. Try not to bounce. Stay in control of you and your bike. See if you can hit 200 rpm.”
When I rode off I told him that at the bottom of the hill I would head on out to my loop for the day, but thanked him very much for the knowledge. Reaching the bottom I had touched 194 and shouted back to Mike who had come down not too far behind me. “That’s excellent, Scotty! Keep working!” Mike yelled. I rode away, not really knowing what to do with what he said. Why 200? I keep thinking as I spun out my 40 miles and headed back to where I parked. About a mile from my truck, I saw Mike again. He was stopped on the side of the road taking a picture of the sun setting behind the river that runs parallel to the bike path.
I pulled up beside him while he finished his picture. “Why 200?” I blurted out. “And do you mind taking a picture with me?”
Mike laughed, agreed, and took it. “Just think, Scotty. It takes some getting use to when you ride at a high cadence, and it take time to work up to bigger gears and be able to spin the crap out of ’em. If you can spin 200 effectively, just think how spinning 100-110 will feel. Easy right? Professional riders spin like mad.” I nodded, so he continued. “Yep, I’ve lost some cadence and will continue to lose it, but it won’t be from lack of effort. That’s why I like the shorter, more powerful stuff now. I’m not into long distance much anymore.”
Mike and I said our goodbyes and rode in different directions. He told me where he lives and that he would see me around. I hope so. I thought it was such a privilege being able to ride with Mike and how cool it will be to still be riding when I’m his age. I hope so.