The Old Guard and Their BH Ride
Tim Speciale - March 4, 2020
Until you see your body doing something that your mind is trying to convince you that you can't, you cannot know what it means to push your limits. Seeing this play out was, for me, a realization that I am the only thing limiting myself. I've been chasing that dragon ever since.
There is a major difference between a friendly group ride and your local Tuesday night “fast ride”. The typical “Tuesday Night Worlds” – as they are often sarcastically referred to – usually consists of new racers, current racers, or former racers. There is no gatekeeping here but the intention of the ride is to go fast so it tends to attract a certain group. Also, they are generally on Tuesday because going hard on Tuesday aligns with most people’s training schedule, which itself is generally aligned around races being on the weekend. My first was the Bicycle Heaven ride that made a loop into the corn fields west of Geneva/St. Charles Illinois every Tuesday night every summer.
Those legs don’t look like mine
Rob wanted me to join his team, which had a ride twice a week. So it was (yet again) Rob that invited me to my first fast group ride. At the time, Bicycle Heaven (a bike shop, that had a team) was located on Main Street in downtown Geneva. This was at least a 45 minute drive for me after work. I made the drive religiously for at least 2 summers.
I was nervous that first night. I had no idea what to do, or what to expect. I got there early and introduced myself to Bicycle Heaven owner, Ara Oggoian. He was in his kit talking to some people outside getting ready to start the ride. I noticed his calves had muscles on them that I didn’t even realize existed. His legs didn’t look like mine. It certainly made me wonder what I had gotten myself into.
The fastest progression in my cycling “career”
These rides provide a lot of benefit to all levels. For the newbie in particular, they are often the first places where a cyclist rides at their limit, with other people, most of whom are much more experienced.
It’s here where you first learn how to read the wind (or you’ll get dropped), how to hold a wheel (or you’ll get dropped), how not to piss people off (or you’ll get dropped), how to fuel properly (or you’ll get dropped), how to conserve your energy (or you’ll get dropped). It’s either a fear of getting dropped or a bloodlust for dropping others that motivates these rides. In either case you are motivated to go hard as hell. All of these lessons of survival (or bloodlust) translate directly into the race.
I can say with confidence that these rides and others like it (though the BH ride in particular) for the first 2 years I raced were the primary reason I learned how to ride hard and how I slowly reshaped my body into a moderately fast cyclist. While it was Rob Curtis that exposed me to this world, it was “The Old Guard” (my name, not theirs) on Bicycle Heaven that I looked up to, emulated, and tried to hang with.
These guys were nice enough but you could tell they were bad asses on a bike. Old cat 1’s, they had been racing for years at a high level. Rob Kelly, Ara, and Rich Steinbrecher.
Perceptions at the time…
Rob Kelly used to race mountain bikes. He’s strong and can handle the snot out of a bike. A bit of a bad ass. I have no idea but I’m assuming the scar on his lip was from a mountain biking accident.
Ara was a racer in every sense of the word. Owned a bike shop, barely left the shop, didn’t do much else but sell bikes and race bikes.
Rich, honestly I didn’t know much about him. Even keeled and approachable. Also rode a pretty sweet Titanium Lynskey.
Absolutely getting my ass handed to me
These rides were a decade ago and much has been blurred together in my mind. I do remember the first few rides going really poorly – one in particular in which I bonked so hard that I could barely drive home. The intensity of these group rides was not something I had ever actually committed to on my own. Unlike my first race, getting dropped out there meant dozens of lonely quiet miles home racing the sun and fighting the wind. I think there’s a reasonable possibility that, for a while, I dug deeper on the Bicycle Heaven group rides than I did in races.
There was a novelty in those early days in finding a new darkness that I had previously not been aware of. Until you see your body doing something that your mind is trying to convince you that you can’t, you cannot know what it means to push your limits. Seeing this play out was, for me, a realization that I am the only thing limiting myself. I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.
These rides have a pattern
A good group ride has established sections. It’s not usually written down. Rather, the ride’s fast (and often old) guys police these efforts. This is unofficial. It is not even spoken about. It is just an understanding. Do as The Old Guard does and you will be fine. Try not to show off (or you might get dropped).
Slow progression to fast
My goal was to see how far I could make it before getting dropped and riding back with all the slow guys. Every week I saw the fast group pull away in the distance, always being led by The Old Guard.
Week after week I showed up and week after week I got my ass handed to me. But every week I made it a little further than the week before. One night in the early summer of 2009, I noticed the group had slowed up. I didn’t realize what was going on because I had never made it this far with the fast group. Generally at this point, I was slogging along as hard as I could after getting dropped.
I realized it was a section of the ride that was an unofficial neutral. There was in fact one more punch to the gut that went up Town Hall Road but the few miles leading up to that section was for recovering from the past 40 minutes of insanity and – importantly – shooting the shit.
On this particular night, Rob Kelly rolled up next to me and said simply, “You’ve been looking good lately man”. At this time I was now in the Bicycle Heaven kit and I wanted to be fast. I wanted to race with these guys.
There is often a complaint from people that the upper categories within a team can become cliquey. This is probably true, but it’s also probably by design. Filter out the fluff. Those that belong will show up.
A lot of people like the idea of being a bike racer, not everyone likes actually being one.-Wayne
To be honest, Rob’s observation may have been nothing more than a simple observation. In my idealistic mind, though, that simple observation from a member of The Old Guard was important validation for me. It was another piece of fuel to the flame. I must keep digging, keep pushing my limits to new unknowns.
I never did get the chance to race with Rob, Rich and Ara, but I have raced against them a lot over the past years. That first summer of real racing and training set a baseline of respect for these dudes though. That respect endures.