I’ve posted a few things about the (small) amount of time that I had an opportunity to spend with Gary Fisher, when in Solvang. There was an hourlong conversation in the van up to the hotel, where he regaled us with stories of what constituted training when he was younger–a group of riders would start in Northern California and ride the PCH southbound, with a tailwind, at high-speed. They would be chased by a team van, and would stop wherever and spend the night in a hotel. There was some conversation at random times throughout the event. There was a pretty good mountain bike ride. There was a conversation one evening, during the “Meet and Greet Gary Fisher” section of the trip. By no means do I claim to know him, but I found what he said to be interesting and pretty captivating. He is certainly an engaging guy.
He talked about a lot of things–many of which I wouldn’t repeat, out of respect for him. Some things sound one way coming out of his mouth, and look differently when typed on a computer screen. Those things should be heard firsthand.
The one night, he started talking about John Tomac, and said that Tomac was the best rider he ever saw. The reason Gary laid this acclaim upon Tomac was because of Tomac’s versatility. He rode mountain and road…and within each discipline, he rode many subcategories. (Brian Lopes emulates this in some ways). The point of this post isn’t hero-worship for either Gary Fisher or John Tomac. The point is what Gary said next. I’m going to switch voices here for a minute, and try to paraphrase Gary. Please note that this is not word for word.
The problem with many riders today is that they do not ride across different disciplines. Road riders practice with their head in a powermeter, riding dry pavement (or trainers), and focusing on watts per kilo. That’s great when you face perfect conditions in a race…but then it rains, or they hit a slick descent, and they don’t know how to handle a bike. Similarly, many mountain bike riders go out and work on perfecting limited aspects of their craft, but they don’t necessarily go hit the road. So they may have perfect bike handling and technical skills, but when the race course has a flat section that you can haul through, they don’t know how to spin up to a cadence, and tear through it.
If all you do is ride a roadbike, you might slip a tire once every couple months…and it probably terrifies you when it happens. That leaves you completely unprepared for a race under anything other than the best of conditions.
If all you ever do is ride a mountain bike on technical terrain, you might develop good bike handling, but you won’t have the legs to compete unless the trail is tailored to your limited strengths.
The best cyclists are all-arounders. They ride mountain bikes…and their bike handling skills carry over to the road. They ride road bikes…and their power and cadence carry over to the mountain. In races, or just on hard rides, they have power and control.
(Editorial sidenote: He’s right. If you look at the 2011 Tour de France, Andy Schleck lost 1:18 on Cadel Evans (and 3:03 on the stage winner), in a single stage (the wet Stage 16 descent). With his overall loss being only 1:34 behind Evans, he would have been within 16 seconds but for this one wet descent. Evans, with mountain bike experience, had a bike handling edge that was easy to see in the race. I’m not sure if Schleck could have won if he had an extra 1:18 of time on Evans (or more)…but it would have been interesting to see).
Hearing those words was both a validation and a challenge. It was a validation in that I try to have a varied ride plan. I ride fatbikes in the snow, and road bikes on pavement. I ride a lot of gravel–including loose stuff that presents bike-handling challenges. I ride what singletrack and technical terrain we have here in the Midwest. I do a couple cyclocross races, and I would do some crits (if I wasn’t self-employed and thus a bit more risk averse). I focus on power numbers and bike handling. I try to be an all-arounder.
It was a challenge in that I sometimes (often?) get too much into my own head, and focus on intervals and watts more than I should. I’m not a racer…I’m a recreational cyclist. A serious one, perhaps, but recreational nonetheless. Last summer, in the peak of road season, I had many weeks where my rides were all on skinny tires. This year, I am going to focus on keeping a rotation of rides, year-round, and keep working on developing my bike handling skills.
Gary also shared a story about how the Trek race team was contractually required to use a certain component…and the component sucked. In response to this, Trek decided to break contract and use an alternate component, as an interim measure while designing their own replacement in-house. This one moment generated a whole new product line. I’m not going to lie…stories like that made me a bit starstruck.
I went to Solvang to ride, to listen, and to learn. I did all three. And I learned a lot, by listening to Gary.