By Nicole Duke. Photo by Nils Nilsen/N2Photoservices
We all have a choice—What speed would you like to live your life? Tackle the obstacle or revel in the moment? As a professional cyclist and just all around bike lover, I’ve learned a lot about speed throughout my life and career. When I was younger and a downhill mountain bike racer on the World Cup and national circuit, it was all about how fast I could do everything, without regard for one very important rule: sometimes, you have to go slower to go faster.
As my cycling life and career have progressed, fast seems to be less of a concern for me. I’ve learned that speed—used correctly in the precise moment needed—is the key to enjoyment and success. I was riding just the other day on something I like to call my soul loop. I’ve done it with friends, by myself, in shape, out of shape, slow and sometimes just flat-out, soul-crushingly fast. It’s been awhile since I’ve done this loop alone and without agenda of pace. I’m just starting to train again, so my legs are just warming up.
This loop takes a little over two hours and has over 4,300 feet of vertical gain, mostly on gravel, with breathtaking views. On this day, I left all judgement behind; the pace was slow, many views were absorbed, pictures were taken, and a smile stayed on my face. Later, I noticed my time on the loop—even with all my departures from pushing the pedals—was only six minutes off my normal pace, and I received so much more enjoyment from the ride than I had in years.
Conversely, the rest of my day moved at a much more productive pace than usual after a hard ride like this. Maximum speed is not always best; find your flow and your rhythm and it will lead to more beauty and grace on and off the bike. This is a lesson for me every day now. I’ve managed to fine-tune this on the bike but need to transfer more of this awareness in everyday life. The bike can be such a great life giver and source of self-awareness.
When do I choose fast to go faster? It’s when most of us want to grab the brakes and our minds scream, “Danger, danger! Must slow down!” Most of us have a survival gene, thank God, that tries to keep us intact. Our first reaction to rough terrain is to freeze and grab the brakes. This is where most of us need to hit the override button. Speed is now your friend.
Sometimes you want to embrace the peaks and valleys, but not this time. You want to skim effortlessly across the tops, avoid the deep holes and bumpy crags. The only way to manage this is to trust yourself, the laws of nature; just let go and relax. Like a river flowing over rocks, this is what speed allows: smooth transition. Speed is now your friend! Speed is also about timing and approach. You must learn its subtleties, when to use it and how. Much like life it’s a balance, an ebb and flow. I’ve used speed throughout my life on the bike and in sports to actually find my limits, to feel my primal instincts, to arouse excitement. At one point everything had to be fast, or else I felt like I wasn’t living. Now, life comes to me more in those times of slow and delicate approach. Speed is beginning to leave my ego. I will use it for the moments needed with fire and grace, and dismiss it when it cries and begs my ego to rear its ugly head.
Yes, sometimes I want to skim across the top of life. I don’t want to feel every bump, but more and more, I want to feel, absorb and appreciate the stillness and beauty in my ride and in life. Speed is all in the approach.
This piece originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #35. Support your favorite independent cycling magazine by ordering a subscription today.Tweet Print
Bicycle Times Issue #35 has mailed to subscribers and will be available on newsstands soon. This is our Speed issue, featuring frame builders from Toronto and Portland, journeyman racer Steve Tilford, cyclocross racer Nicole Duke, plus staff picks and reviews to help you on your next adventure.
Our cover model is Koochella Racing’s Margeaux “Snakebite” Claude, taken at the National Sports Center (NSC) velodrome in Minneapolis.
All this and more, now available through paper and our digital editions. Print subscribers should start receiving their copies next week. You can always visit better book stores and bike shops to buy a copy, or subscribe online now.
Kansas native Steve Tilford first pinned on a race number at age 14 in 1975, and has never stopped racing. Literally. Learn more about him on page 10.
Italian American bicyclist Anthony Mangieri owns Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, and when he’s not crafting artisan pizza, he’s riding one of his many custom bicycles. Learn more about him and his family on page 22.
Beardo the Weirdo riffs on his appreciation of cargo bikes in his own way on page 32.
What’s happening to our traditional drivetrain?! SRAM steps it up by slimming it down, removing the front derailleur on several new models for 2016, including gravel. Read about it on page 34, and get more background from our recent ride report from California’s Central Coast here.
We spent time with Toronto’s master frame builders Mike and Michael Barry in June 2013, and revisited their relaunch of the famed Mariposa Bicycle brand. Their story begins on page 36.
Provisions: There’s a nice mix of product reviews this issue, including the 14-pound, $7,880 Trek Émonda SLR8; the 18.6-pound, $4,999 Allen UltraX carbon folder; Ritte Crossberg Disc; 29.8-pound Fyxation Blackhawk carbon fat bike; plus a complete review of the SRAM Rival Disc group set; Zipp Firecrest 202 carbon wheels; helmets from Smith, Lazer and Scott; Pearl Izumi road shoes; and a lightweight vest from Club Ride, all beginning on page 44.
Our Online Editor Adam Newman spent time at the Vanilla Workshop in Portland, chewing the fat and snapping photos of the artisans at work. Learn more about Sacha White’s crew beginning on page 56.
Like what you read in the magazine? Join us in October for the Bicycle Times Adventure Fest presented by Trek in central Pennsylvania!