When I dabbled in bicycle racing, the training manual we passed around recommended laying down about 300 miles of low-gear base mileage before beginning differentiated training. This was in a climate zone that did not offer a strong alternative training activity like cross-country skiing on a regular enough basis to count as a real routine. Even if a rider took up speed skating, which was available and had a small following, the change in muscle use at the beginning of regular riding season required some adaptation.
In a climate that shuts down outdoor riding pretty completely, base mileage is vital. I don't do any competitive sport riding, but any open-road commuting is part criterium, part time trial. Lacking the discipline to ride a trainer with the religious devotion necessary to provide a real fitness base, I need to get those base miles before launching the commuting season. Alternative outdoor activities have nearly vanished in the changing climate, so I'm coming off the couch with only good intentions.
Last week I hit the 300-mile mark and noticed an immediate improvement. I'd been trying to go easy, but you can't hold back when you're sharing the road with motor vehicles. If a traffic situation demands a quick sprint or a longer interval, you do your best.
Even before the 300-mile mark, I noticed that my whole body worked better now that I was using it as it was meant to be used. We're built to propel ourselves. Obviously, walking and running are our natural forms of locomotion, but the genius of the bicycle was that it adapted those motions to the circular pedal stroke. The bicycling position has evolved so that it places some potentially destructive demands on the upper body, but the general concept remains completely benign. If you ride a lot in a forward-leaning position, you will want to do some stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent neck and shoulder pain. And a little core work is never a bad idea.
I wonder who first came up with the idea of strength and flexibility training. There we were, scruffy hominids scrounging in the landscape for things to eat, devising tools of various kinds. Life was an endless camping trip. We walked, we ran, we climbed. We picked things up. We figured out how to build things. It was all based on walking, running, and moving things into useful configurations. Some people were stronger than other people. Who first figured out that strength and physical efficiency could be enhanced with specific exercises?
It doesn't matter. We know it now. Ignoring the whole noisy industry and marketing campaigns promoting specific programs and products that will make YOU, yes YOU, STRONGER, HAPPIER, SEXIER, AND MELT AWAY EXCESS POUNDS LIKE MAGIC, we know that using your own power to get from place to place will make your body work better. Rest is a vital part of the training cycle, but you can actually be too rested. Crawling toward this year's bike commuting season, I wondered if my accidentally sedentary winter might actually have shortened my life. In a country that considers health care a luxury, who can really afford to live an unhealthy lifestyle?
People who try to live gently, self-propelled and modestly housed, end up looking like parasites in a consumer-driven, wealth-obsessed economy. We slip through the small spaces, gleaning our sustenance like mice. We don't have much of a wallet with which to vote. It makes us an easy target for the contempt of the worshippers of hard work and self advancement. No one is questioning those sacred precepts. Hard work in the service of destruction is not a virtue. But voices of reason are drowned by the noise of traffic, industry, and broadcast media.
Many hands make light work. We could be taking turns doing short stints at the destructive labors that need to be done, rather than trapping some people in those destructive endeavors until they are crushed, and letting others evade that contribution to the general welfare. Like any simple solution, it's too complicated to arrange, so we will continue to live haphazardly and let evolution take its course. I just thought I would throw the idea out there. We could have arranged things in that way and coasted our population gently down to a sustainable level. Instead we live by instinct, as always. The result will reflect our true nature and potential, as will be evident from the ruins we leave behind.