There’s one good hill on my commute home from work. It’s about a mile long with a steady grade, and if I really push, it’s just long enough to get my heart rate up, and just hard enough to help me burn off the beer from last night.
Earlier this week I was just starting the climb when a kid on a squealing, bar-end shifter, heavy-as-shit road bike blew by me. My first thought was “Oil your chain, dude.” My second thought was, “What the fuck?”
I was on a full-carbon road bike that’s fast as hell and totally befuddled that some little punk on a bike he likely bought at a yard sale was whooping my ass. He had flat pedals, tennis shoes, and soccer shorts. I had SPD pedals and proper bike bibs. This was not the way it was supposed to work.
The only thing to do, of course, was get on the gas. I climbed onto his wheel, figuring he’d let up eventually. As we climbed, me giving it everything I had to keep up, I started making up stories in my head. Maybe this kid was a roadie just commuting to class at the University? Then I realized that if he knew anything about bikes, he wouldn’t have a squealing chain.
Maybe it was his age? I guessed he was about 20. I’m only 34, but I wondered if 14 years could really make the difference? I’m in pretty good shape, but I do like IPAs, and ice cream. Was my age and my lifestyle finally getting to me?
Eventually his bike gave me the advantage. At the top of the climb the grade steepens so he had to shift. His rickety derailleur took a second to make the change and forced him to stop pedaling. I meanwhile shifted up, and had him. There was a moment where I could have passed, waving politely as I blew by. But I decided against it.
My ego was already bruised. I didn’t need to be that sore loser who passed at the last second trying to prove some point. So instead I just followed along. At the very top he went right and I stayed straight.
That night I went without a beer. I’m going on a longer ride this weekend. I’m telling myself it’s all just good training and healthy living. But really, I know that the kid is in my head. Next time we meet, I don’t want to be spent at the top. I want to calmly pass mid-climb and let him chase my wheel instead.