I know this feeling very well. It slides into my brain like a cat entering a new room. Usually, it comes in about a week before a serious ride, but given how silently it glides in, how unobtrusively it tickles at my attention, it could have been quietly sitting next to me for several days, and I wouldn’t have noticed it. It’s a quiet little neurosis, one that wants me to fret endlessly about exquisitely small details, when the time for that has long passed. It is the Need To Tweak.
Simply put, it is the urgent desire to change something fundamental in the days (or hours) before an important ride. The roots grow from several places - the worry that you haven’t done enough riding, or the right kind of riding, or even that you may have done a little too much riding. You start looking at your bicycle and thinking, “these wheels turn a bit rough”, “those pedals feel just a little funny…” or “that saddle seems a bit heavy for all this climbing…”
If you succumb to this evil guidance and remain lucky, you dig into a small repair - a hub overhaul or a reinstallation of the bottom bracket. You don’t break anything and manage to get everything back in place without finding something else to tangent onto, overtorque and snap off. In the wee hours before the ride. When every bike shop is closed and you have no backup bits to replace it with. Because the only feeling worse than leaning over your bike with part of a bolt inside a nut in the wrench in your hand is that horrid feeling of torquing down on something you suddenly realize was crossthreaded because you shouldn’t be working on your damned bike at 1 am the night before a big ride.
“Upgrades” are even more dangerous tricks, normally targeted at contact points. Your cleats may be slightly loose in the pedals, your saddle may creak just a hair, your bars may not be exactly what you want. But, change any of them before a big ride and you’ll cause muscles and connective tissues to come awake like a collicky two year old, coming down from a bad sugar jag because you left a plate of cookies within reach. As for the dermal layer - let’s just say it gets ugly, real fast.
So, I’ve got a rule: Nothing gets changed in the week before a big ride.
Unless it utterly snaps off, it can only be cleaned and lubed before the event. Anything that is new is unproven - a variable which can fail completely in ways you haven’t considered. The time to change pedals and cleats was 5 or 6 weeks earlier, before you put the finishing touches on the repetitive leg motions which took into consideration the minor imperfections of the systems. The saddle? I don’t care if I’ve worn through the thing - it won’t be modified until afterwards.
But, as I said earlier, it’s here in the room with me now. Sitting there purring a bit, this time focusing mostly on the pedals, how they’re a little worn on the outside and how the cleats are grooved more deeply than I’d noticed before. I mean, I’ve got newer pedals on the singlespeed, and I won’t be using the ones that came off the cross bike anytime soon. Maybe just the cleats - crikey - what would happen if one of them broke? I should replace the cleats - that can’t make that big a difference…
Repeat the Rule.
The first began as many conversations do…
“…how old is that frameset?”
Unlike many though, it didn’t seem to carry any tone of derision or incredulity. This guy seemed pretty interested and honestly wanted to know.
“oh, ’bout a year and a half…”
Which got the standard “huzza-wuzza?” spit-take response, which I actually like. But, we both got a chuckle out of it, which was a good sign.
We’d found ourselves more or less alone on the Petaluma-Marshall Road, enjoying a sunny/clearing Saturday morning. He’d passed me a while earlier, and I ran back up on him now. He rode a nice Serotta and pedaled smoothly. When he’d noticed I was nearing him, he soft-pedaled for a while so we could talk.
He hadn’t actually heard of the Quickbeam, but was interested to know that it was a Rivendell model. Admittng to nearing the 6-year-itch of owning the Serotta, he talked about feeling like he wanted a new bike, but really enjoying the one he had. I encouraged him that he had a great ride that seemed pretty hard to improve upon. The idea of the RBW models seemed to focus his thoughts a bit, and he talked about getting something that could be used for touring or a little more load carrying. I filled him in on the Atlantis and the new Homer Hilsen model. He brought up Bruce Gordon’s models and we nattered on for a while about bike builders and designs. The miles passed easily and the efforts of slight rises became easy to ignore while conversing.
On the last bit of the way to Marshall, there’s a climb which jumps over the last hills to the coast. Folks tend to refer to this as the “Marshall Wall”, but it’s probably more accurately described as the the Marshall “Rise”. Honestly, the climb from the coast inland is sharper and nastier, and much more deserving of the “wall” moniker. But, the to-the-coast direction is a bit of a grinder, and I wasn’t finding all my gears as the incline increased, so we separated as he stood on his pedals and I eased off the road to rest for a couple of minutes before sweating my way past the cows and out to the coast.
Now headed south on the coast highway. Pushed along by tailwinds and the caloric benefit of a muffin that was about the size of my head that was purchased at the Marshall store. Mmmmmm. Mmmmmuffins!
As I pedal along, riders fight against the winds in the oncoming lane. Most wave but little else, and some are too set in their task to even acknowledge another rider. But the next rider I see has such a broad smile as he rides that it is noticeable from a ways away.
I stare at him a bit, as some reptilian portion of my brain fixes on something about him. Then it suddenly dawns at me that I’m looking at Carlos, who I suddenly recall was heading up the coast for an overnight - though he doesn’t seem to have that much more gear onboard. I call out, check traffic and loop around to catch him as he pulls off the road and waits. We hadn’t ridden together since the mixed terrain ride a couple weeks before, so we catch up a bit, each snapping a pencam photo to record the event.
It’s getting down to the last few weeks before PBP, and he’s seen a number of SF Randonneurs out on the roads. I admit that I haven’t been feeling all that great on this ride, and hope it’s a case of riding (and running) a bit too much rather than too little. After a little bit more talk, we head our separate ways. I finish out the ride feeling pretty good, though my omission of a bottle refill at Marshall has me out of water near Nicasio. Luckily, a quick stop at the Nicasio Deli replenishes my stores.
The next day, I’m out reasonably early, sticking to closer roads and easier topography. On the way home, a conversation hovers behind me. It gains on me at stop signs through the Ross Valley, falls back a bit on the straight stretches. Finally, it dawns on me that it involves travel to France and how to wrangle a bike there. Turns out that one of the riders I’d passed while negotiating a stoplight induced bottleneck was in final preparation for PBP. While avoiding other riders and vehicles, I’d noticed him wearing iPod earbuds, but now realized as he caught up to me that he was sporting an RUSA jersey, in addition to the “secret-handshake” array of bags that randonneurs tend to carry.
“You were out in Marshall yesterday, weren’t you?” he asked.
“Actually, I was,” I answered, reasonably suprised.
“I thought I saw your bike when I went past the Marshall Store.”
Small danged world, ain’t it…