The story of how I’ve tuned my ride

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By James “Cranky” Ram­say

A highly or­ches­trated come­back

This past win­ter, I made my an­nual com­mit­ment to get back to my for­mer glory as lo­cal masters pack fod­der. My read­ers will know that when I say “an­nual com­mit­ment,” I’m not kid­ding – it hap­pens (or, truth be told, fails to hap­pen) ev­ery year.

The pat­tern is by now quite pre­dictable: I start out in­spired, and quickly lose about 5 kg. There’s a spring in my step. I’m well on the way to re­claim­ing my right­ful place in the mid­dle of the mid­dle-age pelo­ton. But then I fal­ter. By the height of sum­mer, I’m fully re­clined un­der a wil­low tree, snooz­ing off the ef­fects of a rack of ribs and a few bot­tles of lo­cal brew.

But what is this? Here we are in late spring and the op­po­site is true. I’m in killer shape. Chil­dren (even tall ones) look up to me. Ev­ery cy­clist I know wants to be me. And it’s all thanks to a sim­ple, $300 in­vest­ment I made a few months ago.

I know what you’re ask­ing. What mag­i­cal piece of cy­cling gear is this, that for a scant $300 could si­mul­ta­ne­ously trans­form a Cranky into half the man he used to be, and twice the cy­clist? Where can I buy one? And does it come in tar­tan?

Here’s the thing: it’s not tech­ni­cally a piece of cy­cling gear, although it is with­out doubt the best $300 I’ve ever

spent on my fit­ness (un­less you count my life­time mem­ber­ship in the West Toronto chap­ter of the Jack Palance Memo­rial One-armed Push-up Club). And you don’t even have to go to a bike shop to pick one up. You can buy one at any big-box elec­tron­ics store – and I urge you to do so, im­me­di­ately.

What is it? It’s a Blue­tooth speaker. But not just any Blue­tooth speaker. It’s a splash­proof, stealthy look­ing, re­mark­ably loud, bass-pump­ing, boom-box of a speaker. It’s helped me rid my­self of my dad bod while re­mind­ing me of just how pow­er­ful mu­sic can be as a mo­ti­vat­ing force.

I used to ride in­doors in the win­ter in si­lence (or I should say, with­out mu­sic), with only my own thoughts to keep me com­pany. And this worked well, or so I be­lieved. Time on the bike has al­ways been good think­ing time. I’ve used it wisely to solve prob­lems, puz­zle through com­plex chal­lenges in my work, and men­tally cat­a­logue all my pi­rate shirts, in or­der from most to least frilly.

But when I fired up this speaker for the first time last win­ter, an amaz­ing thing hap­pened: as the dul­cet tones of Nor­we­gian doom me­tal filled the laun­dry room, I found my­self match­ing my rid­ing cadence with beats per minute. Soon, like a mas­ter DJ, I was able to build playlists that grad­u­ally built to a race-pace work­out, and then ta­pered off to al­low me to cool down. The net ef­fect was two-fold. First, my av­er­age speed for 90 min­utes on the rollers went up by 5 km/h. Sec­ond, the laun­dry started to pile up be­cause Mrs. Cranky was scared to come down­stairs.

Des­per­ate for some clean clothes, I tried switch­ing to Kanye West. That was bet­ter in that the socks got washed, but now my kids wouldn’t come down to the base­ment be­cause of the mu­sic. “This al­bum has too many bad words,” one of them said one day. She’s wrong, of course. As any dis­cern­ing mu­sic fan knows, Kanye West’s mu­sic has ex­actly the right num­ber of bad words.

Now I’m not go­ing to claim that mu­sic will al­ways make you go faster on your bike. Some­times it gives you the il­lu­sion that it’s work­ing, only to let you down when it counts the most. I once warmed up for a crit while lis­ten­ing to the sound­track to Char­i­ot­sof­fire. Yes, I know it’s not a cy­cling film, but none­the­less, I was cer­tain I would win. I got dropped on the sec­ond lap and was pulled off the course by the com­mis­saire as I wept into my cot­ton sin­glet.

And I hope it goes with­out say­ing that I never (and nor should you ever) ride on the road while lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. This is ex­tremely danger­ous if you’re us­ing ear­buds or head­phones, and ex­tremely ob­nox­ious if you’re us­ing a speaker at­tached to your bike. Rare as it is, I’ve wit­nessed the lat­ter on a char­ity ride a few years ago. There was some­thing about hear­ing “Eye of the Tiger” blar­ing from the back of a bi­cy­cle that in­spired me to ride as hard as pos­si­ble to es­cape the sound.

And fi­nally, no ru­mi­na­tion on the power (pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive) of mu­sic would be com­plete with­out a tale about singing on the bike. Please don’t do it. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it first-hand on a cy­cling trip through Bel­gium. One of my fel­low rid­ers started to sing Step­pen­wolf tunes while de­scend­ing the wooded hills of the Ardennes. It turns out this is even more an­noy­ing than hav­ing some­one yell “woo-hoo!” while go­ing into a tuck down a hill. To add to the of­fence, he was woe­fully out of tune. Again, in­spired to get away from the racket, I blew past him and was pleased to dis­cover that the Dop­pler ef­fect ac­tu­ally cor­rected his off-key war­blings. I be­lieve I’m onto some­thing there, and I’ll be speak­ing to my pa­tent lawyer shortly to see if I can mon­e­tize the idea.

So there you have it: if you’re won­der­ing how to break out of a rut, how to rein­vig­o­rate your rid­ing, or sim­ply how to drive away other cy­clists, it’s all in the mu­sic.

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