It’s Hammer time!
Frank Strack, high priest of The Rules, answers the questions that keep cyclists awake at night
You will know in your bones that whatever any future ride throws at you, you can take it
What, in your esteemed opinion, is the distance you have to go before you can reasonably claim to have done ‘a big ride’?
Dear Big Man
A big ride is the ride where you surpass the limits you believed you had. You accomplish something you thought you couldn’t do. This is what lies at the heart of Rule 5.
For those yet to be initiated into the ways of the Velominati, The Rules are the cyclist’s commandments; the edicts by which a cyclist learns to become a Cyclist. The Rules are to be obeyed – not without question, but obeyed all the same. And Rule 5 is the daddy of them all, the starting point for anyone wishing to embrace the philosophy and lifestyle of the true Cyclist. Rule 5 states: ‘Harden the fuck up.’It is safe to say, in the light of Rule 5, that during any ‘big ride’ you should spend a considerable amount of time wondering if you can make it and possibly shed a tear or two in the process.
There is a primitive quality to setting out on a ride with the express intent of meeting The Man with the Hammer. Certainly one seems half mad to leave for a day’s riding with a litre of water in the bidon and a single biscuit in the jersey pocket but, truth be told, it fundamentally changes the mentality and physique of the rider who rides through the crushing blow of the hammer. At a certain point, when it seems impossible to continue, your body will conclude that its complaints are being ignored and it had better get on with the job of helping you rather than fighting you. Your pedal stroke, which has gradually become more ragged as you fatigue, will suddenly become more round as your body instinctively does away with inefficiencies. Your body will relax. Your grip on the bars will loosen. You will become a better Cyclist.
The next time you climb aboard your bicycle after such a ride is magical. You will have a familiarity with the machine that you lacked before. Your stroke will have a smoothness and ease to it that comes only from suffering for an entire day in solitude with your bike. But most importantly, you will know in your bones that whatever any future ride throws at you, you can take it.
The Man with the Hammer is generally known in the Cycling community as someone to be feared. He is also the guardian of the realm beyond the recreational cyclist; he controls passage into La Vie Velominatus where his fickle wife, La Volupté, lives.
La Volupté translates from French into English roughly as ‘voluptuousness’, and while the first thing that springs to mind is a sexual definition, my favourite is ‘the property of being lush and abundant and a pleasure to the senses’. In such a sport as Cycling, where pain is worn like a badge of honour, those moments when cycling is lush, abundant and a pleasure to the senses are what makes us want to climb onto our bikes again tomorrow. La Volupté is the ideal moment on the bicycle when everything passes as if in a dream and the rider and bicycle move in an effortless harmony.
The great secret of meeting ‘The Man with the Hammer’ is that each blow of his mighty mallet forges us into a Cyclist worthy of La Volupté’s touch. To answer your question, I would say that the length of the ride is not what matters. What matters is that you pushed yourself closer to a meeting with that great man. On the biggest rides, you’ll have taken a hard blow from his hammer and continued on to become a better Cyclist. When you return home, there is an emptiness that comes with complete and total depletion. Those, to me, are the best days to be found on a bicycle.
Frank Strack is the founder of velominati.com, home of The Rules.