Those who know me know about my fascination with bicycles and cycling. I've been riding bikes since I was a kid, and to this day I still get on my road or mountain bike for an hour or two of fun and excercise. So with the 2010 Tour De France in full swing, I am reminded each year of how I share a common enthusiasm for cycling, with men who get paid to race 5000+ kilometers over a 24 day period. But what the Tour also reminds me of, is how I got into cycling as an adult, and about an asshole named Steve who almost caused me to give it all up.
The Tour De France is a huge European event held every July. Unlike team sports, the Tour is a mano-a-mano contest, which tests the physical and psychological limits of professional bike racers during a 24 day long ordeal. The event spans across more than 5000 kilometers of French mountains and countryside, drawing crowds from all over the world. When I watch these pro bike racers, I can't help but be amazed at their physical strength and stamina, their willingness to endure pain, and their ability to focus on the race at hand. Some of the races, known as stages, consist of climbing thousands of feet over mountains, and descending down those mountains at over 70 miles per hour, rain or shine. Obviously, the Tour is NOT for the faint of heart.
What's amazing about the Tour, is that the heart of the race has little to do with technology. Sure, the equipment used in professional bike racing shares the same technologies as F1 racing cars. The frames, as well as many of the other components, are made of lightweight carbon fiber, kevlar and titanium. The helmets, also being lightweight carbon fiber and polymer, employ computational fluid dynamics to ensure that there is ample airflow to cool the rider's head. Gears are made of 7075 aluminum and aerospace titanium, maintaining strength while cutting precious grams or weight. A typical road racing bicycle can have 22 speeds, and weigh about the same as a childs tricycle.
From an engineering and design standpoint, these two-wheeled machines are truly remarkable. Yet with all of the Tour's money, majesty and technology, it is still human enough to remind me that anyone with a bike can feel the same exhilaration, excitement, and physical sensation as a professional peleton.
This is where Dwayne comes in.
Dwayne was a fellow engineer I worked with back in 1989. He was a huge German fellow, 6'2", about 220 pounds, blue eyed blonde who would be a perfect model of the German race, except for the fact that he spoke fluent Spanish, and that he was heavy into Reggae, sporting a rainbow colored hemp jacket and blonde dreadlocks that would make Bob Marley proud. Dwayne happened to be an avid cyclist, having raced criteriums back in college. He convinced me one day to join him on his lunchtime rides, so I bought myself a fancy Giant Cadex 980C carbon fiber road bike, which was WAY more bike than I needed, with the intent of becoming Silicon Valley's [tongue in cheek] first Filipino American cycling hero.
But then there was Steve.
Steve Asshole, as I referred to him, was another engineer at the same company. He was about my height and weight, but clearly in much better physical shape than myself. He too was a bike rider and a bike racer like Dwayne, but Steve was your classic, grade A asshole .
We all know a Steve Asshole at work; clean cut, big-headed, a person who knows everything about everything, thinks he's a supermodel, huge ego, God's gift to [insert hobby of choice here]. In his case, he was mister Super Bike Racer Guy.
The kind of jerk that would look you straight in the eyes, and tell you that you sucked.
One day Steve decided to join me and Dwayne on a lunch ride. We would leave the office in Mountain View, and head up into the Los Altos Hills for an hour or so, riding flat roads and hill climbing. Being new to road biking, I struggled to keep pace with Dwayne and Steve. But where Dwayne would cheer me on and give me an occasional "atta boy", Steve would continually roll his eyes, complaining about how "bored" he was of waiting for the "beginner". This happened on every ocassion that he rode with us, so after continually dealing with his attitude, I decided to stop riding with them.
Needless to say, I felt like selling the bike and forgetting about biking altogether.
Dwayne caught up with me, wondering why I stopped riding. After explaining my decision, he reminded me of the Tour De France. He talked about the pain and stress that the pro riders endured, and that they were mortal men, regular guys, not machines, no more special than anyone else. He explained how bike riding leveled the playing field - that no one person had an advantage over anyone else. This, he said, was the beauty of cycling. The amount of work you put in equalled the results you benefitted from.
The next lunchride, Dwayne vowed to use Steve to show me what he meant. Our ride entered a hilly section known as Magdalena Road, strewn with short, steep hills and winding curvy two lane passes. During the entire ride, Dwayne used his brute strength and biking prowess, literally riding circles around Steve while I watched in amazement. Dwayne looked back at me and mouthed the words "see what I mean?" I came away from that ride, confident that it was actually possible for a regular joe like me to a great bike rider, and enjoy doing it too.
Though I never became the professional bike racer I dreamed of being (I still pretend every time I'm on a bike), I still enjoy riding, though as an engineer I enjoy tinkering with my bikes almost more than I do riding them. I still get excited when I hop onto two wheels for a spin, just like I did when I was a kid. To this day, the Tour greats like Merckx, Fignot, Indurain, LeMond, Contador, and others bring about an emotional excitement that reminds me of why I love bike riding so much, and why I have Dwayne to thank for it. Its the fun of being on a bike, being mobile, being in control, and basking in the freedom of it all.
So to my buddy Dwayne, where ever you are, a thousand thanks for your guidance and words of encouragement.
And to you, Steve Asshole, with your snobby "better-than-thou" attitude - you can kiss my asphalt.