The leadup is easy. It’s a gentle descent —barely noticeable, just enough to make turning the cranks seem effortless. Speed has become some form of free thing floating in the air that you pick up just by moving through it. I’m spinning the pedals. Push hard through a couple of revolutions to remember what riding hard is like. Swing left onto a dead end street cut off by the railway tracks. A thoughtfully placed pedestrian underpass is also available to me. I squeeze the brake levers gently to whisk around the blue and white plastic stake — screwed into the asphalt to keep people exactly like me from doing exactly what I just did — and zoom down underneath the tracks with almost enough momentum to make it up the other side.
The start of the segment is short block away. A right turn at a stop sign and it begins. But this is problematic in two ways. One, there’s a right turn. Two, there’s a stop sign. So I turn left instead to give myself a 50 metre run up to the intersection to be at top speed when the segment begins.
Of course this means doing an Idaho stop. Except instead of slowing to check for intersecting traffic I’ll be putting all the force of my thighs into the pedals, hands on the drop bars, accelerating through the intersection as quickly as possible. So more like an LAX stop.
I soft pedal then coast a few dozen metres, lean a bit left, turn the bars a few degrees and come around to face the intersection. Somewhere up above — orbiting the planet — half a dozen satellites are swapping data with the little black box fixed to my handlebars. The box uses it to place me just south of the start. No time like the present.
I reach down, grab the drop bars, gloved palms pulling in to the slightly soft vinyl tape. Muscles on my (tiny) forearms rising up to meet the skin as I pull my core down toward the bike’s top tube to give my legs leverage as they drive the pedals toward the ground.
Again and again legs turn the cranks. At first slowly as the wheels accelerate. I imagine the pedals are bricks on the soles of my feet, pushing against a vat of peanut butter. Not the visualization I’m looking for, as I seek speed, which is most easily found at a high cadence. But I am living second to second here, so I clench each thigh in turn and drive it down, turning each languid muscle into a taught shaft. Thigh drives down to the knee which straightens the calf which pushes down through the ankle to the foot which forces pedal down to turn the crank around the axis of the bottom bracket. One hundred times a minute eventually, but yes, first slowly.
The last time I tried this, a city bus was lumbering down Flannery Drive, half way through the segment, getting rolling from a drop off at the corner of Ramsgate Private. Since I was already going flat out it was relatively easy to come round it. But it seemed my mere presence was enough to set the driver into an existential panic at the thought of losing the race to the roundabout to someone on a bike. And the massive thing’s immediate presence overtaking me to my left made me ease off dozens of metres before the finish so as to not end up under its bumper.
This time all is clear.
There are fissures in the asphalt wrought by the weight of cars and busses. There are divots, products of freeze-thaw cycles where water works its way into cracks in the tar and forces the rocks apart. There are utility covers, some seated flush with the pavement, some less so. All of these promise to increase the friction combatting my tires should my line stray across them. But there are no buses. No cars.
And so I continue. I’m leaning over my handle bars. A bit too much. I push my hips back to where I imagine them just above the nose of my saddle in order to enlist a bit more gravity to push the pedals down. I feel a bit less stable like this but it brings the watts readout on my head unit up a bit so is therefore good.
After a few seconds I realize I am exhausting myself faster by doing this. My legs are spinning now. I feel I am starting to wobble front to back a bit. Pros can dance on the pedals. If I am dancing it’s most likely reminiscent of the chicken dance or the macarena. I sit down and gear up. It’s a reckless move.
As moves go, it’s not much. I tap the toggle on the side of my right brake lever. The motor will take care of the rest. But whether the chain behaves itself is an open question. It does best when it’s seated solidly on the front and rear cogs of the bike’s drive train as it gets gently pulled ever forward. Nudge it sideways to a smaller cog while you’re pushing hard and it might go somewhere unhelpful.
But just now it makes the shift. And once again I feel weight pushing back against my feet on the downstroke. I spin furiously. My shoulders have made their way up toward my ears. My ears are filled with the sound of air rushing in and out of my lungs.
If there is a car imminently in the roundabout I will tilt right and make for the gutter. If it’s clear I will head out and coast around to take the exit that gets me home. I’ve worked this out. So long as the driver doesn’t do something stupid in panic at the sight of a cyclist coming at them at full clip, I should be fine.
I thought about this earlier because I knew toward the end of the segment I would be all about trying to squeeze the last few watts out of my quadriceps. Thinking and improvisational skills are in short supply about now.
The roundabout is clear and my last few revs are as energetic as I can muster. I am not exactly sure where the segment ends — and the GPS/Glonass system is always a little bit unsure of where I am, though usually not more than a few metres — but when I am in the roundabout, freewheeling and tilting slightly to make the turn, I know I am done.
But how I did? That will have to wait until I am home and my head unit transfers its data into the cloud.