Friday, March 26, 2010

Ronde de Rosey: Stop Calling Me "Serious"

My Most Enjoyable Ride of Late

Preamble: I’m NOT a “Serious” Cyclist

Sorry this took so long to post. Crazy week.

By now, many of you have heard about this thing the Ronde de Rosey. Before I describe my experience I have to state how much I have come to hate being called a “serious” cyclist. Too often I go to things called “fun” rides and everybody is pissed off or suffering or miserable or broken down. And if you offer somebody advice they sneer and say, “Look, I’m not really a serious cyclist like you.”

Funny, I didn't think I was all that serious.

Folks need not confuse being competent with being serious. If anything, this competence makes us more joyful. I think of this when I watched the film Man On Wire, about Philip Petit, who walked the tight rope between the World Trade Center towers. He simply had a ball doing what looked so hard.

But he did it with joy!

This competence proved most joyful at this ride.

If you will endure my report and get to the end, you’ll see a link to Natasha McKittrick’s photos of this event. They’re real good. Some others are on my Facebook page or you can read the blogs of others on my page. Chip Baker (who has helped me with my blog, thank you) writes a great account and Rosey has some equally entertaining materials.

The one thing that stands out about the pictures is that everybody is smiling!Even guys fixing flats are having fun!

The Ronde de Rosey
OK I’ll start with a confession. On the day I was born Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. In short, this means I’m eligible to race the 50-plus category this season. And given the outcome of my riding on Sunday in the Ronde de Rosey, a five-hour, 65-mile cyclo-cross epic in the burbs and bogs of Boston’s “MetroWest” region, I may just pull a license to race.

This whole episode has given cause for hyperbole. I believed this to be one of the greatest 10 rides of my life. Mind you I’ve been riding a lot for more than 30 years.

I believe I am allowed some degree of hyperbole due to my age. Men hit this age and suddenly every experience – athletic, professional, personal, and emotional – receives extra importance as it may be their last great whatever. You fill in the blank. It’s why tough men hit 50 and weep uncontrollably at elementary school plays.

On March 21 I did the inaugural Ronde de Rosey. This was a 65-mile outlaw race organized by a guy named Scott Rosenthal and I must say it proved to be the most fantastic ride I've done in a long while. I can say his name because nobody got hurt or lost, well, all that badly.

This thing would be a cyclo-cross tour. Teams of 3-7 riders were sent off in waves every five minutes, loosely handicapped so the fastest guys went last. Each squadron was given a cue sheet and forced to take a no-whining pledge. In short, you charged down the road and every 5-10 miles you were routed into assorted trails, boardwalks, conservation lands, aqueducts, etc. You had to figure shit out. Check out the photos and you’ll see all sorts of problems being repaired on the fly. Again, this event was NOT for beginners.

Here’s another confession. I really just talk the talk; most of these guys on the ride know me only as an announcer. Few have ever seen me ride, let alone compete. And five hours on a borrowed ‘cross bike would not be easy. To worsen things, I stood for three hours the night before at the Equinox Fund Raiser and had too much to drink. My legs felt like concrete at the start and I predicted bad things at the end of this ride.

As the first few waves rolled off, I only had a single goal. Catch the guy riding the thing on a single speed and wearing suspenders.

I'm an off-road sissy, but this thing proved nothing short of FANTASTIC. We were calf-deep in water several times. There were extended stretches of flooded, muddy abandoned rail beds. This event proved a testament of gratitude for all the hard work done by Conservation Commissions, railroad engineers, public works crews, groundskeepers, and Scout troops who built boardwalks and cleared and marked trails.

We would ride as a unit on the road, mashing about on ‘cross tires on the road and then – where the legions of motorists saw nothing but the cyclist saw something else – dive between two glacial boulders that mark a trail head and dissolve into a wooded trail network.

Island Hopping

The first few trails were patches of woods before we turned in Newton into Cutler Park. We had to sign in. “Go out, do a lap of the island, and come back the way you came” said the marshal.

“Island?” In fourth grade I learned that meant surrounded by water. Sure enough we came to a long boardwalk submerged by recent rains. We roared around the island and when we returned, Team Hupcake Express had passed every team; this included the guy with suspenders. But as we left we saw the real fast guys entering the park, guys like Cort Cramer, Peter Sullivan, Peter Bradshaw, and Pete Smith, all elite level ‘crossers.

We had to get on it hard. The collection of trails were secret ribbons – sometimes right up against Interstate highways – that few people glazed over in automobiles realize even exist.

I just lit up with joy surfing on the Weston rail bed – an abandoned line that those folks refuse to convert into a bike path for fear of some scruffy element coming in to town – and dashed through the final 200 yards in a foot of water. Rosey met us there and confirmed our fear; we were the leaders.

As a promoter the beauty of this event is that we made zero traffic impact on anybody. No motorists ever realized a cycling event unraveled in their neighborhoods and on their roads.

The highlight of the day would be the group of us splattering onto the pavement, dripping wet from the knees down, speckled with mud, and overtaking a road poser – this is written by a true roadie, mind you – as we entered Concord. Having been overtaken by six mud-splattered crossers with 50 psi in the tires, this ninny chose to attack us on a downhill. Only Chip Baker’s calm demeanor kept my sword in the scabbard.

Riding with the “Hupcake Express” as a guest, I assumed I would be a deterrent to their progress. But as it turned out, each of the five starters brought a unique skill set to this potluck of pain. Ronnie, a former BMX racer, set the trails; Chipster would be the navigator; Mark, a former hockey player, could pound on the roads; Eli would be the ‘roleur” or all-arounder who glued the thing together. We stole Rich from a hapless group of guys on road bikes to serve as our own Mark Trail of singletrack sections. And I would kick in and drive the pace inside of Route 128 in the urban environment. This would be like the Oceans Eleven, the MI Force, of cycling on this event.

Our squad only had to overcome a single puncture in Wellesley College. And the Chipster went over the front once in Cutler Park. (I’ve never seen a guy smile while he’s crashing.) But the he-man of the day would be Eli. In the fourth hour of riding, and clearly a bit bonked, he took a digger off a board walk. What would have been a simple dab on a trail would be a five foot drop into slop. He bounced up, announced the entire episode had been planned for my in-flight entertainment, and re-mounted.

Only afterwards did this he-man confess that two weeks earlier he had separated the same shoulder on which he just augured into the dirt. And on Tuesday I learned doctors had him in a sling.

A Test and a Triumph

In the fourth hour Colin Reuter and company caught us. But he admitted to dumping half his team, some navigational discrepancies, and then announced in Lexington Center that he had to stop for food.

When he pulled off, we drilled it.

Pounding down Massachusetts Avenue, all of us spattered in mud, we ground into an unusual headwind, drawing some unique stairs from the preppies and hippies. Guys on bikes would roll up to us at stop lights, look up and down, and just have to ask: “Where the hell have guys been?”

With this route as my daily commute, I took the flag for the regiment and brought the guys right through all the Harvard Square traffic, occasionally dropping back to check on Eli, and over the river into Boston.

Triumphant, we spun up to the host tavern, The Washington Square Tavern, to discover nobody else ahead of us.

Beers and tall tales followed. Just check out the pics here:

I would like to propose we consider doing a similar ride on Monday, Oct. 11, Columbus Day, after our cross event in Roger Williams Park event, starting and ending in the park. I may ask for a good entry fee with proceeds going to the Bikes Belong Foundation, totally earmarked for a grant to support the East Coast Greenway Alliance’s work in New England.

We can do the whole thing in Rhode Island.

Comments sought.


  1. Why do I feel like I'm back on my 'cross bike racing cross announced by Richard Fries and I just been given a shout out?

    thank you Richard - great report!


  2. By all reports, a stellar day. The idea of a similar event after PVD cross definitely gets my attention. Thanks for writing!

  3. if only my employer would include columbus day as a holiday, i'd be in for sure!

    thanks for coming to the Rhonde. I still think your sprint through the deep water on the railroad bed was the best action of the day. a close second was Sara BZ's endo into the same deep water.

  4. But Richard, you ARE serious about your cycling, and don't call me Shirley. :-)

  5. We call Jim Heany at Wheelworks a serious cyclist because when ever you see him riding a bicycle, you know its serious!

  6. I so wish I still lived there for that reason.