Riding a bike in Pittsburgh is like drinking heavily.
More on that in a minute.
As I casually train for the Dirty Dozen race this fall, I have been trying to put a minimum of 1800 feet of climbing in every ride. That’s easier said than done. Even on a shallow climb I am banging as big a gear as I can manage. The utmost pain, the utmost gain.
The DD is the annual victory lap of the road-racing season in the ‘Burgh. It is a baker’s dozen of the steepest climbs in the area connected by a 50-mile loop through the Steel City.
My ride the other day was confined to North Park and all its shortcomings. You CAN climb like crazy if you know where to look there though. Walter Road on the big ring is fun. Babcock, Kummer Road and North Ridge can be great for a puncheur like myself. Any port in a storm.
The real training requires hitting the actual roads in the race. Some of which stretch more than a mile in length and reach over 30% in grade. On a dry day you can loose all moisture in your throat from breathing so heavily while dragging your butt up a road like Sycamore on Mount Washington. You don’t just wear the mask of pain, you have purchased the entire Halloween costume.
Which brings me to my weird analogy. How is riding a bike in Pittsburgh like being a heavy drinker. Both involve a sick addiction but it’s all about tolerance. How much pain you can endure is the key. Good fitness helps. Strong legs are a must. But, you must build up a tolerance. The mental capacity to tolerate pain must be developed slowly over hours and miles of up, up, up. You develop mind games to keep yourself focused. It is a whole different ball game. I love it.
I am not built like a climber either. A puncheur is a French cycling term for someone who likes punchy, short and steep climbs. That’s me. I am in no position to ever win the Dirty Dozen. That dude is about 5’7” and 130lbs. I am built more like a linebacker than a cyclist. More like a track cyclist. But, turning left and riding flat does not sound fun to me.
Once you are hooked on hills, you can’t just have one, either.
But, unlike drinking too much…climbing is good for you.