It’s rare that we get a day good nice enough to want to ride before the 15th of March, so you can imagine how rare it is to not only have a day nice enough I had to ride, let alone nice enough I’d even think about taking the Venge out. That’s exactly what we had yesterday, though. It was 50 (10 C) when the train rolled out at 1 in the afternoon from our meeting place in Lennon. My wife, weary of a slugfest at the afternoon ride, rode with my buddy, Mike – who was also worried about an afternoon slugfest. I can understand why they rode separately, but they rode at 9am when it was still below freezing… there’s no way I was missing out on that 20 degree increase in temp (10 C).
I had a choice to make, though. My Trek 5200 was already prepped and ready to go. It was the right bike for the day… but 50 degrees and rising to 56? And a 1% chance of rain? I went back and forth in my head for two hours. Now, for those who don’t remember the sordid details, I’d just had my Venge operated on at the very tail end of last season; the crankset had to be drilled and tapped and a new connecting bolt installed because the bottom bracket bearings finally gave up. I wanted to see how the bike behaved now that it was fixed. I wanted to put it through the paces of a real ride (I’d gotten the bike back on the very last day of the year that was still reasonable for a short test ride to make sure the crank was quiet).
I probably should have taken the Trek. But I didn’t. As the morning clouds broke and gave way to brilliant sunshine and the temperature went from “cold, but creeping up” to damn-near t-shirt weather, I couldn’t resist.
A group of maybe 14 or 15 of us showed up (Chucker, Jonathan, Pickett, me… Big Joe, Ukulele Dave, Phill, Brad, Mike K, Jim, Sam, Jay, a new lady whose name I didn’t know and another lady who showed up just a few times… I think that was everybody). We rolled out together but quickly split into groups. Pickett, Chucker, Jonathan and I formed the tip of the spear and Mike and Jay held on for several miles. Mike was on a wide-tire gravel bike converted from a mountain bike so there’s no way he was holding on with our group. Jay struggled in the wind but stayed with us for 9 or 10 miles before giving up and taking a shortcut home.
I was feeling quite spectacular, especially with a bunch of tailwind to start. The Venge was amazing. The new bottom bracket bearings were perfect and the S-Works crankset was flawless. The new chain, cassette and chainrings, rear derailleur and stainless steel shifter cables in new housings had the bike shifting like it was brand new – better, even. Still, it took a few miles to get over that wobbly, “first ride off the trainer” feeling. Once through that, it was a party. For about… erm… 18 to 20 miles.
Getting into the hills, things started getting a little rough. We’d started out with the group around a 17-mph average but had crept that up to almost 19 as we got into the hilly section of the ride. We had a bit of a crossing headwind off the right shoulder so the turns up front got a lot shorter. Climbing hills that we normally hit between 19 & 23-mph were hard at 17 – and this had nothing to do with a headwind, all legs. I’d hit that magical “way too early in the season” spot where your legs start to rubberize. I pushed through it, though, and crested the last hill the four of us intact.
Next, we had a fantastic several mile long stretch of tailwind and we made the most of it. Coming over the crest of a small hill, we hit the 3/4-mile slight downhill hard, topping 31-mph and raising our average to well over 19-mph. Even though I was short on breath, all I could think as we shot down the road was, “this is why I ride, right here”. There with three friends, rotating up front like we’d barely missed a beat… it just makes me feel good about being me.
After the last of the tailwind came a fairly brutal five-ish mile stretch into a crossing headwind. It was brutal, only because my energy level was dropping pretty quickly. I’d go from okay to red zone at the front just trying to get over a little molehill. I dropped off the back momentarily with just a couple of miles left but the guys waited a few seconds for me. I caught my breath, caught up, and we pushed for home.
We pulled into the parking lot with a solid 19.2-mph average – excellent for a first ride of the season, and outstanding considering the 10 to 16-mph wind for only the four of us. Turned out, I wasn’t the only one feeling the pain on that ride. Jonathan was right there in the pain cave with me.
We all met up in the parking lot afterward and it was hi-fives and smiles. It was so good to see everyone again – to have something to feel good about, and to be outside after a long winter indoors. It was a great Venge Day for 2022.