With all outdoor events canceled due to the COVID19 pandemic, I thought 2020 was going to suck. My original goal for this season was to accomplish two important things: my first full imperial century ride, and “Cycle for the Cause 2020” — 275-mile charity ride from Boston to NYC in September.
All events I planned to participate in got canceled or switched to virtual. If I hear the word “virtual,” one more time, I am going to lose my shit. Virtual, to me, means fake.
Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. I wasn’t going to give up Gran Fondo-style riding outdoors, so I adapted. I found terrific local routes, bonded with local friends, and explored the area where I live. I learned a lot about myself and my neighborhood in the process.
I am so happy with the way the 2020 summer cycling season has turned out. I now question the need for organized cycling events.
Here is how my COVID cycling season went.
The best time for outdoor riding, in terms of safety, was by far late March through late May. Many businesses were closed, as were parks and playgrounds. The weather was too cold and unpredictable for families to do things outside, but not too warm to require a lot of water during long bike rides.
Small cafes along the routes were closed until mid-June, so I found a way to carry a sandwich and extra supplies with me. I purchased a Velo Orange “Day Tripper” saddlebag. It expands to almost double the capacity and can be used to store a sandwich or two. I don’t always carry that bag on the bike — only for extended solo rides.
I found a way to carry multiple water bottles, with two pouches on the handlebars.
From mid-March through about mid-June, I rode outside on my own. As the weather improved, local friends started joining me.
Group riding: self-guided vs. organized events
I must admit that last summer (2019), I burnt myself out with organized Gran Fondo-style events. In retrospect, I approached them from the wrong viewpoint.
In terms of support and exploration, the events didn’t disappoint for the most part. Flèche Buffon is poorly organized, in my opinion, with only one rest stop. Farm to Fork rides are amazing for food and scenery. New Jersey Gran Fondo is great to cap off the season with some milestones.
There is a reason ” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was written. There is not much to talk about or much of an opportunity to talk while cycling.
What I thought would be great opportunities to get to know online friends, turned out to be disappointments — we would all meet at the beginning, take a group photo and then everyone would go on their way eventually splitting up. Though throughout the event, I found myself riding with a general group of otherwise random people who had a similar skill set to myself, I did not get a chance to socialize or get to know the group I imagined myself a part of to begin with.
The trick with cycling clubs, as I learned, is to find your people: fellow cyclists who have the same interests, similar skills, and similar goals. In the end, social cliques tend to sort themselves out. I found local Peloton Road Rider friends in my town and have been riding with them socially almost every weekend since late June.
The best starting point is the one you can get to easily
I mostly stayed focused on routes that either start at my house or at a park within no more than a 40-minute drive. Local roads got boring after a while, so I started driving to a park about 30 mins away to skip them.
For bad weather or just plain old boredom with local roads, I got myself a Wahoo Kickr direct drive trainer and a Zwift subscription. It allows me to get my miles in, no matter what the weather or the mood is.
By contrast, the closest organized ride in 2019 was at least an hour away from me. Organized events cost a lot more than riding locally, require planning, and the weather can be hit or miss.
Virtual option for charity rides is not that bad
I hate the word “virtual,” as it means “fake” to me. Accepting it for what it is, I feel I don’t mind it. There is always Zwift for competitive events.
It’s not like the roads are not there or bicycling as a sport has been banned. Cycle for the Cause organized a virtual “275 Challenge,” which I must admit was well orchestrated. I hope they keep the virtual option for next year as well.
Some final thoughts
2020 was not a total disappointment. I racked up a ton of cycling miles, certainly more than in the years prior. I discovered hundreds of local roads and bonded with local friends. I am not making any plans for 2021, but one thing I’ll know for sure — I will be even more selective about which organized rides I get involved in.