The wind at your back

I decided today was Take Your Bike To Work Day and got a lesson in momentum.

When I watch professional cycling, I am awed by how powerfully they ride their bicycles, especially in the final few miles of a race when. The pace accelerates. The riders stretch out into a long, skinny line. They seem to fly, barely anchored to the Earth by their skinny tires, slipping through the air, power oozing from their legs, pushing faster and faster to the finish.

As an amateur and a working professional, I am not delusional enough to think I could ride like a professional. I've stood on a bike-race sideline as the pros screamed by. I've officiated races on my motorcycle where I've had to rip out all the power my 1300 cc Yamaha could give me to stay ahead of the pros as they fought each other to be first through a decisive corner. I've witnessed pro-cyclist power up close and it's an experience beyond my own abilities. Except for very rare occasions when I am on a ride and feeling good and strong and get a glimpse.

Today was one of those occasions.

I brought my bike to work today and a gap in my schedule allowed me to take off for ninety minutes at noon. A solo lunch ride. From our office in Goodyear, there is a bumpy route that heads south for five miles then loops through a neighborhood.

The cycling gods immediately demanded I pay penance for my recent lack of commitment to cycling by boiling up a nasty headwind. It was a hard start but I persevered; my legs felt good. Still nothing like a pro experience, but manageable. I was but a humble servant of the cycling gods pedaling my route, getting in my miles.

Ten or so miles in, the route loops around a man-made lake then heads back north. As soon as I made that turn for home, the gods paid me back for my loyalty. The wind I'd fought for 40 minutes was now squarely at my back. The gradient was also tilted in my favor; one or two degrees downhill.

The result of these elements aligning was that I flew on my bicycle. My legs spun furiously. I was able to sit in my biggest gear, giving the bike all the power it needed to speed along close to thirty miles per hour. For a long, beautiful stretch, I felt like a pro heading for home, all power and push and speed. All hail the mighty tailwind!

A mile or so from the office (and the end of the ride) I slowed down and contemplated the incredible natural benefit of a tailwind. Were tailwinds just pure luck? Could I take credit for the speed at which I rode that back half of my ride? Did I ride that fast? Or does Mother Nature get the credit (and I an asterisk)? Could I truly be happy it gave me its advantage?

I had just about downplayed my role in the awesomeness of my ride when something clicked; this tailwind gave me the experience of a pro ride because I was ready to take advantage of it. It didn't just blow me home. I had to pedal. My heart had to pump. My lungs, my muscles, my blood, all had to do its work. That 30 miles-per-hour ride wasn't all me, but it wasn't all tailwind either.

In a way, it was a deserving push; a benefit I had to be prepared to take advantage of. I have been riding. I have been eating better. I have planned to take on new cycling challenges and working to prepare myself to be ready by summer. I soared today, not because of the tailwind, but because I and the tailwind came together and the perfect moment in time.

It was a reminder that tailwinds will come, but you can only ride them to the greatest experience on a bike if you're fit and ready to fly when they give you a boost.

What about you? Where are the tailwinds you could encounter in your life? And will you be ready to take advantage of them?

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