Zen and The Art of Motorpacing

I had the pleasure of being asked to motorpace a young, rising cycling professional this morning. We met on the street near the Scholars Inn Bakehouse as I was leaving last night and we struck up a conversation about his visit here, how long he was staying, mostly small talk.  But I could tell that he was eager to talk about performance as well, the same way you might imagine the thoughts of a caged leopard, pacing back and forth, all the time staring at you.  You would like this guy, courteous, unassuming and  humble even, despite recent success at the national level.  He knew that I had to take the morning off from work and adjust my schedule to get the motorcycle ready so he was incredibly grateful.  Even though I excitedly jumped at the chance to do it.

Motorpacing behind a motorcycle is, in equal measure art, science and black magic. Gears, oil, gas and throttle.  The driver and the rider develop a relationship that somehow weaves them into the same cloth at incredibly high speeds. Much like a shuttle passing through the yaw of a loom.  Good cyclists know that the benefits of  training behind the motor are immeasurable.  When done well, the rider is able to re-create specific performance variables that would have been happenstance or at least, serendipitous even in a peloton.  When I was younger, I did a lot of work behind the motor.  Training days were easy jaunts compared to the focus required to sit behind a speeding motorcycle on shared roadways.  You trust the driver, literally, with your life.  That’s a big responsibility.

It had rained last night and this morning and the roads were damp, so this morning I added a sheet of soft plastic to the touch-bar rack to keep rooster tails and debris from getting to the rider.   I plotted a well known course, about 32 miles out and back that would take us out Bethel Lane to Route 45 then Tunnel to 45 again out to Helmsburg; roads every cyclist in Bloomington is familiar with.

Today’s workout, always determined by the rider, was to keep me and the motor at a constant speed, save for the rolling hills, just above race tempo- in the 28-32mph range.  On the rolling climbs I would smoothly let the motor drag just a bit in a big gear to scrub some speed without shifting or using the brakes. The rider used me as a launching pad to construct several well timed and sustained bursts around the motor at 32-35 mph before settling back in the vacuum behind the touch-bar as I came by.  For most of us, accelerating from 23mph to 28mph is red lining.  In the pro peloton, frequent step-ups from 28mph to 30+ are right in their wheelhouses.  Getting comfortable with this sort of output helps to make the well deep as it simulates the speeds attained at the pro level- albeit without the tifosi.

As I rushed back to the office today I thought of how lucky we are in Bloomington to have unfettered access to, and the ability to nurture some of the best cyclists in the country, and no doubt, one day, the world.  That is also a big responsibility.


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