The Semi-Serious Cyclist takes breaks during a ride.
To eat, to drink, to pee, to take photos, to check blood sugar, to investigate road treasure, to watch nerds fly model airplanes, to check out local finery, to look around. Or, simply, to rest for a few minutes. Taking a break mid-ride is not necessarily a sign of middle-age fatigue or general out-of-shapeness (though who cares if it is?); rather, it is evidence of the SSC’s commitment to civility, natural curiosity, and the long leisure tradition of cycling.
I know that it would never occur to an Über-Serious Roadie to stop for a rest in the middle of a 4-hour ride. Rest is what you do when you’re done, snorts the USR. But what’s the point of that, I reply? The middle of the ride is precisely when you need the break. An intermission is a time-honored ritual of many sporting activities, and for good reason. The thrill of exertion is best appreciated with periodic, carefully timed chosen interruptions. The downtime only enhances the up.
How many breaks and how long, you ask? That depends, of course, on your brand of semi-seriousness. When I do my usual 2-3-hour ride with my cycling pals, we generally take one long break and a few shorts ones, as required by bodily functions, photo opportunities, and cosmic interventions. If I’m on a long ride of over 100 km, I like to take a longish break every 30-40 km. But the guidelines change with riding partners. A few weeks back, I went for a ride with my 11-year-old son, and we stopped every 15 minutes, it seemed; at first, I balked at this stoppy-start pace, but I quickly got used to it.
|Elizabeth Robins Pennell and Joseph Pennell (background)
taking a break as Victorian USR's whizz by. 1886.
Of all the types of mid-ride breaks, there is one that is especially sacred to the SSC: the coffee break. Java stops are a crucial feature of the semi-serious cycling experience. In fact, this SSC has been known to spend a great deal of time planning routes so as to incorporate a coffee break at the appropriate point in a ride (ideally about half way).
Sipping a well-earned Americano at a café while shooting the breeze with your fellow sweaty riders (or, if you’re solo, reading the paper or scribbling in a journal) is one of my favorite parts of a ride. It feels, somehow, refined.
Plus only coffee can provide that unique caffeine buzz that offers the perfect mid-ride jolt. (Some may argue that a caffeinated gel-pack can do the trick just as well as coffee. But such measures are to be reserved for emergencies only, when the real thing is scarce.) I love the feeling of hopping back on my bike after a 15-minute coffee break—electricity in my blood and new life in my legs. (Of course, the coffee usually makes me need to take another break to pee about 30 minutes later, but that’s all good.)
The coffee break is critical for morning rides, especially. Afternoon and evening rides are another story. At these times, a break might just as well be necessitated by an intriguing sign for “Home-made Pie” or “Gopher Hole Museum,” a cryptic symbol on a country church or an inviting stretch of grass beside a graveyard.
In general, the SSC would rather look at the countryside than the speedometer. While the USR is locked in on that wheel ahead, the SSC is more likely scanning the horizon, keeping an eye open for establishments serving milkshakes and onion rings, wondering if that creature over there in that field is really a llama. In other words, remaining open to the opportunities of the road and being willing to explore them.
Even if it means stopping for a few minutes.