The coming of autumn means many things: kids go back to school, adults who still go to school go back to school also, the cyclocross dorks start futzing with their tire pressure in earnest...
More significant than any of these though is that as autumn approaches the Cat 6 racing season begins its crescendo. See, once the weather becomes uncomfortably cold (and for the typical Cat 6 that's anything below like 60 degrees American) many of these riders hang up their out-of-true wheels for the winter. This means the months of September and October represent their last chance at Cat 6 glory. Once you factor in weekends, Jewish holidays, etc., the race days are scarce, so you can believe me when I tell you they're out there doing their very best to stuff their ill-fitting Chrome bags full of "wins" before scarf weather is upon us.
I of course am no exception, and yesterday I commuted by bike to Brooklyn and back, which from my abode in the far reaches of the northern Bronx is the Cat 6 equivalent of a brevet. Leaving my home, I knew the racing action was going to be intense, but I didn't appreciate just how intense until I reached the midtown stretch of the Hudson River Greenway.
The light turns red. I stop. With the light in their favor, waves of tourists begin crossing the Greenway and filling the crosswalk in order to board one of those stupid Circle Line sightseeing boats. Now, the tourists have the right of way, but this means nothing to a pair of oncoming Uber-Freds locked in mortal combat. The first Fred is wearing full Team Sky kit. Of course, the only thing worse than wearing full pro team kit is wearing full team kit but riding a bike from a company that doesn't sponsor that team, and naturally this rider is flagrantly guilty of this violation. (He's riding a plastic BMC or something like that.)
On this Fred's wheel is an even Fredlier specimen (if that's even possible) wearing a pair of LiveStrong Oakleys and a RAGBRAI jersey, which was so breathtakingly Fredly I didn't even have the wherewithal to take in the rest of his wardrobe or equipment.
Anyway, the crosswalk is really filling up with tourists now--tourists who (and I can't stress this enough) fully and unambiguously have the right of way. With morbid curiosity I watch, wondering just how the Freds are going to handle the situation. Is Sky Fred going to lock up the brakes on his BMC and get rear-ended by RAGBRAI Fred? Will those black-and-yellow optics then fly off his face and describe an arc through the azure late summer sky against the noble and inspiring background of the USS Intrepid? Would the air then be full of the sweet, crunchy music of breaking crabon?
Sadly, no. Instead, the Freds just keep right on going through the light and the crosswalk without so much as slowing down, like the pair of complete douchenozzles they were.
But these Frediotic exploits were merely a prelude to my return trip, where I received the Cat 6-ing of a lifetime from a true master of the discipline.
In the sport of New York City commuter racing, the East River crossings represent the hors catégorie
climbs, and the approach to the Manhattan Bridge from the Brooklyn side is arguably the most technical and thus rewards the rider with some off-road skills. See, there's the sweeping paved path that runs along the graffitoed wall, but there's also a dirt shortcut that runs straight up the grassy embankment:
You can see it more clearly in this aerial view:
As I made my approach to the bridge I knew this was the moment that would make or break my entire commute. Sure, I could have saved precious seconds by scampering up the dirt path, but instead I stuck to the roadway:
This was because I was not riding a proper gravel bike, nor had I optimized my tire pressure for dirt, and a crash at this crucial juncture would put paid to my chances once and for all.
However, Cat 6 racing is not a discipline that rewards the meek, and the rider ahead of me--on a Citi Bike no less--had no such concerns. Instead, he attacked the dirt shortcut harder than Chris Froome hits an asthma inhaler
I thought for sure that there was no way he'd get that 50-pound corporate-branded beast up the hill, but to my utter surprise he appeared at the top just as I rounded the bend, thus setting off a Cat 6 explosion of atomic proportions:
Getting Cat 6--ed is a lot like sharing a subway car with a pervert: at first you try to convince yourself it's not happening, but sooner or later it becomes undeniable and you're forced to confront the horrible truth of what's happening. On the subway this happens when the genitals make their first appearance, and on the bridge it happens when you realize the unmistakable sound of the Citi Bike drivetrain right on your wheel is simply not going away:
Note he's also got a rider right behind him, which means you're now looking at the podium, but which step each rider would occupy is anybody's guess at this point:
Now I should point out that, hyperbolized prose notwithstanding, my participation in this "race" was completely involuntary. Furthermore, I wasn't exactly putting in a great deal of effort. Nevertheless, as annoyed as I was I couldn't help being impressed that this guy was managing to stay on my wheel, and after some consideration I decided it had to be the flip-flops:
See, it was pretty hot out, and he was running cool, whereas my middle-aged guy sneakers were no doubt causing me to overheat slightly:
Whatever it was, by the time we reached the "summit" I'd grown annoyed enough at his close proximity to my rear fender that I was seriously considering breaking the unwritten Cat 6 rule by saying something to him, but cunningly it was at that moment he attacked and gapped me like a spark plug:
Then, using the considerable gravitational advantage of his Citi Bike, he disappeared completely leaving me to wallow in my shame--which I did until I reached the Manhattan side, and abandoned my shame in order to contemplate this:
I don't know what he was about to do on that thing, but it was clear I was leaving the bridge just in time, and I was relieved to finally reach the northern precincts of the city where life makes a little more sense:
Speaking of bridges, the Williamsburg Bridge is even more...vibrant than the Manhattan, and I received an email this morning from a reader named Aaron who spotted a rider there with a selfie stick taped to his helmet:
(Photos by Aaron, I'm assuming it's OK to use them.)
I don't know what he's doing:
But I sincerely hope whatever it is gets uploaded to YouTube very soon.