Road Mode

In road mode, I am constantly checking my shoulder to make sure my companion(s) are on my wheel and in good order. Simultaneously, I am scanning our path for manhole covers, potholes, stray branches, gravel, glass, and whatever our automotive tormenters have flung from their windows recently. Each of these things I point out with a casual hand dropped to one side or the other, an index finger partially extended. A parked car gets a hip bump. A pedestrian gets a sweeping hand motion. An imminent stop is indicated by a flat palm held directly behind my back. If we need to slow, I pat the air.

This is BSL, bike sign language, road mode.

On a road bike, the most desirable route is smoothly paved, free of detritus, uniform in its perfection. Neither cars, nor pedestrians, nor errant squirrels intrude. You and your fellow passengers are free to focus on the pumping of quadriceps, the alignment of wheel upon wheel, the spacing tight but never overlapping. To achieve anything like a coherent group ride on the road is a hell of a lot of work and requires a surfeit of concentration.

Check out Shimano’s Path Less Paved.

When you’re on the front, you are the group’s parental figure, chiding and guiding, making sure the train of toddlers behind you doesn’t fall-down-go-boom. When I’m alone, sometimes I even talk to myself.

Say the road is unpaved though. And say the tires exceed 28mm in their width. All of that nonsense I just wrote goes directly and unceremoniously out the window.

On a pair of 40mm tires you’re on your own. You will perhaps be made aware of divots, ruts and/or potholes by the screaming of one of your fellow cyclists and their post haste ejection from the saddle that cradled their buttocks only nanoseconds earlier. The need to swerve and/or bunny hop may arise suddenly. Those who hit the ground may be laughed at, assuming they don’t need med-evac.

In winter, once the flakes have flown, even the road assumes this Mad Max ethos. We are Beyond Thunderdome. Tires have to get wide in a hurry, and studded if possible. Ice patches and snow heaps cannot all be pointed out. In fact, hands should remain on bars at all times. The pilot has not extinguished the seatbelt sign.

Road mode is now a mental construct. You are still processing the same information. You are still calling it all out, if only in your own mind, for your own benefit. If you like your riding friends enough, maybe you’re verbalizing still, although, as I said, there is too much to say. You might start to sound like an auctioneer with a particularly fine cow or sheep on the block. Any anyway, shut up. We’re all trying to concentrate.

We’re all in our own road modes now.

Because, road mode is really only a way of noticing, a way of caring, and a way of navigating. Even off road and/or out of season, once you’ve dropped the pretense of semaphore that lets your companions adjust themselves to the terrain in front of you, you’re still in it. You all are. There’s a temptation to feel guilty if you’re on the front, that you’re no longer charting the safest course for your group, but in reality, they’ve all got this monologue going. Car pulling out on the right. Path narrowing between trees. Tight turn on the left. Once you’ve learned it, you can never forget.

For Xmas, why not buy us a TCI subscription for yourself. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Join the conversation
  1. alanm9 says

    A recurring fantasy is that I’m leading a peloton of roadies on our morning commute, no shoulders or bike lanes, keeping up a constant stream of warnings and cues in the cold and dark. Nothing like that has happened in 30+ years of course, and never will, but I’ll keep the dream alive.

  2. VéloKröte says

    Doing a CanBike instructor course single file up a hill near a millpond stream in Cobourg Ontario the lead yells “FISH!” and points to a dead huge Salmon on the road. A first for everyone, including the nonplussed instructor!

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