The Best Worst Ride Ever - Opinion

Mar 30, 2017
by Vernon Felton  
11:00 PM: I’m counting the cracks in the ceiling of my hotel room. I’m waiting to nod off. Waiting, waiting, waiting…

1:20 AM: Man, it’s hot in Taichung. Guess that makes sense. I saw a whole lotta jungle on the taxi drive over from the airport. Gotta be hot if you have jungle. And monkeys. Wonder if that means I’m above or below the equator. Probably above it. Right? Right. Maybe. But there were all those monkeys… that really seems like a south-of-the-equator deal. Ah, look, there’s a crack in the ceiling that I haven’t counted yet. Monkeys and jungles. Monkeys and jungles….

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3:39 AM: Lying here in a tangled, sweaty heap across the bed. Eyeballs feel like they are coated in sandpaper and crazy glue. But Sleep. Not. Coming. Ever.

4:00 AM…or maybe 4:10… I think that’s what my watch said the last time I checked it. Probably. Things getting fuzzy…

BeepBeepBeepBeepBeeeeeep.

6:00 AM: The alarm is going off. Shit. My gut feels like it’s loaded with thumbtacks and my head is swimming. Why the hell did I agree to a six-in-the-morning road ride? What good could come of this? None. Nonewhatsogoddamnever. That’s what.

Stumble out of bed, squeegee off the sweat and funk, grab a chamois and a sausage suit. Time to ride.

Wrecked in Taiwan
Photo courtesy of Ken Marshall

FLAT PEDALS AND SPANDEX
My riding partners are already in the hotel lobby. Everyone’s spandex’d up and wearing duck shoes. If there is a set of roadie Kosher laws, I’m pretty sure my Five Ten Impacts and flat pedals are probably breaking all of them. Rocking DH pedals and slinky Castelli bibs on the same ride? It’s like bringing pork belly tacos to a Bar Mitzvah.

I get eye rolls for neglecting to bring pedal washers, the end result being that my Specialized Boomslangs are snugged tight against the fancy carbon cranks. They won’t budge without tearing a new hole in the crankarms.

I borrow clipless pedals and kicks, stuff a diaper’s worth of toilet paper into the toe section of each utterly massive, Tour de France-yellow, clipless-compatible shoe and it’s off to the races.

One of the locals turns to us Taiwan neophytes, “The painted sections of road are super slick. A lot of the street grates will catch your tires. And the cars….they aren’t out there to hurt you, but this won’t be like riding anywhere else. You just have to be like a small fish in a big river—go with the flow or get eaten by it.”

Huh.

Wrecked in Taiwan
Is that a four-year old child driving a moped? Sure. Why not?

LITTLE FISH IN A STRANGE POND
At this time of the day, we share Taichung’s streets with some stray cats, street sweepers and a small army of factory workers on mopeds. A big guy in what appear to be welding overalls and a pink Hello Kitty helmet flashes us the peace sign at a traffic light before sputtering away on a moped that looks like it’s narrowly survived a nuclear holocaust. I try to reconcile it all, but we’re darting from light to light, left, right, left, right…. I’ve lost my bearings within seconds and resign myself to following our leader’s wheel.

It’s a weird feeling—not being in control. Not having any sense of where I am in a city I’ve never visited before. If I lost the group, how would I get back to the hotel? My Mandarin is largely limited to shitty English pantomime. I can’t even properly pronounce “Hello” correctly. From my mouth, it just sounds like I’m bellowing “Meow!” to everyone I meet. Children laugh. Adults shake their heads. I have a feeling that absorbing 20 miles worth of street-by-street directions in the local dialect will be about as easy as building a time machine out of toothpicks and Play-Doh.

But then the city starts to fade in dribs and drabs. Space opens up between the buildings. Trees spring up along the roadside. Five more minutes and we can see a mountain looming ahead. The road starts to climb and we leave town entirely.

Wrecked in Taiwan
Photo courtesy Tourism Bureau, MOTC

ICING ON THE CAKE
The temperature drops as we climb. The air is different here. Fragrant trees and flowers threaten to overrun the road from all sides. It smells like…I can’t even put a name to it—it alternates from amazingly sweet to, for brief intervals, something as funky and rancid as the back end of the monkey house at the San Francisco Zoo. It’s all…weirdly beautiful.

The road bucks to the sky in earnest now and I’m reminded of just how long it’s been since I’ve done any real fitness riding. I give a few gutsy sprints before common sense prevails and I hunker down on the taint-torture device that passes as a bike seat on a Tour de France-caliber road bike. We pass other riders. Everyone flashes one another the wordless international sign that says, in essence, “I'd love to say hello, but my lungs are in my mouth at the moment and I can’t manage breathing just now.”

After a couple thousand feet of climbing we crest the top. Jerseys get zipped up again. Brakes get a quick squeeze-check and then we’re plummeting back down to the city. We are time warping down the mountainside, faster than cars on these narrow country roads. We pass in and out of what look like small outposts from civilization—a liquor store here, a dog with mange there, the occasional work truck ahead.

We take a left onto a broad sweeping section of asphalt—clearly some kind of new infrastructure project that cost a bundle and which rolls as smooth as glass under our tires. The speeds are tremendous. Eyes are watering. Bodies stretched flat over the top tubes. Just how fast can you push a 700x23 tire in a corner like this? 35 miles per hour? 45? 50? It’s been a long while since I’ve been on a road ride, but I seem to recall that these things don’t handle a good drift all that well at these speeds.

Wrecked in Taiwan
Photo courtesy of Manginwu

And then we’re back in the city. It’s in full swing now. The streets are choked with mopeds and mini-vans and luxury sedans. We sprint from every light, trying to put a gap on all the sulfur-belching scooters. They come up behind and beside you at Mach Chicken. I bump elbows with moped fighter pilots once, twice… But there’s no hostility here. It’s just every fish for themselves. We go with the flow. It’s that or wind up beneath the wheels of something bigger than yourself.

We finally roll up to the hotel. Much high-fiving ensues.

It suddenly occurs to me that the best ride I’ve experienced all year just happened on a road bike. In Taiwan. Didn’t see that coming.

How is it that the rides you don’t want to go on somehow always turn out to be the best rides—the ones you never forget?

There’s a place down the street run by an Australian that serves biscuits and gravy with a mean side of fried chicken. Or there’s that dim sum joint everyone is talking about. Or, hell, we can just gorge on Taiwan beer and fifty-five varieties of delicious-yet-nameless-meats-on-a-stick from the street-vendor carts.

It’s 10 AM and after a ride like this, anything else that happens today is just icing on the proverbial cake.

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73 Comments

  • + 82
 "How is it that the rides you don’t want to go on somehow always turn out to be the best rides—the ones you never forget? " Lesson being, just go. Go and get up a 4am stumbling around for all your gear. Go and ride in the dark and the rain. Just go ride!
  • + 2
 Totally agree!
  • + 35
 Humans are afraid of getting out of their comfort zone. But when they do, they realize that this is what life is all about.
  • + 5
 Hence why you even ride when it's crappy out - cold, wet, whatever... You have some of the best rides in less than optimum conditions, plus a weird sense of pride that you're one of a very select bunch who are still out!
  • + 2
 in welding bibs and a pink hello kitty helmet
  • + 1
 I can take a 10 minute cold shower (+7C) pretty much every morning, take a 5 min cold bath in same temperature where my joints feel as if they were compressed at the bottom of Mariana trench. Shivering lasts for 30 minutes. I can drink milk with 100g of hemp protein, can easily fast for 24h, I've done my share of shitty rides in rain and horrendous mud, but when someone tells me to ride road at +2, in rain and cross wind, or to ride in the dark, I tell them to go fk themselves. I'd rather do some deadlifts and painful HIIT combos. There is an edge where trying to be the mr tough guy is just plain stupid and it is a mentality that ruins fun for many people, being a pure fuel for burn out. Because I know a roadie or two who compete in biggest tours and even they say f*ck it to the weather sometimes and hit the trainer.

That whiny little boy inside, that doesn't want to ride on a bad weather day is a child, if you talk to him, he may eventualyl understand, but if you slap him in the face and push him off the cliff against all odds, he'll be just waiting to stab you in your back. Weather will be perfect, trip will be fantastic, all the squad will be there, and that child you abused with shitty rides will tell you after 5 first minutes of the climb: no strong legs for you today daddy. You don't want to listen to your body boy, you wanted to force me? f*ck you. Have a hell of what was supposed to be the best day. How about a bit of knee inflammation before the road trip huh? Show me how tough you are.
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: You are right of course - there is a genuine limit and, when it comes to your body, you should always listen to it and consider fatigue/injury/etc. However, here in the UK weather conditions are rarely so severe/changeable that you can't dress appropriately and still have fun (for all our whinging it is relatively mild here in the UK - we don't terms to deal with masses of snow). That may be different where you are (Scandinavia somewhere from memory?)?We all know someone where as soon as it lightly rains they don't go out, when the reality is that they could quite easily get out AND maybe enjoy it when they do. Ignoring the crap reasons to dodge riding is probably a better way to phrase myself?

The other point you raise is if you are only going out for training purposes - you set yourself up for a potentially miserable ride if there's no fun element. I'm quite sure I'd struggle to get out of bed early to go for a road ride in bad weather because I would hate it, but I'd more than happily go for a mountain bike ride with friends. Oh, and night riding is awesome...

I think a large part of my 'ride whatever the weather' mentality comes partly from my family though - I have very few windows of opportunity to ride, so when I have that window I'm going to use it! The next person may just be able to leave it a few hours to see what the weather does, go the next day, or whatever. If I didn't need to go out in crap weather I might be less inclined to do so.
  • + 1
 @slimboyjim: I have small kids too and ride rarely, but I personally opt for gym or even home gym to make that ride count when it finally happens. Weatherwise, the west coast of Sweden where I live is pretty much getting all the sht that hasn't managed to fall on UK. Oh Jesus, one more month and I will be able to ride after kids fall asleep... 3 quality rides a week time comes soon Smile
  • + 22
 Vernon- To send jet-lag I highly recommend you to visit www.c-span.org next time you are having trouble falling asleep. Works every time.
  • + 20
 I recommend a couple gallons of anything alcoholic, but that really won't help the 6am ride.
  • + 5
 @bigtim: followed by a 5 knuckle shandy
  • + 15
 My best, worst ride was when I visited my friend who was working for Hi-torque publications, they publish BMX Plus! and Mountainbike Action magazines. I had just arrived in California with my little brother, whom was 15, from a very snow covered, not much riding for 3 months, cold, Wisconsin. It was mid March, I had zero base miles. My brother wanted to go ride, I was super tired, had about 3 hours of sleep. Just wanted to sit by the pool and sleep myself into a nice shade of lobster red. But no.. So we rode from Van Nuys to the office. I had the chance to meet Zap and asked where the trails were that I had seen in the magazine. He told me, "Take Sepulveda till you get to the end. Turn left and take that all the way to the end. Just past the bridge, there is a trail head." Seems easy enough. So that's what we did.

Rode for 20 minutes and turned left. We then climbed for what seemed like hours. On the way, we found a sub division that went straight up the mountain, so we rode to the top to take pictures and bomb down the street. We hit 50mph! As we hit the street that lead to the trails, still grinding away uphill, we past houses that had flowers as grass. 1,000's of flowers. There was no grass, just red, blue, purple or yellow flowers. It was so cool. Also, the wind was blowing so there was no smog. You could see every mountain and the entire valley.

As we kept climbing, we were slowly catching a jogger. As I got closer I noticed it was a woman. She had like 5 piercings in her ear. I thought to myself,"I think that might be... No. Couldn't be". As I was passing her I glanced over, I was like,"Hey, you're.." She said, "Yep".. I said,"Cool" and gave Ironman champion Paula Newby-Frasier a wave. Then geeked the hell out to my clueless brother for 5 minutes.

We finally found the magazine trails. We found the main trails and rode some of those. I found the thorns in a big way, 7 holes in the tube. 7 patches. (It's hanging in my garage) And at some point, I noticed my brother was spent. Like I actually felt bad for him. So we started heading back to Van Nuys. He couldn't turn the pedals anymore. Spent beyond spent. So the trip back down into the valley, I thought,"I think I can go fast enough to have my brother draft me". I told him to suck my wheel. He wasn't liking it so he was 3 feet away. I told him stay inches from my wheel. We went back and forth about getting closer, you know brotherly love stuff. "Damn it dude! Buzz my tire!" And then, the light hit him. He coasted for around 25 minutes at 20mph while I sat up and pedaled. He was blown away for some reason. That day, we rode 68 miles. From 9am till 9pm. I was spent. My legs were shot for 2 days. It was awesome. Still to this day, the best bike ride my brother has ever been on. It's mine as well.
  • + 4
 I am here to tell u it goes both ways ,get lost ,exhausted trying to find your way out ,I mean so exhausted you are taking breaks on endure singletrack I will remember those as the horrible rides I will remember forever but wouldn't replace for anything
  • + 9
 @oldschool43, such an awesome story. Thanks, man, for sharing it. I've had my fair share of death marches with my brothers--some of my best memories, hands down.
  • + 13
 So, to be clear, there IS a "set of roadie kosher laws":

www.velominati.com/the-rules

You broke Rule 34 by the looks of things!
  • + 10
 Of course there is a rule book. Go figure. Looks like I broke the rule following the rule about mandatory leg shaving. So predictable.
  • + 16
 @vernonfelton: You only have to obey that bollocks if you are insecure or a dick. I don't know about you but I don't ride bikes to have someone tell me what I can or can't wear, how to set up my bike so that it makes them aesthetically happy, how my facial or body hair should look or any one of the other ridiculous cliche "rules".

I understand that the list was written with tongue in cheek but a lot of people hold stock by it. Those people are idiots.
  • + 14
 @Patrick9-32: Oh, I've been ignoring whatever is cool for a good couple of decades now. I agree: there's no point in caring about what other people think of you. Life's too short for that mess. Cheers.
  • + 2
 not to defend roadies, but GMBN made some fashion rules for mtb too
  • + 7
 In fairness I think it's fairly tongue in cheek...I do like:

Rule #12 // The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.
While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.
  • + 1
 Sounds like a pretty epic ride, road cycling is usually a little dull, you can cover a massive amount of ground if you're seeing a new country though
  • + 2
 @JoseBravo: true, I've been known to break some of those rules. Thing is, no one seems to careSmile
  • + 1
 That list is the personification of deuchebaggery. I also like how rule 5 is "harden the f*ck up" but rule 13 is turn the unlucky number upside down... Or just harden the f*ck up you superstitious twit.

The part about 3 valid options to follow while colour matching is just sad. Fashion police won't let you ride if your seat matches the top tube I guess.
  • + 1
 Ok uuum I just read those rules all the way through and.... yeah. Uhh being a roadie... not for me. That's a different world. Kinda tainted with a bit of narcissism that document is. Too much focus on the way you look and how to be tough while wearing spandex. It's just a really strange read.
  • + 11
 Almost makes me want to try road biking. Almost
  • + 26
 I guarantee you will love road biking if you just make a couple minor changes. First, make sure you straighten out those wiggly bars. Then, swap those tyres for something fatter and knoblier. Last step is to add some form of suspension at the front and back. Now you are ready to go ride, but instead of boring tarmac, you should trey riding off road.
  • + 2
 It's only fun if you live within ~60kms (depending on how strong you are) of some bigass mountains. But if you do, it's REALLY fun.
  • + 8
 Road biking is complete boredom interspersed with sudden near death experiences as you risk your life in traffic.

Climbing a road bike can be challenging and fun, but I don't get a lot of joy out of roady descents. Ok, I'm going 45mph, but I'm not actually doing anything other sitting there coasting and trying to be aero, not at all like mtb where you are constantly moving and have to work to go fast and negotiate obstacles.

I honestly feel safer riding double blacks at Whistler than down the popular roadie routes in town with 45+ mph traffic constantly passing me with only spandex and a 200gram half-shell for protection. It's terrifying, but roadies seem to be completely immune to it. Roadie group rides are the worst. There's some mob mentality that takes over and allows all reason to evaporate, blindly assuming drivers will see and avoid them and casually cutting in front of traffic to "take the lane" or make left hand turns, as if your mere presence in the middle of the road is enough to magically stop 2 tons of steal.
  • + 0
 Road biking is VERY different to mountain biking - if you are expecting it to be fun or exciting, it isn't... However, once you get over that, it does become perversely enjoyable. It is purely a fitness and distance travelled/scenery seen kind of enjoyment, but it is enjoyable...

Until you get hit by a car (and if you cycle in a city you WILL get hit by a car at some point, as happened to me) and you'll think did this I'm just going to mountain bike from now on...
  • + 3
 @slimboyjim: that's why I will always pick mtb over road. On a trail I'm in control of my own fate, on the road, all it takes is one person in a car texting, yelling at their kids, in a hurry, etc and bike skills suddenly don't matter
  • + 1
 @sk133872: The only plus is that my compo payout bought me a VERY nice mountain bike... Haven't been on the road in 18months or so. I like that injuries are down to me and nobody else like you, plus Mtb is far more fun...
  • + 3
 @dthomp325: first roadie of the season tried to kill herself on the hood of my truck today. She sat up and starting drinking from her bottle and drifted out into the middle of the lane. I had to pull into the oncoming lane to not kill her. She didn't seem to care.
My truck isn't quiet..she had to know I was there?
I watch for bikes, cause I ride one. What is up with the "try and kill me" attitude of so many roadies? I honestly don't understand how they can be so reckless.
Like you said, I'll fly down a steep rocky trail instead of a highway any day.
  • + 4
 It's always the dreaded sufferfests that make the beer and food taste better afterwards. Plus I like the fact that you refer to the roadie kits as sausage suits. Thanks for this, Vernon. Always enjoy the ramblings from inside the pain cave.
  • + 4
 I never thought I'd like road biking but when I was given a Spec Tarmac by my LBS to ride I had a lot of fun. I did get chirped for wearing fox jersey, cargo shorts and my camelback...that and jumping the bike off of every curb and speed bump I could find....lesson is that every day is a good day on two wheels.
  • + 2
 But did you turn your handle bars up? That's the ultimate riser bar, 70's style!
  • + 4
 Did you encounter any hooligan scooter gangs in Taiwan (like in Japan)? I got the biggest laugh when I first saw some of these guys. Scooters instantly disqualify you from being a badass.
  • + 5
 @jrbrandon, Coming from the states, where riding anything sporting less than 600ccs of engine is considered a badge of shame, the whole scooter mania thing was sort of mind-blowing. That said, those guys can ride the crap out of a scooter, which is kind of awesome in its own way.
  • + 3
 @vernonfelton OR, how bout those rides that are supposed to be the best backcountry adventures ever... and they turn out to be one of the WORST rides of a lifetime. 40+ downed trees, 25 deep stream crossings, a guide that has had the same tires on for 1000' miles filled with slime(continuously pumping them up), fellow riders along with the group crashing, everyone bleeding from razor sharp shrubbery overgrowing the trail, moral of the group destroyed, and 1 of a 4 day bike vacation gone down the crapper. Mind you, we were not new to back country adventures, and no guide was needed, but for safety sake multiple groups decided to stick together. Good thing we did. But yet hindsight being what it is, the worst rides turn out to be the best rides once they are over. As they provide years of gut busting laughter, and memories with friends that will last a lifetime... our ride down the Canada Del Oro from the top of MT lemmon in Tuscon. Aka CDO, aka... CDBLOW
  • + 2
 Type II Fun.
  • + 3
 Those are the rides you remember and wind up cherishing, eh? Just surviving the crap rides, sometimes, is the true reward. Cheers.
  • + 2
 I've got a dozen stories of bad rides gone good and good rides gone bad but more interested in commenting on the road bike thing. I used to commute on a converted mountain bike and it was boring and I hated the way all the roadies passed me. Finally bought a high zoot carbon commuter rig. I run flat bars of course, because I ride it like a bike messenger delivering a package to the Garbanzo lift. Every stop leads to full power acceleration, all curbs and driveway cutouts are hopped, chase down every rider I see in front of me. Its actually fun now that i have a fast bike and its great for fitness. In the past if I couldn't get out to the trails I didn't ride whereas now I go all the time. I don't call it a road bike - its a street bike! And yes, I will probably get creamed by a car at some point.
  • + 1
 Most of the comments here are embarrassing for a cycling site. Are you all afraid to get a bit of fitness in between saying, "I only ride park."?

Great article by the way. Road cycling is the perfect compliment to any mtb regiment if you are truly a cyclist.
  • + 1
 Agreed. Mountain bikers think they're tough, but wait until you're bombing a windy descent at 50mph with rim brakes. Cornering on a nice road bike is something totally different and amazingly fun!
  • + 4
 Well your first problem is you rode a road bike!Nothing ever starts good when you say "road bike".NOTHING!
  • + 4
 I was beginning to miss you @vernonfelton. Glad to see your Road game is very similar to your Mountain game.
  • + 5
 Thanks, man. One of these days we'll get back in the dirt. Sooner rather than later, I'm sure.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: Sun-day Vernon. Sunday's the day. Sunshine in B-ham and brown pow. Les go!
  • + 1
 I am nearing retirement. I look forward to early morning mountain bike rides. My wife, being Thai, is pretty sure we will spend our golden years in Bangkok. That kinda scares me as I am not sure where I would pedal my full suspension or downhill bikes in such a crowded city... I have tried to pedal a road bike there but it turns into mad sprints to avoid being mauled by stray dogs or just end up wheel to wheel in mopeds.
  • + 1
 You two should compromise and move to Pai! Lots of amazing road and MTB riding in the area.
  • + 1
 @Circe: Pai is heaven, stayed by a lake there, Chang Mai has an uplift though
  • + 2
 Bangkok is the absolute worst place for biking, but Chang mai or hua hin, and even Pattaya have some nice trails.
  • + 1
 Thanks, @vernonfelton, sounds like a typical jet-lagged sleepless night in Taiwan. I miss that place, spent a lot of time there in a previous life, but I never considered going for a bike ride there. You are a brave man.
  • + 2
 @TenBeers, I was fortunate enough to have some friends who know the routes out of Taichung. An amazing amount of road riding in Taiwan. I hear some of the singletrack is pretty damn rad too.
  • + 1
 Touring in Montana, cold drizzly 30+mph headwind all day. Granny gear. Didn't want to get out of the tent that morning, instead I rode until dark to 'make schedule'. 30 years later I still regret getting out of the tent.
  • + 1
 Well, there are always those days that truly just suck. I hear you. Fair play to you.
  • + 2
 Great read, @vernonfelton. I'll give you a shout next time I hit Lake Samish!
  • + 1
 Right on.
  • + 3
 even a bad day riding is better than a good day at work.
  • + 0
 Tell that to the pros!
  • + 1
 I loved reading that. Thanks @vernonfelton . The San Francisco zoo monkey house sentence wins 'best metaphor' in the 2017 Pinkbike awards, I predict.
  • + 2
 @ak-77 My dad was a house painter who wound up painting all manner of things big and tall, including the Golden Gate Bridge and decent chunks of the San Francisco zoo. I assisted him for years and the latter gig gave me an in-depth and up close appreciation of the scents of the monkey houses. It's the kind of thing you never forget.... The scent and my father's advice to me to "Watch out for the monkeys because they'll throw shit at you." I was about six years old and it was the first and nearly only time I heard my dad utter a profanity...well, other than "Goddammit, woman!", but if you knew my mom, you'd understand that this particular utterance was less a profanity and more of a necessary venting. Anyhoo....monkey poop, it's vile stuff.
  • + 3
 BREAKING NEWS: road bikes are fun sometimes
  • + 1
 The way the article is written is amazing. You should write a book. I could read your stuff for days
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton - great article! makes me almost want to go on a road ride. maybe I will if by some chance I end up in Taiwan
  • + 0
 Good article. I've been letting my son hold my scooter handlebars and give it the gas since he was about one. Got to start them young if you want to make the next Rossi.
  • + 1
 Life's a garden! Go dig it!!
  • + 1
 Thanks for clarifying the cake was proverbial.
  • + 1
 I love those unexpected gems
  • + 2
 Beautiful!
  • + 1
 You never regret going for a ride.
  • + 1
 Ben there, not Taiwan, but the same story fivetens and all, great writing.
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