I’m re-reading this ‘classic’ book about a fictionalised stage of a cycle race as a way of setting myself up to write The Final; I remembered it as being quite dull and it really is but that may well just be the nature of cycling: I watched the opening time trial of the Centenary Tour de France in Paris a few years back. Had it been down to me I’d have left after a pretty short while but we were in the company of a cycle fan so we had to stay there for eight hours, seven more than were needed. In the end Ben the Hat and I were reduced to entertaining ourselves by betting on what the colour of the next one’s shirt would be. However, there is something rather soothing about reading a dull book (I have high hopes for the The Final in this regard) enlivened by an occasional good bit. The Rider, by Tim Krabbé, has this nice passage where the author, having discovered that he’s quite good at cycling, sets out to calculate his speed over a specific route. The year is 1972.
…I drove the route in my car, in a friend’s car, I mounted an odometer on my bike, but every measurement produced a different result; the object to be measured only proved the lameness of my methods.
Then it came in a flash. I would adopt the Egg Method anyway (use of a yardstick), but then use the yardstick as a means of transportation. A bicycle, after all, is a yardstick; with every turn of the pedal you travel the same distance. I selected the forty-eight nineteen, which meant that with every turn of the pedals I would cover 48 divided by 19 times 2.133 metres (the circumference of a wheel plus an inflated tyre): 5.39 metres.
The trick was to keep riding in the same gear, to keep pedaling and to count the turns of the pedal. A first attempt failed, however, when I lost count somewhere around three thousand.
The next time I took a little sack of eighty matchsticks with me. After every hundred turns of the pedal, I threw away one match. By counting the leftover matches when I got home, subtracting that number from eighty, multiplying that by one hundred, adding the turns at the end that hadn’t produced a thrown-away match and mutiplying all that by 5.39, I had the exact length of my training route in metres.
The length of my route was 37,855.66 metres.
Trust me dear blog reader, this is an outstandingly engaging bit of this classic text. I love the cover.