Cycle Tour Europe: Not All Flat Is Not Created Equal
It would seem that, after cycling through the hills of northern France, we should have been grateful for the flat lands of the Rhine Valley.
I am here to tell you though that not all flat is created equal. As with everything in life there is always a hierarchy and flat has one too.
Although I’m not one to usually look a gift horse in the mouth, flat is not all that it’s cracked up to be.
Yes, it’s easier on the legs than an uphill but it doesn’t offer the resting opportunities of the downhill that usually accompanies the up. Every inch of road gained must be worked for – there is not coasting, no lifting your tired, achy butt up off the seat, and no ‘woooo-hoooing’ down the other side. Every revolution counts, there is no free ride.
After many hours of traversing many kilometers of flat (and not-so-flat) terrain I have developed the following Flat Dictionary:
Downhill Trending Flat: This is the Queen Bee of flat. Click into the highest gear and speed along the landscape feeling like Superwoman with legs of steel and a grin that can’t be beat. It’s almost better than downhill…(1) because I didn’t have to climb a hill to get it and (2) because I often don’t realize it’s downhill trending and I feel so strong whereas I know when we’re really going downhill and just let gravity do it’s thing.
Flat Flat: True flat. Riding is easy but getting into the highest gears takes effort. We’re grateful for it after an uphill section but, after a while, grow weary and miss the variety of up and down. You really can’t please some people, can you?
Uphill Trending Flat: Definitely one of the worst. I often cannot see that it is uphill trending; my legs feel like they are filled with concrete, the bike feels like it has a dead body on the back, and I’m constantly downshifting in order to keep moving at a slug pace. Unlike true uphill where there is a summit to focus on and sense of success to be gained no matter how steep the hill, this flat is soul sucking, misery-inducing, and confidence-shattering. We even did one section of Uphill Trending Flat that actually appeared to be Downhill Trending – farmer fields on either side belied the truth and had me preparing for a Superwoman section…only to be doubly confused as my pace slowed and my legs screamed. I had to look behind me to be sure that Jason hadn’t grabbed on trying to pull me backwards. Tricky Uphill Trending Flat…tricky!
Smooth Flat: Smooth flat is where it’s at. The smoother the better.
Tailwind Flat: Nothing better than a helping hand from Mother Nature. A tailwind can make a riding day pass easily as we sail along whistling Dixie (well, not really) and enjoying the ride.
Headwind Flat: A headwind, however, can suck the fun out of a day faster than well I-don’t-know-what, but fast! It actually doesn’t take much of a headwind to make a difference but if there’s a storm brewing it can make riding downright nasty. Like pedalling in sand, or uphill in sand, or uphill in sand with a flat tire. Not only is the riding harder but it pretty much also heralds the oncoming rain – yay, now I’m tired and wet. Not my favourite.
Rough Pavement Flat: You know, pavement that maybe didn’t have the right mix of wet to dry ingredients. The pebbles stick out and the surface is anything but smooth. Friction counts and riding on Rough Pavement Flat is more difficult than trying to determine the coefficient of friction in physics class.
Gravel Flat: A tiny bit worse than Rough Pavement Flat, Gravel Flat now has small rocks to negotiate. This isn’t so difficult but is wearing as the bike is a little bit less stable so it takes a little more energy to manage that dead body on the back of my bike.
Grassy Flat: There is, of course, a whole hierarchy of Grassy Flat alone. Short grass vs long grass. Tufted grass vs carpet type grass. Fortunately we don’t do much Grassy Flat riding and it’s usually accompanied by beautiful country-side views so we’re happy.
Broken Pavement Flat: Another one of the worst. Broken pavement has no pattern, no defined way to tackle it, nothing to redeem it at all. It slows us down immediately. Time riding on Broken Pavement Flat is spent zigzagging across the road trying the find the smoothest route through the minefield of pot-holes and uneven surfaces.
Farmer Field Flat: Farmer Field Flat is an amalgam of many flats. Never really flat, it’s often uphill trending (are we always going the wrong way?) and sometimes will downhill trend. Often grassy (of the tufted variety) but sometimes there is a track of mud, hard-packed earth, or cobblestone. Usually accompanied with amazing country-side views but also with the earthy smell of cows. It is peaceful and relaxing.
Cobblestone Flat: Sounds quaint, but it ain’t. Cobblestones are tough to ride on and will slow us down faster than just about anything else as we try to find a path through that is smoothest and offers the least resistance. I love the way they look and appreciate the hardiness of the style but it is tough on the butt!!
Rocky Flat: Rocky Flat’s rocks are larger than gravel rocks. There are usually more of them but not as many as on a rocky beach. The effect is the same though – the tires must ‘swim’ through the rocks as they don’t actually ride over them but sink just a little. It’s tough to navigate and stay upright and, thankfully, we have so far only seen very short sections.
So, as you can see, the absolute best flat you could find would be downhill trending, smoooooth, and with a tailwind. That would be heaven!!
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