BikePortland

Q & A: David Rowe wants you to take the “Ride of Your Life”


The Ride of Your Life author David Rowe riding high above the Columbia River Gorge.

Portland’s David Rowe is a long-distance biking expert. What makes someone an expert in pedaling all day long? First, you’ve got to put in the miles (David has done that). Then, you could do things like moderate a panel on endurance riding at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (David has done that) and maybe publish a blog devoted to long-distance riding (yep, that too). But, to really be an expert, you’ve got to write a book. With the release last month of The Ride of Your Life: Aligning heart and mind for success in long distance cycling, David has done that too.

“I remember, as a kid, being absolutely stoked with the freedom that came when I got my first good bike. I would pack a sandwich, put my transistor radio in my shirt pocket, and just roll. I was always in hot water with my mom for riding too far from home.”

Now, David is on a virtual book tour to spread the word about this excellent e-book and resource and BikePortland.org was chosen as one of the stops.

Below is a Q & A with David Rowe. I asked him (via email) all about this book and the long-distance cycling scene.

First, tell us a bit about yourself. What is you bikeground?

I’ve been wrenching on bicycles and riding long since I was eight years old. No kidding, I remember, as a kid, being absolutely stoked with the freedom that came when I got my first good bike. I would pack a sandwich, put my transistor radio in my shirt pocket, and just roll. I was always in hot water with my mom for riding too far from home.

Like a lot of Californians, my wife and I moved to Portland to improve our quality of life. I knew about the surfing in the region; I had been to the Oregon Coast many times. But I really wasn’t aware of the outrageous cycling so close the city. I joined the Portland Wheelmen and began riding in the Willamette Valley, the Gorge, and the Cascades.

Cover of The Ride of Your Life by David Rowe.

The organized rides were a big attraction at first. But over time, I felt they had become too big. There were way too many crashes. From where I sit, the huge event rides are the downside of living in cycling city USA.

Fortunately, I became aware of randonneuring through a couple of Wheelmen. Del Scharffenberg was riding these incredible distances in a single day. At first, I said, ‘no way!’ But I finally decided to try it and I fell in love with it. Not only did the randonneurs teach me how to become self-sufficient, they introduced me to epic routes, and they taught me how to ride solo, all day long, with confidence. Today, it’s pretty rare that I ride with someone unless I’m in a brevet. That’s critical if you’re going to train for ultradistance cycling.

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BikePortland readers come from just about every bikeground you can think of. Which of them would find something interesting/useful in your book?

I wrote The Ride of You Life for riders like me – folks who may never have raced a bicycle, but enjoy the feeling of riding long and riding hard, and who connect a long, hard ride with a sense of accomplishment.

“Anyone who has ever thought about riding a century will find value in this book.”

Anyone who has ever thought about riding a century will find value in this book. Riding 100 miles in a single day is a milestone that may riders strive for. Most of them will attempt it through an organize ride, and most of the best supported riders are fund raisers, where the purpose of the ride is baked-in. Some will complete a ride like Reach the Beach, and check it off their list, and move on. Others will wonder, what’s next? And then they’ll start looking for it.

Again, in the Northwest, it’s not hard to find epic rides of 100 miles or more. What’s not so easy, though, is finding the motivation to prepare for a ride like STP, especially if you are going to do it in one day. The Ride of Your Life won’t tell you how to train for STP, or S2S (Seattle to Spokane), but it will help you get very clear about why you are doing it, to help you gain the confidence that you can do it, and to help you find the commitment to finish it should the going get rough, and it can get rough.

For many weekend warriors, or for folks whose longest ride is to and from work, the idea of spending the better part of a day in the saddle is something that might sound appealing, but it can be hard to really grasp mentally. Are there some basic steps (both mental and/or physical) folks can take to go from regular, Joe-commuter to more of an endurance rider?

“Many of the Oregon brevets start in Forest Grove. Many riders take the MAX line out to Hillsboro Station, and then pedal up to the start at McMenamin’s Grand Lodge.”

I think that success in long distance cycling boils down to three core elements: the mind, the body, and the bike. The Ride of Your Life deals with the mental preparation, the goal setting, the planning, and the commitment. If you work through the 8-steps in the book, you’ll have no trouble sticking to a training program that will allow joe or jane commuter get to the finish line of the ride of their dreams, whatever it is.

To get prepare the body, you’ve got to practice riding long. Commuting is a great way to build your base mileage. But in terms of building strength and endurance, I think the books written by Fred Matheny and Joe Friel offer great training plans that have stood up to the test of time. Randonnerus USA and the Ultramarathon Cycling Association offer wonderful training information. UMCA’s is available free online at Ultracycling.com.

As it relates to the bike, Oregon is home to some of the premiere builders of long distance bicycles in the nation. Co-motion in Eugene builds semi-custom machines that are very popular among distance cyclists. Tony Pereira, Ira Ryan, and Sacha White are defining the state of the art in steel-framed, long distance bicycles. Natalie Ramsland’s bikes are also quite popular among women who rando. We are so fortunate to have so much expertise in our own backyard.

Having said all that the best thing that one of your readers can do if they’re interested in learning more is to come out and ride with the Oregon Randonneurs. The club will host a 1OOK Populaire on March 14. Populaire’s are designed to introduce riders to the nuances of the sport, which include cue sheets, controls, brevet cards, and time limits.

In Portland, each type of riding tends to have an associated “scene” that goes along with it. Is there a long-distance riding culture in Portland?

There are a group of riders who you will see at the centuries during the summer. And there are a core group of riders who you will see on the brevets. But the cultures are very different. Serious century riders tend to be clubbies, people who also show up to ride with their club every Saturday morning. Brevet riders tend to be very independent people, who typically train alone. Brevet riders don’t have a favorite pub or a coffee shop where they gather after a hard Saturday morning club ride. But ask them where the best place is to a taco in Lafayette, or an espresso in Tillamook, and chances are, they’ll all have the same answer.

Randonneuring is growing in the Portland area but it still has a very niche, sort of cult-like following (and I mean that in the best way). Do you think rando is set to be the Next Big Thing?

The sport of Randonneuring has grown a lot. Membership in Randonneurs USA has doubled in the past three years alone, from about 3,000 riders to more than 6,000 riders, nationwide. But when you compare that to the number of riders who participate in centuries every year, it is quite small. Honestly, I don’t think it will ever break-out into the mainstream. Riding 300 or 400 kilometers in a day is just considered too extreme for most riders.

On the other hand, if you’re inclined try more extreme sports, this is the place to experiment with randonneuring. Portland is home to the second-most active club in the country. It’s second only to Seattle in terms of total kilometers logged by its members.

As author of this book, do you see yourself as sort of an evangelist for the sport?

I guess I’m evangelizing, aren’t I … but if so, then only about randonneuring in Oregon … not about randonneuring itself. I think the reason I’m big into brevet riding is that is what’s available here. In California, the sport isn’t nearly as dominant. Double-centuries are the big deal there.

If folks aren’t keen on driving to a ride, are there enjoyable long-distance routes they can do from Portland?

You bet. Many of the Oregon brevets start in Forest Grove. Many riders take the MAX line out to Hillsboro Station, and then pedal up to the start at McMenamin’s Grand Lodge. Riders from all over the area prefer to ride to the start of a brevet. If that’s not practical, it’s easy to put a note onto the list-serv and catch a ride with a rider who has a car.

I know you’ve done Cycle Oregon. Do you think that’s a good way for someone new to long-distance riding to get a feel for it without the risk of being out on their own?

I think that any form of long distance riding will prepare a rider for brevets or ultramarathon cyclng. It’s a step in that direction, and it will give them a feel for riding in the country, away from the city. Cycle Oregon’s events take riders into the same terrain on many of the same routes that randonneurs ride. The fact that they are also the most well-supported rides on planet earth makes them that much better!

In racing, it might be the team strategy, the adrenaline rush of the finishing sprint, or the chance at victory that gets people hooked. With mountain biking it might be the closeness to nature or the sense of accomplishment at riding a tough trail — What’s the thing (or things) about long-distance riding that gets you most excited and wanting to keep doing it?

When I go for a long rides, I get the same feelings I had as that eight-year-old boy, riding away from home, toward a destination that was just far enough away to make it a little scary, but close enough to make it totally do-able. I pack my lunch, I charge-up my iPod, and I head out for some town on the other side of the Coast Range or high in the Cascades. Knowing that will take me the whole day to reach it is part of the attraction. Knowing that things are going to happen that you can’t plan for are part of the adventure.

When the brevet season comes around, I get to do all that with a group of riders who share that same love for the outdoors and for bicycles. If that’s all there is, then for me, that’s enough.


Thanks for sharing this with us David.

If you’re interested in a preview of David’s book (which is only available as on online download), he has put together a special, BikePortland edition that you can access here.

This special edition preview includes the book’s first two chapters, plus an interview with Seattle’s Kent Peterson and the story about Raid Califorinia-Oregon, a ride that started at the Golden Gate Bridge and finished in North Portland.

The Ride of Your Life is available for purchase as an online download through RoadBikeRider.com.

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