As I browse various ride announcements, I usually see a description of the course – something like, “moderate level of difficulty with rolling hills.” Every so often, I see a description using the word, “technical.” Almost always, this applies to a challenging course – something like, “this century will be an excellent challenge and features several excellent hills and technical stretches.”
For a novice such as myself, it’s difficult to research what this word means. A cycling clothing company uses the word in its name and any Google search will result in 1,000 clothing sites. Not much help there. Still, I think the word is fairly self-explanatory. I believe it is safe to assume a technical course requires a cyclist to do more than simply pump his legs. Technical courses require a knowledge of how to shift gears and plan out a ride so a good time is achieved. Technical courses feature steep inclines, declines, and sharp curves.
Which brings me to Purcell Road.
A couple of months ago, I chose Purcell Road as a way to increase my 15-mile route by about four miles. It looked nice on a map. It was less so in person. The initial part of this heavily-wooded stretch is a steep decline, and declines are always fun. The lack of a shoulder was a bit worrisome, but there wasn’t much traffic. After a few hundred yards, I reached the bottom of the hill and came upon a sharp left turn. I braked hard and managed to stay on the road. After a brief level stretch, the road turned sharply to the right. Since the road was level, I was in a pretty high gear when I made the turn, and came across a cliff masquerading as a road. Subsequent research on mapmyrun.com revealed that this was a 20% incline. Very technical.
I valiantly tried downshifting, but the hill was very steep and my conditioning was very poor. I couldn’t get the thing into a low enough gear fast enough. Within seconds, I was struggling to even move my pedals. I tried to once again to downshift. I’m not sure exactly what happened next, but shifting gears when you’re placing maximum pressure on the drive train is never a good idea. I didn’t actually see what happened next, but it resulted in my first derailment. Yippee. As the chain came off the sprocket, the maximum amount of down pressure I was applying to the pedal was suddenly free to go its merry way. The resulting violent down stroke caused my foot to slide off the pedal, which in turn caused me to fall forward onto my handlebars – a rather ignoble position for a cyclist under any circumstances.
Humiliated, I pulled the bike off the road, fixed the chain, then recovered my cyclometer, which fell off the handlebar during the ruckus. A few cars passed me, their occupants pondering my fate. I hopped back on my bike and finished my ride.
Today, with two whole months’ more experience under my belt, I took another shot at Purcell Road. I am happy to report things went much better. I flew down the hill at a speed approaching 35 mph (and was still passed by a car in this 35 mph zone). I zipped through the sharp curves and I managed to keep my chain on its sprockets as I climbed the hill with only a bit of difficulty. I still chose too high a gear, but this one was manageable. There was one nasty grinding noise when I shifted midway through the hill, so there is still room for improvement.