There’s something to be said about pushing your boundaries and exploring outside of your comfort zone. But really, it’s once you’ve carved out your comfort zone that you know exactly how and where you can push yourself. Riding the Second Ring Road is a fine complement to this idea and knowing how to explore my limits on the bike.
To start, it’s simple. It’s a set 30km either way, perfect for an hour effort, with a good 15km to warm up and 15km basking in the joys of being warmed up. There are no turns. Well, there is, but it’s an easy bend you follow to finish where you started. Coming at it you only need to decide left or right, after which gone is the paralyzing dread of deciding “which way should we go now”.
The nuances of traffic develop like a taste for some stinky-ass cheese. Dancing between cars feels like pure chaos to start but you learn to hedge risk: drivers here are under-confident and practice a rudimentary caution that orients all attention forward. You learn to play with this. For a solo cyclist, traffic offers an opportunity to “team time trial” with the throb of cars caught in time-mediated intersections. Aside from who you share the road with, the loop is replete with solid distance indicators: fancy shopping malls, the under-the-bridge opera, north train station, the lungs, the bizarre red bridge at Hongpailou and a number of other public-works-meets-flying-interchanges.
Each ride familiarizes you further with where it bends and splits, where tunnels dip and push your cadence or overpasses give you a quick hard interval, where the traffic ebbs and flows or is caught up in a morass of mindless pedestrians, where you should ease up, sit up, catch your breath and get a sip of water because “this stretch is always under construction”. The more you ride it the more is lets loose its little secrets, whispering them in your ear, “Riding at 7:15 p.m. is a bad idea. Just wait another 45 minutes and you can just slip into my jetstream”. The more I ride it the more I enjoy it and further enjoy what it means to ride. As for the loop it’s only role is to serve as a unremarkable backdrop to this self-discovery. If you do something right, it’s as if you’ve done nothing at all. Hats off to you Second Ring Road. I think I love you.