Monday, December 1, 2014

Making Your Own Wind: In Memory of Steve Hed

I had the honor of spending quite a bit of time in Steve Hed’s presence, and I can honestly say all of the adventures and misadventures I experienced with him were time very well spent. I’d like to share a story with you that I think reflects both his genius and ability to teach, not only with elite professional athletes but a layman like me…

A few years ago Steve asked me to ride some of his new HED Jet aero clincher wheels on a day-to-day basis, looking for feedback on what a “larger” rider experienced with them. I got the wheelset at the beginning of RAGBRAI, one of Steve’s most beloved events, riding often with Team Roadkill but in later years with our Team LIVESTRONG. After a couple of days of riding the wheels I found him and told him I loved how durable and fast they were, but felt that they were susceptible to “flying” in a crosswind (being pushed sideways), especially when descending.

He listened, paused, and grabbed his chin, looking down at the ground in both comprehension but clearly mulling what I had said over and over in his mind.

Steve then looked up, straight into my eyes, smiled, and said with his classic exaggerated excitement, “You’re not making your own wind!”

I replied with a matter-of-fact, “I have no f*cking idea what you’re talking about,” response, but that only lit his fire further…

He asked me (in a way that clearly expected compliance) if I had a metal coat hanger and some yarn. Being in the middle of a campground in Iowa, these items were not readily available, and he was visibly disappointed. No worries though, and he launched into a description of the experiment they had done in overcoming crosswinds with speed.

Quoting as best as I can remember, he said, “What we did was we took a wire coat hanger and looped it on one end tightly around a bike’s handlebars, and then stuck the other end out about a foot parallel to the ground. We then tied a piece of yarn at the end and let it hang, like a windsock. As you might imagine, whether the bike is sitting still, or in motion, the yarn will point opposite to the direction the wind is blowing. Except…” – and he looked at me with a notable spark in his eye, letting me know that the magic was about to be explained, and continued.

“Except that there is a point where your speed will overcome the wind, no matter what direction it is coming from, and you can literally see it because when you hit it, the yarn starts to rotate until it is pointing back towards you! So, so, so basically, you’re making your own wind,” he said with great conviction. (This conversation then quickly transitioned into one where we designed, in theory, a wattage estimator app based on rider weight, bike speed, his database of drag counts & wattage, the angle of your cell phone, and a pitot tube attachment - yet to be designed - but that’s another story for another day… and an example of how his mind worked!)

Steve customized this bus for Team LIVESTRONG

I’ll admit my initial reaction to “making my own wind” was one of basic understanding coupled with guarded cynicism. In my mind I was thinking, “Right, Steve. I’m going downhill in spandex and at around 35 mph I’m being pushed across the road. And the answer is to stay off the brakes and go faster – potentially right into a ditch or another rider!”

Sure enough, the next day there was a big descent and as I sensed the start of flying sideways I found myself reaching for the brake levers. But as I did, I could envision Steve looking me right in the eye with his conviction (and hanger / yarn), and so I trusted him. I got down in the drops, dropped my head further and shot forward. The buffeting initially increased, as did the sideways push and my pucker factor, but then soon after everything changed. The push and shaking disappeared, the bike was on rails and I rocketed down the hill as if the wind was at my back – I had made my own wind.

When I saw him later at camp and told him about the experience he listened and approved, much like a parent does to a young child when they have “discovered” a universal truth for themselves. The proverbial teacher and his student.

I still ride those wheels regularly and think about the lesson he taught me often (especially when descending). But with Steve’s passing they now have a special place in my heart as a reminder of the gentle genius and the times we spent together. Rest in peace, my friend, I’m a better man for knowing you – Cb…

No comments:

Post a Comment