Dylan Buffington: Where are we right now?
Daniel Wakefield Pasley: We’re in a building behind the race, you can still hear the race in the background, we’re in the foyer of an apartment or office building. We’re in the foyer, we’re in some red leather chairs. We’re in Milan, Italy, we’re at Red Hook. I don’t know, but we’re in Milan, Italy and I was just in Heat 1 of the qualifying round. Today, in 2017, I made it basically exactly half a lap before someone ran into me in a corner.
DB: Okay, so before we get into the actual race, let’s start with you in Portland leading up to this race. You’re preparing in some way for this, what was that preparation?
DWP: Well Coach Evan Murphy took me for a ride, we rode down to the dump in industrial NW Portland, and Coach Murphy said, “Here’s what you do: you go out on a ride with your bike, find somewhere flat without a lot of train tracks or problems or whatever; basically you’re looking for a runway. Long and smooth. Then you try to bring your bike up to 30mph, hold that for a second, and then come down to 0mph in as short a distance as possible, and then as soon as you hit 0mph bring it right back up to 30mph. Then do that again 28 times.” Which sounds like a form of torture to me. Okay but I never did that, though we did ride down to the dump and discuss it; also, we talked about riding towards a wall in an all out sprint, maybe a wall with a mattress duct taped to it, so you can get a sense of like, when you need to stop, are you going to be able to stop? Like, for the purposes of this exercise you can’t begin slowing down until 30 feet or whatever, and then from that distance can you slow down in time to avoid hitting the wall? And the better you get, the longer and longer you wait before you begin braking; 25 feet, 20 feet, 15 feet, until I don’t know, you can stop from 30mph in three feet. I didn’t do that either, but again, we did discuss how it would be good Red Hook training. Anyway yeah, I rode around industrial NW Portland with Evan for exactly one day.
DB: So we first talked about this in London, but there’s a mental preparation as well—
DWP: I’ve been mentally preparing for a LONG time.
DB: you’ve been thinking about this, you’ve been excited about this—
DWP: I’ve been VERY excited about it.
DB: and so once you’re actually on the start grid—everything you’ve been focusing on for the past four months—where are your thoughts?
DWP: Here’s what’s interesting to me. I was not terrified until maybe a week ago when terrifying feelings started to dawn on me. Initially it was pure excitement, even though everyone was like, “This is very dumb, you’re going to die, you’re risking your life, you’re gonna crash, it was nice knowing you, good luck.” And I was just like, “OK, whatever,” because it’s just a bike race. But then a week ago I started to turn it into something that is not just a bike race, it became a post-apocalyptic Thunderdome gladiator thing.
DB: A few months ago you’re thinking about a bike race and now you’re imagining a track that’s literally on fire.
DWP: Yeah. It was a bike race, and then today it culminated with me accepting that I was going into the Thunderdome. And then on the grid I was feeling STRONG Thunderdome vibes.
DB: It really looks like that, the way everyone is dressed up it’s like they’re all walking out into the arena—
DWP: Yeah, and like you DIE if you don’t make the time cut.
DB: they opened up the doors and everyone had to run to get a weapon.
DWP: And the last guy doesn’t even get a weapon. Hunger Games style. Yeah, it’s not really like that of course. But that’s how I felt, for sure.
DB: We saw you on the start line and they said “Ready. Set. Go.” Which I know is a pretty incredible feeling. From our perspective, you were a salmon just going straight upstream, getting through those people. It was honestly impressive to watch, because we didn’t know what to expect. Past that point where we could see you, what happened?
DWP: Here’s the thing, from the second you roll away, it’s a bike race again. You’re like, “Oh, it’s a bike race.” Of course that whole thing where you can’t stop, that is a thing, and it doesn’t stop being a thing, but other than that it really is just a bike race. So you just go into that mode. And the other thing is that like, I have this idea that everybody out there is kind of at a pro-level ability but it’s really not like that. It’s pretty immediately clear that you’re in a very mixed bag, at least where I was—I’m sure up at the front and in the finals or whatever it’s not so mixed.
DB: The people near you, did you feel like you were in the same boat as they were, at the same level as they were?
DWP: Yeah I kinda feel like I got up to where I was like, “Those will be my people.” And I was right about there when someone ran into me. Ultimately a lot of it is out of your hands; people might run into you or cut you off. But I feel like in a regular crit you have a bit more control, like you can actually get away from situations where you feel uncomfortable. And maybe that’s what makes the Specialized guys so good, like they’re actually fast enough to put themselves in a position that’s protected. They’re not around the mixed bag folks like me. I guess my point is that I really wanted to race, but some random dude crashed into me half a lap in, and now I’m not racing.
DB: So post-. You hit your head a little bit—
DWP: Rang my bell.
DB: haha, and got some road rash. Is this something part of you expected?
DWP: I did exactly the ONE thing I didn’t want to do. I didn’t care if I underperformed physically. The OOONE thing I didn’t want to do is crash. It’s almost like I maybe started fixating on it. You know how when mountain biking you don’t look at the rock, don’t look at the rock, DON’T LOOK AT THE ROCK! Because if you do, you will hit the rock! I think maybe I looked at the rock, I started looking at the rock three or four days ago. My initial “Oh, it’s a bike race, I’m excited!” attitude was the right attitude, and when the terror starts seeping in—you know what Dylan, people got in my head. I’m not gonna let people in my head any more.
DB: Are you excited to do it again?
DWP: Ohhhh yeah I would absolutely do it again. I mean, hitting my head. I definitely don’t enjoy hitting my head. I have anxiety anyway, and then when I hit my head… that kinda weird, dizzy disorientation is a lot like what anxiety feels like, so it was particularly uncomfortable for me. Some people probably just don’t care all that much, but I was like fuuuuck. And then I had a little light sensitivity, which lead to a little micro-mini panic attack, which I’m not proud of. But otherwise, yeah in spite of the micro-mini panic attack yeah I would do it again. It’s fun! I mean I like bike racing, like when I was out on the practice lap—I forget who I was riding with, it might have been Bor—I was reminded like, “Oh, shit, bike racing is fun and that’s why I’m here,” and it’s easy to forget why you’re there amidst all of the stress. One thing about the fixed gear thing is that it absolutely makes it harder to avoid crashes.
DB: It definitely does. It’s a different tool, one with less—
DWP: This was the first time I’ve crashed with another person in a race. Like the only time I’ve ever crashed in a crit was by taking myself out in the rain on a corner riding recklessly with no one around me, out in front. “Oh it’s wet but I don’t care,” and I slid out. But that’s the only other time that I’ve crashed. So this is my first like, Bike Race Crash.
DB: So you’ve been following Specialized / Rocket Espresso, do you have a different perspective on them after getting a very short taste of a world they control.
DWP: I would say this: I’ve been riding bikes for like 25 years and I know what—fuck, you know what Dylan? I know how to ride a bike. And I was blown away on the practice lap. Eamon came by me and I was like, “Oh cool, it’s Eamon, I’m gonna go hang out with him,” so I went up to him and we rode around for a while. He was kind loosening up, swerving left and right, shaking it out. And then he went into a corner—again this is a practice lap, just getting a feel for it, nobody was pushing it, but we found a spot where there wasn’t any traffic so Eamon kinda ramped it up—and I followed him through. And that was insane. Just following Eamon through a single practice lap shakeout corner, trying to accelerate as fast as he did and hold a line with no one around through a simple corner… you realize those guys are really going fast. They’re going so fast and they’re pedaling through pretty steep corners at really high speeds. There’s a line, there’s traction, there’s pedal strike. I feel like I knew that existed, but now I have a better sense of what it actually feels like. The expression ‘next-level gets used all the time but this was a firsthand experience of like, Eamon being on another level.
DB: Like you’re in a biplane and an F-18 comes by.
DWP: That’s exactly what it felt like. I was like *brrrrrrrr*, hahaha.
DB: Let’s say Brooklyn, next year, you want to be on the start line. Would you do anything differently?
DWP: I would prepare a lot more. I didn’t have time to ride this bike much at all. The funny thing is that preparing a lot more would be about performance, but the issue today was crashing. I don’t know what you do about that. I mean, just to be clear, crashing sucks. I don’t want to do that again. So maybe the issue of crashing DOES come right back around to the issue of fitness. Clearly the best place to be is in the fucking front, head of the mixed bag. So maybe if I was more confident in my fitness I might’ve been inclined to go straight up to the front. I say that, but I tried to get up there regardless. I would just say to any first timers that the corners come up faster than you think. Like you’re going Animal mode, thinking “Psh I can pass all these chumps,” then all of a sudden you go to hit the brakes for that first corner and there aren’t any. I might try to understand corners better. You feel like such a kook riding around Portland simulating corners, but I think you need to do it. You basically have to rail the corners. And you kinda get a sense of that when you ride singlespeed; because you’re more worried about carrying your speed through corners you kinda try to make the world a pump track a little bit. So there’s that, but obviously a freewheel is a different thing. So yeah. I would practice lots of corners.
DB: Did you enjoy it overall?
DWP: I mean that’s a tough question. I think not yet. So here’s the thing. I have low-grade anxiety that I hit my head and I’m going to get brain damage. But that’s more about my emotional-psychological headspace.
DB: But it’s your headspace that’s on the startline. That’s part of the experience: anxiety is on the table.
DWP: I mean like if you could just look at me and say for a fact: “Daniel, your head is fine,” just the relief from that would make me say, “Oh, yeah I’m having fun. I’ll have a headache or whatever, pay attention to my road rash.” But I have the KOM Challenge next week so I REALLY didn’t want to fuck myself up, like break a rib or whatever. As long as I’m not brain damaged now, the rest is easy. I didn’t blow my Taiwan trip, there are no long-term consequences, I came to Italy, I’m going to photograph the race, yeah it’s fun. Maybe it’s really fun? It’s fun being here. I just like bike racing. And this really is a cool form of bike racing, and it makes me want to do it more. I would do it again even though it feels more out of control.
DB: Focus on it less. That’s the rock.
DWP: Keep an eye on the trail. Maybe I did put myself in that spot, maybe it was a fluke.
DB: The big fluke was when it happened. It could’ve happened on the fifth lap, or in the Last Chance Race, but it happened half a lap in. Although you have to realize that’s when the most dangerous shit happens.
DWP: The first lap of the first heat, everybody is JACKED.
DB: I mean, your bike is still amazing.
DWP: Maybe I should fix this handlebar? But maybe not even. If you just scratch that, whatever.
DB: Put new tape on it, you’re good to go.