What Comes After – by John Leach

John Leach is a former “fast guy” with European racing experience. He values function and form and is a lover of speed, exploration, and handmade tires.

The days are already colder. Much shorter, too. The leaves are mostly off the trees, covering the road and making the corners slick. Every day seems to be windier than the last. Gone are the long summer nights, their humid warmth even at the 8 p.m. start of a criterium. As I crest the first hill and escape town, it seems like a lifetime ago.

Six years ago, about this time, it all began. The simplicity and quality had drawn me to my first Wabi. Desert turquoise, with no cables or clutter, it was light, quick, and dependable. The rides grew longer, and harder. Soon after, there were geared road bikes and category 5 races.

The flame was lit.

Five years were spent in pursuit of something which, deep down, I knew was a huge gamble. Five years of training, careful attention to each day’s workout, stress, and pain.

Five years of travel, sleeping in strange—sometimes wonderful—places.

Always looking at the next race, the next season.

Flying down the far side of the ridge that divides our bay area from the surrounding hill county, memories of early Saturday morning shootout rides seem to play in reverse. Memories of always going faster, knowing no limits. Flat-out with the locals, all pushing our carbon race bikes as fast as we could, though only a few of us had ever toed the line at a race. All gone now.

Now the steel tubes beneath me seem to sing as I wind my way through the fields of alfalfa and turnips that fill the landscape until the next ridgeline. Petite seatstays absorb cracks in the road, the scars of winters past. For me, there’s no longer a “next season.” I’m not preparing for another year of racing around the country, or flying to Europe for a summer of Dutch criteriums.

Yet here I am.

These are roads I could ride blindfolded, and still I seem to find new sights. Fresh nuances ignored, perhaps, in the haste of intervals or contesting a town line sprint. Now, however, a chance to explore; a chance to breathe.

I turn towards home. It’s a short one tonight, and it’s getting dark already. The road points skyward once more. Maybe we should see what’s left in the tank, for old time’s sake. The candy red Columbus tubes seem to agree with my choice, and answer with just the right amount of rigidity.

Over the final climb, and the small town lights twinkle in the darkness along the bay. The cold air stings as I begin to descend, still gasping from the preceding climb. Chilled fingertips feather the brakes as the road twists and turns back towards the city. Time to go home.

Tonight, there were no goals, no KOMs; just a good bike, and memories on the wind.

Check out more of John’s beautiful photos and adventures on his Instagram @j_w_leach

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