Throughout the world, our cities are getting busier. They're expanding higher and wider, and the landscape is changing dramatically. This is no different in Austin, Texas. A place seeing the biggest tech boom since Silicon Valley, with expansion and population increases of similar size. Chris Tolley, a BMX enthusiast turned road racer, has lived there for eight years and faces unique challenges in his "pursuit of fun." Namely, the sun, but equally, Austin's continually changing landscape and urban development.
"Riding in both preparation and execution varies so greatly when it comes to summer. One of the unique things with Austin is that you have to have a swimming pool at the end. That's what everyone is planning around now, or it's a midway stop.”
"So, you try and get out of the house before 7 AM if I'm trying to get 100 miles in and still keep that high volume of training, but because your body is so taxed from being out in the sun, you have to try and get back by 11."
Altering routes to suit seasons is something many riders across the world are familiar with, but in the case of Tolley and the harsh Austin summer, it restricts entire parts of the area to cooler periods.
"You can't really do hill country in the summer simply because it's so exposed for so long. You're already so taxed from the heat, so you don't feel like climbing up a bunch of hills for 100 miles in the summer – it's impossible. Austin is very weather dependent. That's how everyone here kind of plans their riding and training."
It's not just the weather that dictates route choice either, as Tolley explains that the growth of the city has meant busier roads and less accessible gravel roads for those that are a fan of off-road riding.
"What's honestly difficult with the boom that Austin has seen since the pandemic is the sprawl – which I think cyclists are more uniquely aware of now. You have to go further and further out or honestly, just start driving to rides.”
"The rides that we used to do five years ago, it's comical to think we'd be doing them now because they're full of semi-trucks and four-way intersections that weren't there before. Within five years we've kind of seen Austin really explode. Also, with gravel riding, if you're trying to get terrain specific training done, all the gravel roads that used to be somewhat accessible within the reach of Austin have now been paved."
An ideal ride for Tolley is a hard training ride. A ride with purpose and focus that he can fit around his busy schedule. He often rides alone these days, but still gets a kick out of taking Strava KOMs on his routes, in particular the coveted 'Lost Creek' segment.
"My favourite training route is in Wimberley and is about 85-95 miles. It's relatively rolling, some little steeper punches but then ending with Lost Creek is like the training ride. If you're on a group ride, that's the race point – you'll do a decent pace up until then, before everyone wants to kill each other."
Finding a suitable training route whatever the season might sound quite difficult for Tolley, with the continuous expansion of his city. And as the population grows across the world, more and more riders will experience similar obstacles. But cycling and cyclists can and will adapt, and it's much easier to have a positive mindset when you're a self-confessed fun seeker, like Tolley.
"I started cycling at least later than a lot of people who are competing professionally and so my goals and aspirations have always been just to have fun. And I always think it's wild that I'm competing against people who do this for a living or have done this since they were 10, but I started because I blew out my knee six times in BMX. So I have a slightly different perspective."
No matter where you live, every state, every town, and every country has its own quirks and adaptations that need to be made to enjoy riding a bike. But that's the beauty of bike riding. Because at the end of the day, it's about the love of riding on two wheels, and exploring where you live. Not just about watts, W/KG, or winning races on Zwift. For Chris and so many of us, it's ultimately about pursuing fun.
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Check out a few of Chris' favourite routes and segments in his Training Ground of Austin:
A future race route (could be used as a teaser). Some of the best and remote gravel close to Austin, with lots of tree cover and river stops.
An absolute HAMMER of a ride that pushes deep into the Hill Country. Beautiful views and some long uninterrupted segments. A favourite for the winter months.
Interval loop! Relatively car-free training route with punchy rollers.
A favourite among World Tour riders like Lawson Craddock and Nate Brown, this puts you through the WRINGER.
Lost Creek, the Holy Grail of Austin KOMs. Phil Gaimon took it, Lawson took it, and now Hugo Scala. If you own this one, you're the true King.
The only true switchbacks near Austin, followed by a long exposed climb to the gas station (after a solid hour of no refuelling). Good spot to empty the tank!
A brutal slog through some rollers followed by a 65mph descent down the ManMaker. Don't tap your brakes baby.