Tan lines fading. Motivation too. Mornings cooler, darker. Days shortening. Summer fades so quickly into autumn, an annual event that somehow manages to surprise and disappoint us. Ahead, only darkness. Nine months into the year and the dear cyclist begins to think of hibernation.
The paradox of fitness peaking, body stronger than ever yet oh so tired, weary, continually on the limit. Limbs lighter, mind perhaps wiser, most importantly you’re a quicker rider. Yet probably still not satisfied. You can always be quicker.
The Transcontinental Race (TCR) is a bike race across Europe or perhaps more accurately, a voyage into the unknown mental and physical capabilities of oneself.
The rules are simple. Ride unsupported across Europe following your own route via four checkpoints before reaching the finish line. There’s no official cut-off time for this c.2,500 mile (4,000km) race but many riders aim to finish within 14 days to be a part of the finish line celebrations.
Following an ultra-distance cycle race is fascinating (and tiring!). Forget about the theatre of the Tour de France and the other so called ‘Grand Tours’. TCR is the real thing, very real, a vivid drama on a human scale, an adventure both relatable to most cyclists whilst being equally unfathomable.
Who is the creature who returns home exhausted, depleted? Dry salt caking face, heavy black rings lacing eyes, more aches and pains in legs than your average nursing home. This is the cyclist who has ridden too far, too high. Bitten off more than they can chew. The route too big for their legs.
Ding, ding, bike on the road! Ding ding, careful now. Ding ding, excuse me and my two wheeled contraption. Ding ding, look away from your phone and focus on the road you’re crossing. Ding ding ding ding, is this annoying? Ding ding ding ding ding, why are you angry I have alerted you to my presence? Ding! What the hell is bicycle bell etiquette?
I’ve fitted a bell to my commuter bike. My oh my. Who’d have thought such a simple act would be so fraught with existential questions?!
Respect. That’s what missing from our roads. Nobody respects anybody. Drivers in cycle lanes, cyclists on pavements, pedestrians in cycle lanes, cyclists running red lights, drivers speeding. It goes on. We’ve become a self-entitled, self-centred, self-important society. A self society. And it’s ugly, real damn ugly.
Sure, we must look out for ourselves but at all costs? What does it cost to look out for others? To respect and care for one another? I can but dream. We cyclists often feel like we’re on the receiving end in such a world, and it’s often true, yet we also ignore others in the pursuit of the self. I count myself amongst that number.
We need a break. It’s over. It’s me, not you. I can commit no longer, I need space, I’m tired. Let’s not get emotional, let’s enjoy the memories we shared, fond moments we’ll never forget. So long bike.
Done. Kaput. Finito. The end of the cycling season comes to an abrupt halt, no warning, just like that, you stop cycling. Mercy. One week you’re loving every ride, no end in sight, not even winter will stop you, and then bang, you’re sat inside on a lovely day, no motivation, no guilt, beer in hand, telly on, belly out.
Buying a new road bike. It begins as a vague idea, quickly turns into excitement and then snowballs into a major headache before becoming a lesson in the art of procrastination. We turn what should be a pleasurable activity into pure torture. Why?
The paradox of choice. We’re overwhelmed. Marginal differences between groupsets, between colour schemes. Is this the lightest bike I can afford, are these the best wheels, is it aero enough, should I get electric gears, will it fit me? A series of questions which we will over analyse, doubts that will preoccupy our minds more than life itself.
The conversation between head and body when you’ve been cycling too much.
Head to body: I’m up for this, let’s have it!
Body to head: I’m not so sure, I’m a little achy. We cycled three big days back to back this week.
Head: That’s true but I feel great, come on, stop your whining and let’s get out there. Rule 5 yeah?
Body: Rule 5? How old are you? I thought you were the wise one?
Get off my road, you shout, as if I’m an immigrant ahead of you in the doctors, a leech on your neck. You are vocal yet you are in the minority. Venom for no other reason than I check your progress, your assumed and ill conceived right to the road makes me your enemy, a fly you must swat aside, a lesson you must teach.
Once you’ve scared me, passing so close that I could touch your car with my elbow, I wonder how the kids in the back seat of your car perceive you, I wonder how you react at work when you’re told to do something, or how your partner puts up with you after you’ve had a few beers, or how you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror. Proud probably, unfortunately.
Life is all about the little things. A cold beer on a hot summer day. Sleeping late. The smile of a stranger. Theme tunes from 1980s TV shows.
The little things make life what it is, they have to, for the big things are few and far between. Which is just as well because our tiny human minds would explode if life was a series of never-ending drama à la British TV soaps.
Cycling too lends itself to the little things. In a social media age of ‘epic’ everything and a billion kudos or likes, it’s still the tiny details that make me fall in love with cycling.