New. Never travelled. Perhaps your eyes traced a pixellated line on a screen the night before or perhaps you simply turned left instead of right. Ahead only virgin road unridden. The unknown.
Every turn a mystery. Eyes keen, alert for every next direction. A cartographer committing landmarks to memory, extending your mental map lest you travel this way again.
Gasp. The landscape surprises, amazes. Simple things. A twee village, a church perched on a hill, parallel trees in formation either side of the road, a big cow. Nothing of great note, not even worthy of a photograph, the scenery the sum of its parts, less a vision more a feeling.
Structure is both the saviour and enemy of the free. It brings rules and regulations, it moderates and provides guidance. And boy do we need guidance. Total freedom is chaos. Anarchy.
Structure is the foundation upon which society is formed. A system that frees us from anarchy yet strips us of our freedom. We are not free, we are civilised. Stifled. Structure restricts. It forces square pegs into round holes. It discriminates, it bores.
Yet few flee the structure of society. We fear the unstructured. We impose rules and structure on all we encounter. Conversations, days, lives, damn, even cycling. Gone is the joy of random walks, of chance encounters, of just popping out for a ride.
Hello old friend. It’s been a while. What? Yes, it’s that time of year again. I know, I know. Brrr.
Her? The mistress? That was a mere summer fling, showing off in front of others, a lightweight frolic beneath the sun.
Nothing compares to you, ever dependable winter bike, bike number 1 once and forever. You’re the one who gets me through the hard times, little reward for your endeavours but hour upon hour of steady rolling through frozen landscapes, more mud than road.
Ride, roll, spin.
Gasp. As if to live I must fight for air.
Hunched, knees unnaturally near jaw
Not the poise of one who flies.
So nails can enjoy the view.
Drink suckled from teat
Nothing odd with that.
I used to be a contender. I could have taken that KOM. I was quicker goddammit and now look at me. Pathetic.
Slow with a tailwind, the merest incline induces a series of huffing and puffing and effing and blinding. Strava automatically marks my rides as private as a sign of a respect to my former self. Inner chimp has become inner chump. Yep, I’m most definitely outta shape.
Empty legs, head and heart. The unthinkable has happened. I’ve fallen out of love with cycling. Say what now? Surely not? The urge long lost, denial initially fuelled more riding. Perhaps I’ll just blast through it, I thought, kidding nobody. This lasted for two months before THAT ride.
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.
Want to be a faster rider? Of course you do. What if I told you that for around £9 a month you could be quicker, stronger and better looking? Well, that last one’s a stretch, but many cycling services promise to make you a better cyclist. Are they true?
Yes and no. Truth be told, nobody needs these programmes, not if they are highly motivated and have all the time in the world. Yet this isn’t always the case. It’s like exercise and weight loss videos. Of course you could exercise and eat better without the videos, but for some training videos add structure, motivation and a basic education. Cycle training services do the same.
Climber’s cough plagues me. My lungs burn. It is six hours since I raced up Swains Lane in the brilliant Rollapaluza Urban Hill Climb race. Regrets? Sure, but only my tactics!
Hosted on my local hill, Swains Lane, a short sharp lung buster I’ve had an on-off relationship with for many a year. I’ve climbed it 94 times in 4 years, a tiny amount considering I think of this as my local hill. Why? Mentally Swains Lane has gotten into my psyche. It is the hill I think about when I talk about hill climbing, the hill I think about when I imagine pain. Lots of pain.
We cyclists lie to ourselves. A lot. Like most of the human race we rely on perception rather than reality. We are our own marketing managers and spin doctors, massaging reality to tell ourselves that all is well in the world. We are not mental. Well, just a little.
Little mind tricks are what keep us pedalling on cold wet rides or slogging through an interval or headwind. They make us better riders or enable us to hold our heads a little higher when we realise that yes actually, we do look a little ridiculous wearing Lycra and hobbling and slipping on our cleats in supermarket aisles whilst searching for cheap energy!
Drum roll please… many years in the making, I finally entered and completed a hill climb race. And yes, I loved it! What kind of animal looks forward to pain, who destroys their body in pursuit of seconds and metres gained? The hill climber. A strange beast.
I’ve always enjoyed hill climbs. There’s nothing quite like the fire in your lungs and legs near the summit of a hill and knowing you’ve still got to push on. A mental challenge as much as physical, only will power and the ability to block pain gets you through the final metres of a climb. Come on!