Whats so special about cycling?
Why not running? Or swimming? Or croquet? I suppose anything really. I do have a day job and a fairly intense one at that – it’s not quite your average 9 to 5. On top, I do try to have some form of a private life. This means my free time is fairly limited.
Why do I spend this limited free time (a) cycling, and (b) writing a blog about cycling? As to the former in particular, if my friends haven’t actually asked me, I’m sure they’ve thought about it. I hesitate to think what my colleagues think of the bedraggled and sweaty mass of lycra complete with bicycle arriving in the office each morning.
To be honest, I really don’t know. I suspect it’s because it has completely changed my life.
I know, quite a few people say this, to the point where it may sound a cliché. But I’ll come to this shortly.
Whilst I owned a number of cycles as a child and teenager, the bug never really bit. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy bombing around on two wheels (with or without stabilisers), but it was always just an outdoor activity, one of many. During that time, I actually preferred spending time indoors.
It was only when I acquired a new hybrid bike, a KTM Chronos LC, at the age of 23 when I started to appreciate cycling. I enjoyed a good few rides around quiet country roads and forestry roads. My university studies unfortunately put a moratorium on my efforts, with most of my time spent indoors trying to cram my mild full of complex and abstract information from a ridiculously large pile of books.
Oddly enough, in the run up to my final university exam I decided to dig out my now 10 year old KTM and go for a ride. After 10 km, this left me exhausted but very happy. I enjoyed getting outside and away from the books, and feeling the freedom of flying along scenic bike paths. And that’s when the bug bit me.
First problem: poor clothing.
I originally used training shorts and a baggy T-shirt (with old clip on shoes and a helmet). These restricted me a fair bit, especially in terms of comfort. You’d be surprised what pain a flapping cotton T-shirt can cause over time. I dipped my toe in the water, and got myself a cheap and cheerful set of lycra jersey and shorty. Very quickly I appreciated the close fit, sweat wicking, and chamois pad (between the legs). Over time, I upgraded my kit bit by bit to allow me to ride more quickly, comfortably and fashionably as I grew to love the sport.
Whilst I enjoyed riding off road, I did realise quickly that I enjoyed the high speed of the road. 9 months after digging out my KTM, I decided take the plunge and buy myself a road bike in March 2020. As the COVID-19 crisis crept its way into our daily lives, I was happy to take delivery of my beautiful new Giant Propel – a carbon framed aero bike, complete with carbon wheels.
Sadly within two weeks of acquiring my new beast, this was written off in an unfortunate accident with a van which unexpectedly pulled out from a parking space. Thankfully uninjured and very annoyed as to the untimely loss of my new steed, I decided to get something cheap, good, robust and upgradable whilst I waited for the settlement process with the van driver to finish. My choice: the Triban RC120 from Decathlon. A true wolf in sheep’s clothing.
So. “Get to the point” you’re thinking. Rightly so.
Having lost the superbike of my dreams, I sought solace in lockdown by enjoying solitary rides on my Triban (later christened Hamish) and by learning how to maintain and upgrade it. Later on, I decided to take the remaining working pieces of the Giant Propel and mount these onto the Triban frame. This included an entire Shimano 105 groupset (including new handlebars and STI shifters), which joined a Selle Italia saddle, longer seatpost, Shimano Dura-Ace pedals, TRP RG957 calliper brakes, Kool Stop brake pads… Clearly I was having too much fun.
Now the only original parts of my beloved Hamish are the frame and front fork. Everything else is picked and fitted by myself according to my own wishes. How’s that for a custom build?
Since this big step, I have joined a cycling team (the Geizhals.at VICC Racing Division) where I have made a number of friends, bought myself a new racing bike (to be revealed in a future post), and started racing and riding longer distances (over 300 km in 12 hours, who would have believed it?).
Sitting here in December 2021, over 2 years since I rediscovered cycling, where does this leave me?
- Cycling has offered me the ability to hop onto my machine and fly away, powered by my own muscles, heart and lungs, simultaneously challenging my body but freeing my mind.
- Cycling allows me to discover the world at a pace faster than walking, but slower and more immersive than a car, letting my truly experience places I know and have never seen before.
- Cycling allows me to get lost in the technical details of my bike: a quick check before each ride to make sure everything is tight and working well; breaking out my multitool on a ride and repairing a tire, adjust a derailleur, or repair broken chain; replacing entire brake or gear cables; or taking everything apart for a major service. I ride in the knowledge that everything below me has been put together and maintained by me.
- Cycling has given me a better understanding of my body: from the basics of how I feel at times of physical stress, to knowing how and when to fuel myself, all the way to using metrics based on sensors such as heart rate, cadence and power. More challenging rides such as my ascent up the Großglocknerstraße have tested by body and my mind, developing my physical and mental resilience. Put another way, if I can push my cramping body up Austria’s highest road, I should have the mental drive to push myself to draft a particularly challenging memorandum at work.
- Cycling has improved my cycling skills. Despite sounding obvious, it has really helped me to develop my spatial awareness. I have a greater appreciation for my surroundings, the impact of different road surfaces on my tyre grip, how to adapt to variable wind gusts, how to change my riding style when it rains, snows or is icy (rim brakes, am I right?), predicting and adapting to road hazards (children, squirrels, dogs, deer, cars), the list goes on. It has also made me a better driver of my cat [edit: car!] – same skill set, greater consequences if something goes wrong.
- Cycling has given me a sense of community. For whatever reason, when you ride and pass another cyclist, you might be pleasantly surprised by them waving at you. Just wave back. You may be grabbing a quick bite to eat on a longer ride and see another roadie or MTBer, you may never have met them before, but you can have a great chat about your common hobby (or passion). It’s a good way to make friends. Better still, join a cycling club. Try it. More generally, when you’re on a ride and have the misfortune to break down, you might be surprised when another cyclist stops and gives you a hand. Return the favour.
- Cycling gives me a feeling of adventure. If you’re in your car, of course you can drive towards the horizon and keep going, but you are effectively sitting in a leather armchair surrounded by metal and glass. Try the same on a bike, and you’ll have a much more immersive experience. Try it: grab your bike, put it on the road outside your house, swing your leg over the saddle, test your brakes and push off. Just ride. When you get wherever you want – be it 10 km, 100 km, 1,000 km or 10,000 km away – you can be proud of yourself, knowing that you and only you were responsible. Not the car manufacturer, not the refined oils extracted from the ground. Just you.
I can’t explain it better than this – going on a ride just triggers so many feelings and thoughts. It’s not a sport, it’s not a game, it’s not a toy. Nor is it a machine, a vehicle, nor a way of life. It somehow speaks to the adventurer in all of us, and, going deeper, acts as a mirror to better see and understand ourselves.
Why has it changed my life? Within a period of two years, I have become completely obsessed with cycling. Improving myself, improving my bike, developing new skills, experiencing new things, meeting new people and travelling to new destinations. I have lost about 25 kg, become fitter, found mental resilience, and found balance. If I am worried or stressed about something, I go for a ride and everything is better. How’s that for life changing?
And this blog? Perhaps it’s another way for me to better understand this passion.
Do you have any other tips or experiences? I would be very interested to read these – please add them to the comments below!