Thursday, January 07, 2016

Why do I Ride Bikes?

Have you ever stepped back and contemplated exactly why it is that you ride bicycles? Recently, I've been thinking more and more about that very question. In the past it was very simple, I rode my bike because I loved the sense of freedom, exploration, fitness and just plain fun. I've always identified myself as a cyclist and not a bike racer, regardless of the amount of racing I've done.

In recent years, that seems to have switched to a degree. Part of this has been the level of bike racing, which demanded more dedication. Part of this has been the fact that I've been forcing myself to ride the bike each and every day, which I won't lie, has often made the day's ride more of a chore than an adventure.

It always seems to be this time of year, when racing is done and I can ride whatever I want for as long as I want that I start to get excited again. Funny, as in New England this tends to be some of the harshest and most discouraging weather of the year. Just a couple weeks back Cathy, our friend George and I had one of the most miserable rides I've ever experienced. We started out on a road ride in Lyndon, Vermont as the temperature hovered at 37 degrees.

Twenty minutes into the ride, it started raining. An hour in, at the top of a four mile climb over Sheffield Heights, one of the higher areas around, it was pouring. The five mile descent to the mid point of the ride was frigid. The ride back from Barton through West Burke in the near freezing, pouring rain was intolerable. Feet, hands and even forearms were frozen numb and I couldn't generate any body heat.

Starting to feel myself slip into the early stages of hypothermia as I shivered uncontrollably, I bolted on a sprint to try and warm up and finish the final ten miles, reluctantly leaving my companions to fend for themselves. Shifting and braking were clumsy and awkward but I managed. About the same time, George, a man who thrives in conditions like this, was bonking and needed to stop for food. Cathy of course, was her normal stoic self and although uncomfortable, was still doing just fine.

I finished and as quickly as possible with frozen numb fingers started the vehicle and stripped my gritty outer layers off. I couldn't get the buckle on my helmet undone so that remained atop my head. I then headed out to try a rescue my cohorts, only to meet them at the end of the driveway.

That was a good one. I really thought that I wasn't going to make it back that time and had been running disaster plans over in my head for some time. Luckily, we all made it back, living to tell and having that distinct ride adventure memory to add to our collection. Often, rides like that, the ones that really leave a mental mark and memory, are the best ones. Similar to a ride the Kyle and I did last winter. This was a fat bike loop in Western Maine that went into some remote areas of NH. It started great but turned into a complete debacle. Seven hours in we were barely moving, trying to make it through loose, unpacked snow up over a major mountain pass, Evan's Notch. The sun was getting low and the temperature was starting to drop. It would be two more hours before we made it back home, after dark, punctuating a brutal day on the bike, but one that will always stand out in reflection and conversation.

Over the recent holiday break we had some stellar rides, as have we this week. Conditions have not been great and it has been cold, or snowing, or icy, or all of the above. Still, we were out of doors enjoying nature. Some consider many of these rides, like the cold weather rides on icy terrain where you are just meandering about exploring and trying not to fall down, as junk miles. From a pure physical fitness and training standpoint, they are probably right. You are not really working all that hard, aerobically speaking, and beyond practicing some limited technical skills, it isn't necessarily a super hard workout.

Recently, the rage with many competitive cyclists is online virtual racing. The way it works is you either have a smart trainer that can measure and adjust resistance to match a simulated course provided virtually, over the internet or you have a normal trainer and power meter which uploads to the internet based application, which in turn simulates and stages your position based on your power to weight output. Years ago I had one of the earlier generation smart trainers, a Cycleops model. It cost a bunch and worked really, really poorly in a closed virtual environment but was novel and I could see the benefits. I, however, decided a few years back to do all of my riding out of doors (are you really actually riding a bike if it is mounted to a fixed trainer indoors?) and have not looked back. Years before that, I'd stopped using a trainer anyhow and was only using rollers as I felt that they at least taught balance skills and also provided an excellent means of a recovery spin, recovery from a workout performed out of doors.

Reasons and values can and do change. Recently, I've cared more about the workout and somewhat less about the fun of the ride. This is mainly the case in the fall only, however, as CX is usually the only discipline of racing for which I show much of any training discipline. Even that is coming into question though as what I did this year, didn't seem to work all that well in the long run. I think that it is because I've gotten lazy, especially this past season. I'd told myself I was taking the year off and going easier, having no real goals at all. That was always in the back of mind so riding in many cases became academic and I was just going through the motions, not really getting value from it. Checking the box if you will and telling myself that it was OK. By and large, it was, except when it wasn't, like when I fell apart toward the backend of the season.

You see, I'm not wired in such a way that I can race bikes and not have it matter. If I'm going to pay money and line up, it matters. So, the takeaway is that if I'm going to take time off, I really need to take time off, from racing, and not race. Who would have guessed? And if I'm going to take time off from riding, I need not continue to ride every day, especially when I don't really want to. I need to want to ride, to be hungry for it, not to look at it as a chore that needs to be completed for the day before I can go to bed in the evening. In many cases, that is what it has become. Getting back home after a long day of working only to feel compelled to go out in the cold, dark rain so that I can check the box. That is the problem with a streak, it's like a habit. Sure, it may be a good habit, but it really comes down to the fact that it is a compulsion. "I can stop anytime", "I'll stop next year", "What if I don't start again?".

The truth is that you invest so much, and have invested so much up to that point that you don't want to give that up. I can't believe how scary the thought of breaking the streak is, really. As I sit here thinking about it I am getting seriously agitated. This, I'd guess, is what addiction is like.

We are heading into a good time of the year, for riding, and for other outdoor activity. If only winter would set in for good, I'd feel better about not riding. For now though, I will keep at it but when we really get some winter, who knows. I look forward to long, fun rides. The host of great rides in the past few weeks keep me motivated, wanting for more.

So, why do I ride bikes? The real answer is that I love riding bikes. I crave the excitement and adventure of exploration. It truly is what defines me, as a person. Exploration is the core reason for my aversion to out and back routes. I've already seen that stuff, show me something different. Mapping new routes and new places to ride is always on my mind. It is what got me hooked on cycling to begin with, exploring the trails and looping them together in a cohesive fashion, building a war chest of personal, local trails. Unfortunately, though you can get a heck of a workout on a trainer, that lack of exploration and adventure has kept me out of doors. I'm interested though and who knows, maybe I will get into it on some really nasty day, when the outdoors are closed, or broken. Maybe.

That may be shallow but it is what I have to work with. I love riding and sharing the passion for riding with others. In the near future, I hope to expand more upon that aspect and promote the sport in areas that I feel, really need it. I come from a very rural and arguably poor background. There is nearly no cycling outreach to those areas. I'd love to help change that, to get bikes into the hands of rural kids that can't afford them, get them involved in group cycling activities and plant the seed of cycling. I've done it before for suburban kids and it worked pretty well. I don't see why it wouldn't work for less affluent kids, who really need the help.

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