I’ve gotta be honest: there are times when I wonder why I’m riding. It’s 5:30am and I’m on the trainer. It’s cold and raining, and I’m doing hill repeats. It’s midday sun, triple-digit temperatures, and I’m on blacktop. It’s headwinds that don’t turn into tailwinds. It’s halfway through a cyclocross race. It’s mile 45 of this year’s Gravel Metric. There are times when bailing seems like a good option. When my mind goes through the analysis of bailing–at home, it might be the question of what I could be doing if I wasn’t on the trainer (sleep? watch the news? read? obsessively follow new product launches?) On the road, the questions might be who I would call, how long it might take for them to come get me, or what shortcuts I could take to end a ride.
I’m either stubborn or stupid, but I don’t bail. There have been rides where I’ve been dropped–many, in fact. I either finish the ride solo, or go out further and punish myself a bit more. But why? I’m not a sponsored rider. I’m not a professional rider. I’m not going to win prizes. I’m not going to even be the fastest guy in the group I ride with. With the various health crap I’ve got going on, I’m not likely to ever be what I’d consider to be a fast rider.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 was an unseasonably warm night in DeKalb, Illinois. There was a group of seven riders who went out–five regulars (Tobie, BPaul, Lenny, Frank and I), an honored guest (Brendan Gore-cik), and a first-time rider. I’ll write about him another time.
At 6pm, when we rolled out, twilight was upon us, and the temperature was hovering at 70 degrees. There was a brisk wind out of the South. We were all mounted on our various gravel-oriented steeds, and we headed out of town.
In that group, there’s no doubt that I’m the weakest link. So why do it?
The road turned to gravel as we turned into the wind. Tobie and Brendan were up front.
BPaul was next to me.
And the night was closing in. We rode in that formation for a while, and then BPaul and I loped around Tobie and Brendan, and pulled.
I’d look over my shoulder to make sure we were all hanging on…
And then look forward, at BPaul and my lights, showing the gravel skittering by underfoot.
We rode in the night, with the warm wind blowing, and did a few laps at a local forest preserve. In the dark. It was more fun than we had any right to expect. Then, we headed back out to the road, and back towards town.
We were cruising at a relaxed pace, approaching a gentle hill. Never being one who knows when to say when, I dropped a couple gears and spun up the pace. With a comfortable tailwind, I picked up to 25mph pretty quickly. Just as I looked over my shoulder to see where the group was, Tobie and Brendan whizzed past.
The next several miles back to town consisted of coasting up to intersections, and then blasting up to top speed. We were on cross bikes (and Frank on a mountain bike), sprinting on paved roads, in the dark. According to ye olde Garmin, my top speed for that segment was 33.2 mph. I did my best to hang, but when the fastest guys were out front, it was all I could do to suck a wheel…and there was one instance where I couldn’t even hold a wheel.
That’s why I ride. I ride because 2 years ago, when I got serious about riding, I thought 5 miles was a huge distance to go on a bike. I thought pedalling at 15mph was ludicrous. I thought running shorts should be worn over cycling bibs.
Sometimes, when people talk to me about riding, I can see the doubt in their eyes. I can see the questions they have…why would any rational person strap on a headlamp and ride bikes on gravel roads at night? Why would anyone look forward to a 115 mile uphill, into the wind, as a good recreational activity for a Sunday? Why would anyone want to ride?
I ride because of the sound gravel makes as it pings off of a titanium downtube, and because of the conversation that can only be had between two people riding side by side on bicycles. I ride because I can’t quite hang–but I’m getting closer every month. I ride because being a cyclist is something I’m proud of. It’s something I aspire to be. And wearing the colors of my favorite shop is something I like to do.
I ride because I remember what it was like to start riding, and how much I’ve grown since then. I ride because I can see how much growth potential remains.
In the past, people lived vicariously through the lives of others. I recently read a blog post suggesting that people spend time on Facebook and similar sites, presenting an idealized picture of themselves to others. We don’t post the pictures where we look crappy, or where we’re doing things that we’re ashamed of. We post the best image of ourselves. We tag pictures of ourselves, with our friends, all smiling. When I look at the images of myself on Facebook, I see four things: a proud father, a happy husband, a good friend and a cyclist. In my opinion, we no longer live vicariously through others. We live vicariously through ourselves, posting these idealized versions of ourselves. I try to be pretty straight here on the blog, but I ride because I enjoy the experiences, the trials, the growth, the friends, and the aftermath. I like how I look riding–smiling, happy, confident.
I ride with Axletree because I want others to have those same experiences, and that same growth.
I ride because it makes me a better person. Healthier, happier, tougher, wiser. You should ride too.