From time to time, I take a step back from all the riding, training, and racing to consider why I’ve immersed myself in the cycling culture.
I feel it’s important to understand myself… To know what motivates me to do the things I do…
It may seem that competition drives me. Every time I ride my bike, I find myself chasing down any person I come in contact with.
A jogger… How long until I pass someone who’s going a fraction of my speed?
A cyclist… Reel him in… (click, click)… Pass him now… (But don’t make it look like I’m trying too hard…)
A slower moving group of riders… Stay in my heart rate zone and then pass them when I’m in a sprint interval…
If it was the thrill of knowing that I’m faster than someone else, then why do I do this when I’m overtaking a jogger? If it’s more than just competition, then what is it?
I began to ponder this and I think I’ve found my answer.
I have immersed myself in the cycling culture because I’ve had a taste of perfection, and I want more of it.
Bill Strickland touched on it in the June edition of Bicyling magazine1. He talked about a couple riders who were riding well on a group ride. They matched the speed of the others, they passed some people and avoided getting dropped when the group started to splinter, but then… Suddenly, something happened that they didn’t anticipate. They got dropped. They didn’t read the signs that it was imminent, and then it happened. After riding in “no man’s land”, they finished the ride and discussed what happened. One of the guys said, “Sometimes you just don’t ride it right.”
The author went on to talk about how cyclists strive to find that level of perfection, when everything about your biking experience just clicks. From the way you were fast enough to stay with the group the entire time, to acing the sprints against your fellow riders at the end of the ride, to avoiding scuffing the wall with your tire when you put your bike away… These are the things that cyclists take pride in.
I’ve experienced this perfection when I’ve been a part of a fast group ride. The pace line is structured with set rules of how you rotate, yet it flows and adjusts, fluidly… like something with a life all its own. When I’m in line with the other riders, hearing the droning hum of twenty tires cutting across the asphalt, seeing how each rider adjusts their effort to stay in perfect position, I feel my heart swell. It’s like the realization hits me… “We’re on to something here… pure magic!”
As speed is needed, the cyclist next to me puts more power to their pedals. I see the upper body lean forward, the legs surge, I hear the breathing quicken. Each rider in line follows suit… one after the next, like dominos cascading. At the same time, the riders in front of me, are soft pedaling, keeping their speed, staying in the draft, yet sitting up to catch more air drag… all the little things that slow you down without grabbing the brakes.
I do it too. I’m part of a machine that is both human and bike. I’m part of a whole, yet individual and integral in my position… It feels like magic when it works… And since the pace line usually works very well, it’s perfection. Adapting, adjusting, corrective perfection.
It’s strange that I feel this way… After all, I have not ridden on a local shop ride in almost a year. However, in spite of spending most of my time training solo, it would still be common for me to say in casual conversation, “When I ride in the pace line…” simply because my memories of these moments are so poignant. The essence of those rides is still etched strongly in my mind, in my muscle memory, in my being.
It’s like those times I did the crit practice on the winter rides at the Monroe Bike Path. We would leave the path and enter the neighborhood streets to form an undulating, flowing, peloton. The nighttime brought little traffic, and we were able to take the curves at full speed, cutting the corners, banking, and flowing as a group.
On those nights, I realized I could actually lean the bike very far down without hitting the pedals on the pavement as I hammered through a curve. I found myself going around the turns faster than I’d ever done before. The adrenaline, being on the edge of danger, putting your trust in the skills of the riders around you, the fear of getting dropped and having the guys think, “That’s what happens when you let a girl join the ride”… These emotions were so strong and real. They were part of the learning process that led to some beautiful moments of flowing perfection.
The other day, when I watched the end of a stage of the Tour de France, I got excited as the racers increased their speed for the last couple kilometers of the course. The camera angles from above showed the colorful jerseys, the extreme speed of the pack, and the mesmerizing undulation of the peloton as it flew around curves and round-abouts. The camera angles from the sidelines showed the determined faces, the intensity of the competition, and the power in the racer’ quad muscles.
I could see the energy. It was palpable! The teams coming to the front, in an effort to put their sprinters in the right position… The dueling sprinters, all craving the green jersey… Racers matching the surges of the other racers they’d marked…
And then, that moment when the finishing sprint begins. When to start sprinting? Too early? Too late? Those decisions are crucial. Each racer makes that choice and does their athletic best to handle their choice… To see their race through to perfection. Only one will attain that goal.
There are moments when I’ve felt like I rode that way. Strong, reaching deep inside myself, sustaining power… It felt like magic… Like perfection. The act of standing up, shifting, the body position… all of it... perfect. It’s happened during intervals, during races, during group rides.
Sometimes, I get that reminder of perfection when I do my pre-race routine exactly the right way. The visualization of success has been with me all week. I have no nervousness. The start whistle blows and I launch. It doesn’t even matter how the race will go. In my mind I’ve already done it right.
So that’s why I’m a cyclist. That’s why I race and train. It’s why I do what I do. The goal is for perfection in my sport. When the pre, the mid, and the post were all done correctly… When there was flow, intensity, and speed… When I felt great, even amidst the pain of pushing so hard… And when I didn’t scuff the wall with my tire when I put my bike away1… That’s the cyclist’s culture. That’s pure perfection. It’s who I am. I am a cyclist.
Tomorrow is my most important race of the season. Check back on Monday to find out how I did.
1. Strickland, Bill. “Not Riding it Right”, Bicycling Magazine, June edition, 2012.