How serious a rider are you?
No, really: I mean this question quite genuinely. How serious are you?
I hear you ask, “Well, how should we judge that?”
Well, how about this: Do you count your miles in a ride log? Do you keep a cycling computer connected to your bicycle? Do you worry about whether your jersey matches the color scheme of your bike?
Are you a triathlete, duathlete, monathlete, or just a half-lete? Can you ride 100 miles? 50? 10? Are you one of those superhuman folks who can reel off two or three hundred in one go? Does that make you a more serious rider than the gal next door, who just finished her first 20-mile ride ever yesterday, and is telling everyone she knows? Is she serious enough?
It seems to me there are as many kinds of riders as there are actual riders. Dividing them up into serious and not is pretty absurd. Yet I – and most of my friends – do it every single day. It's rampant in road biking culture, in fact. In the guise of just sharing a good road story, guys will tell, with unimpeachable humility, of that time last week when they got caught in some jam and had to ride an extra 60 miles in withering heat, on top of their normal century, due to (fill in the blank). But, shucks -- t'weren't nothin'.
Speaking for myself:
I spend a lot of time shopping for that right jersey. I finally bought a nifty one at a good price yesterday, having shopped for weeks. I also shopped for weeks for water bottles that set off my bike’s color scheme – now that I have them, I think the overall effect is dangerously cool, actually. I occasionally catch myself admiring my new body in the mirror when I’m all done up in biking shorts and a sleek, colorful jersey. I love my new, highly-defined quads and my widening calves and shrinking body fat percentage.
I’ve done the base miles, the hill repeats, the intervals, the hundreds of hours on the rollers to improve my form, the heart rate zones, the calorie counting, the stretches, the recovery drinks. I have read every technical cycling book in two local public libraries, and I’m currently working on a third. And I’m teaching myself to fix my own bike.
Now: Am I a serious cyclist?
See, here’s the rub: The more serious I became about my cycling experience, the more impoverished it became.
Any and all of the pastimes above can be great fun; stress-reducing, joyful, healthy, creative. Or they can be one more way to feel like I am not quite enough. There are days when I compare myself to every rider I see on the road, or compare my stats to those of my veteran friends on the Internet cycling forums. Needless to say, on those days, I don’t come out well in the comparison. On the days when I’m really enjoying myself, I don’t compare – I’m just plain happy for every person I see out on a bike, whether beginner, pro or in-between.
So, in order to not self-destruct my cycling passion, I began to work on distinguishing between the kinds of priorities that help and those that hurt. Here’s what I came up with: If I am enjoying myself, it’s helpful. If I’m not, it’s hurtful.
Pretty fancy, huh?
Note that enjoying myself can take many forms. On many days, it’s long, grueling effort and pushing past personal records. Especially if I'm doing that for my own reasons. But even then, I have to mix in some riding just to ride – to enjoy the sunshine, to see the wind in the grass, to have an adventure someplace new, to get the feeling of flying that comes over me on long, flat stretches, when I hit that rolling groove, and time and mind slip away. When I was a kid on that shiny new red bike, I didn't ride to look better than my friend. I rode because riding rocks.
Above all, I have to avoid comparing myself to other riders. I find that ridiculously tricky, although the more months of riding I string together, the easier it gets. After all, if I’m still cycling now, it’s got to be because I found something I hold dear, something real.
The trick answer to the trick question, “Am I a serious rider?” is no – because being serious is the wrong goal for me. It’s a trap. It hangs its hat on the wrong hook: What do/would others think of my mileage, my kit, my bike, my wins? If you think about it for 15 seconds, that becomes an utterly pointless question, spiralling back in on itself. However, precisely because it’s pointless, it suddenly becomes very dangerous when I invest it with importance, with priority. If being taken seriously is your goal, well, take it from me: You can never get enough. If, however, I can manage to truly take the enjoyment credo to heart, make it my engine of growth, I can look forward to many more years of true velophoria.
So, tell me: Are you serious?