Cycling has been a passion of mine off and on since I was a small child. My mother said I loved pedaling so much that I wore holes in those plastic wheels on my first big wheel tricycle. That first feeling of riding off on two wheels and exploring the world beyond your front yard still stays with me today. The freedom to explore your surroundings, ride with friends, or find some inner peace in the solitude of a back road are immensely satisfying. Satisfying in a way that also heals our inner self. There can be hazards that come along with cycling too. There is a multitude of opportunities to obsess about power numbers, equipment weight, or body weight. There are numerous helmets, electronic gadgets, and shoes to obsess over also. Finding balance within your cycling hobby is critical to finding any success in the long term, whatever your goals are. I write articles like this as more of an affirmation to myself, so I am not calling anyone out in particle besides myself. When I get a little to far out in the deep end, I will look in the mirror and wonder what my 10 year old self would say back at me.
I’ll be the first to admit that I love the ability that cycling can give a person to produce and analyze data. The data cruncher in me just gets a little giddy when I can see fitness progress and power improvements year over year. I can measure calorie expenditures then compute calorie intake to drop weight or increase muscle mass on demand. The 10 year old in me doesn’t really care about any of that stuff. He just wants to ride bikes.
I will also admit that I find myself staring at magazines or online articles amazed at the technological advances that have been made over the last 10 years. There are more bicycle’s today than there have ever been in the history of bicycling. We can obsess over single speeds, carbon fiber, electronic shifters, mountain bike shocks, 1×11 setups, the transformation of the power meter market, and still trying to figure out what a Campy group set is. The 10 year old in me sort of cares about that stuff, but it is always more important to “ride what ya brung.”
A few of the most physically dangerous things we could pursue as cyclists is an unhealthy body weight. I will admit, that my love of all things craft beer keeps me in check. I’ve dropped some significant body weight before, but it was all within the scope of unnecessary body fat. I feel fortunate that the weight loss bug never sank it’s teeth into me (thank you beer and potato chips). I know some people struggle immensely with their weight and I’ve seen my fair share of people in the sport of triathlon, running, and cycling that look the part. However, I don’t have the experience or expertise to discuss the issue much further than that. Luckily, my 10 year old self is strong in this regard. He always tells me to eat those BBQ potato chips and that jar of marshmallow cream.
Training plans and racing schedules can also be just as seductive. There is nothing more satisfying than building some long term consistency with a professional training plan. Training plans and coaches make you successful because unconsciously you build in a little personal accountability. That personal accountability leads to gains in fitness through consistent training. After the gains are made, and the training plan is complete, the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment is overwhelming. This can lead to more training plans, and more time commitments, and a desire to stick to the training plan no matter what. Our training plans can hold us hostage, stuck riding by ourselves because there is no room for “Junk Miles” in our training. The 10 year old screams at me “shut up dude, just ride your bike!”
Without balance, we lose some of the joys that cycling can bring us. We may find that we are measuring our self worth within watts or kilos; believe that the carbon fiber goodies that the cycling industry is willing to sell us, might have produced a win at that CAT 4 Crit. After losing a race, I always imagined someone standing off to the side in a trent coat whispering to me, “Hey, you looking for some carbon fiber derailleurs, maybe some Campy stuff?” I would love to see somebody come out and crush us all on some 1995 aluminum job wearing sneakers instead of cycling shoes. My 10 year old self would want that guy or gals autograph.
I’ve skirted the edges of all of these obsessions. On occasion, I find myself wandering away from balanced cycling, but then I look back in that mirror and get right back to my cycling center. Being centered is important for longevity within this sport/hobby. You don’t need to win bicycle races to have fun doing bicycle races. Hell, I’ve never won a bicycle race in my life and I still keep doing it. Winning a bicycle race is not normal, it is a complete abnormality. The day I win a bicycle race is the day I will refer to myself as “abnormal” within the realm of what is considered normal (losing bicycle races). The same thing goes for those Strava KOM’s that some of us lust over. KOM’s come, and KOM’s go.
As spring approaches, look for your center. I find I come out of balance over the winter. The determination to make “This Year” your best year, can put a person out of balance. Take one day in the week to forget the training plan, the power numbers, or the calorie counting. Break out of the rigidity, brush the dust off your old beater bike, and ride slow to have fun. Sprint to the stop sign like you were a kid again, but wait for everyone to catch up. Drink that beer, eat those potato chips, or just go out and have a long adventure where at the end of the day your in a calorie surplus. If none of that works, then look in the mirror, and when you look back you will here that 10 year old saying, “I double dog dare you!”