Missing a Trick

 "The bicycle is its own best argument. You just get a bike, try it, start going with the thing and using it as it suits you. It'll grow and it gets better and better and better" 

Many acute observations have been made and memorable things said and written about cycling but this line from bearded, crepe sole shoe wearing '70s cycling legend Richard Ballentine emphasises the bike's versatility; how it can be many things to many people. 

This versatility has led to a divergence of bike design to create specialised bikes which in turn has seen the emergence of various cycling tribes. A cursary roll call would see touring cyclists riding their bikes to see different places and for the love of riding, mountain bikers (with many sub-tribes) availing themselves of the thrill and challenge of the trails, retro hipsters using their bikes as fashion accessories, club riders doing traditional Sunday runs with a cafe stop, road racers testing their mettle and professional road racing riders earning a living doing the same. And of course people using their bikes simply to travel from place to place or enjoying being out with their pals, taking in the countryside and getting some exercise in the fresh air.

Some people enjoy the tribalism; of being part of an exclusive groovy gang. Others can't get past the snobbery and cliquey behaviour and others don't give a hoot and just get on their bike and ride. Whichever way your cloth is cut, the trick is to follow Ballentine's advice and ride your bike to suit you. It's a trick that a few may be missing as a result of the way cycling is marketed and a culture of copying the pros in some of cycling's tribes.

Professional road racing cyclists are a source of inspiration for cycling fans and a fair share of envy too for their prowess and the fact that they are making a living from riding their bikes. They get to take all of those drugs as well the lucky bastards. But then there's the pain. Lots of it. And most are in the unenviable position of having to take a reductive approach to bike riding. Their riding is either training or racing and both are a means to an end. The training is to allow them to race better and the racing is to earn money. There may be other factors for some - like glory and even enjoyment. But these aren't the main considerations.

Tiny improvements to performance can translate into big improvements at the finish line. To that end, most pros and their coaches reduce their training rides to numbers in an attempt to better improve performance. Heart rates, power outputs, cadence; measures of pain.

Many cyclists copy the pros. The bikes they ride and the way they set them up, the clothes they wear and how they wear them and the way they ride their miles (but rarely the miles themselves). Marketeers know this and package cycling in images of pain to entice customers to part with their hard earned cash to buy products that allow them to be more like the pros. The logic is simple - the pros are the best cyclists in the world and copying everything they do might make me stronger.

Even if the logic wasn't flawed (it is), it would still be missing Ballentine's point. Which is that pain and numbers suit the pros and getting stronger is what pays their bills. It may suit amateur racing cyclists to copy the pros approach to some extent to enjoy racing more; the more thoughtful will avoid turning their training rides into a means to an end and enjoy all of their riding. The rest of us are better served by just riding our bikes, pushing on when we fancy it, forgetting the numbers (other than the price of a slice of cake at the cafe), enjoying the scenery and the company if we have anyone else along for the ride or the contemplation if we don't.

By Antoine Ventouse

Comments on this post (2)

  • Oct 08, 2014

    Indeed ,can not agree more ,Cyclists that are obsessed with numbers ,sprinting in places you normally wouldn’t for an on line goal !
    Bikes hooked up like robo cop measuring every ounce of effort speed and gear change .
    Enjoy what’s around you and ride as your mind and body tells you .
    Oh and have a chat every once in a while and stop taking it too seriously …

    — Paul

  • Apr 18, 2013

    A thoughtful and well written piece which captures an if missed point of cycling. I would add that every ride is a mini adventure in its own right….often allowing a range of experiences and emotions. Let’s face it…its brilliant. Must dust off the bike!!!!!

    — Rupert davies

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