What Makes a Real Cyclist?

I remember sitting in my car at a traffic light over twelve years ago. I glanced to my right and there he was!  I had to do a double then triple-take because he was mesmerizing.  A tall dark-chocolate brown man standing perfectly still balanced on his bike. His chiseled body hugged by a silver Lycra shorts and jersey. His bike, shoes and helmet were also silver. The sun glinted off all that silver as he made micro movements to stay upright in his track stand. His glasses: a silver mirror finish that obscured his eyes and of course the frames were also silver.  He had a on an aerodynamic time-trial helmet.  I knew just by taking all this in, that he was the god Mercury ready to take flight. Imagine my disappointment when he didn’t fly away when the light turned green!  I knew at that moment that I had seen a CYCLIST. 

Everyone else riding a bike was just fooling around.  But I was judgmental when I came to that conclusion.  The dictionary defines cyclist as a person who rides a bike.   In my crazy thinking, a cyclist is someone who rides a bike and trains hard.  Where did that point of view come from?

My dad taught and modeled this mindset for me.   My Dad starting running track in high school and competed for six decades.   That’s not a typo: he competed in the Master’s Program well into his late 60’s.  His events were the 400 and 200.  My sisters and I liked to tease Dad about his muscular legs saying he didn’t have calves but instead his calves were grown up so we should call them bulls!  He had a six-pack and fuel-lines well into his 70’s.

I was a “chubby” kid who lost weight after graduating high school. I decided to train with my Dad and he put me through various drills to build my running skills and stamina.  He built an athletic mindset in me: you train to compete. Training is about challenging your body so, when you compete, you get better.  We competed in several 5 and 10-K runs.  I even have a trophy for a 10K run.  When you rode your bike or ran there was a reason to do those sessions.  Going for a bike ride or jog just for fun was a waste of time.

This mindset was so deeply ingrained in me I didn’t stop to think that there just might be another way to look at sports.  Maybe you could just enjoy moving your body.  Maybe you didn’t have to keep track of how many intervals you ran or how much weight you pushed or your riding cadence.  Maybe you could just enjoy what you were doing instead of competing against yourself and others.

When I applied the athletic mindset to other cyclists, I discounted people riding beach cruisers. After all you can’t get a decent workout on a beach cruiser.   I would wonder why so many cyclists didn’t have a computer on their bike.  What good is a bike ride if you didn’t know how far you rode or your average speed or even the cadence while you were riding?

Here I am, years after being programmed that the only reason to get on my bike is to train, and I have an autoimmune disease that has left me much weaker than I was a few years ago.  I am frustrated that I cannot open most bottles that I encounter.  Surely there must be a conspiracy by bottle makers because my hands can’t really be THAT weak.  My body has been forced to slow down but my mind is saying go faster, push harder, accomplish something! 

I had to examine my programming and decide if made sense to cycle in this same way at this time of my life.  And if I was going to change my mind set what were the alternatives? 

I have learned how to ride my bike without a computer.  That’s a big leap for me. No more tracking stats. Now I check out the scenery and enjoy the sights and sound on my ride.  I still do some workouts with my computer to track my progress but now that’s not every ride. 

My husband and I are taking a short active vacation this week.  We will car camp and spend time kayaking, hiking and cruising on our bikes in Morro Bay, CA.  Last time I rode through Morro Bay, I was cranking on a 60+ mile day as part of a charity ride.  This will be a very different experience.

I have concluded that we all have been programmed. Perhaps you hate exercise. Where did that programming come from? Perhaps you are afraid to ride your bike. Where did that programming come from? I had to ask myself if my programming made sense for me now.  Maybe you will also ask that of yourself. 

I still love competition.   Watch me when I see another cyclist approaching me from behind on the bike path.  I DO speed up. I still want to make them work to pass me.