Cyclists must look like some of the most cocky, self-assured people in the world (men and women, alike). Steep climb? Let’s roll. Stupid-long distance? Grab an extra tube and get pedaling. Scorching hot? Air conditioning is for wussies. Huge downhill? Wait a sec while I cut my brake cables; don’t want to be tempted.
We epitomize the idea that enough is never enough. But are we really that confident? I have my doubts. In fact, I’m even willing to go so far as to say we’re downright scared. Of what, you ask? Scared that we can’t live up to our own self-image.
That’s right. A newb cyclist (I don’t believe this applies to most seasoned cyclists, but I could be wrong) doesn’t picture themselves as just your average, roll through the park Joe. Nope. In our own minds, we have a picture of who we want to be, and that picture is constantly reshaping itself so that it’s always one step ahead of who we really are.
Is that a good thing? It can be. It gives you a goal. And cyclists love goals. “Sprint to the street light!” or “Race this hill!” or “Strava segment!!!” We have no shortage of goals, big and small. And they’re constantly evolving, usually faster than we can achieve them.
But here’s where a good thing can go bad. It happened to me early on this year, and it was a real eye-opener. That picture that I had in my head? The one that could sprint longer, ride faster, and climb harder? There was something that started to bother me about him. He didn’t smile very much.
Hell, he didn’t smile at all. My fear of failing to become this über self-image had pushed me to leave behind the thing that got me into cycling in the first place. The pure joy of it. My fear of failure – constantly reinforced by ever-harder goals – didn’t leave me time to enjoy how far I’d come. I am riding faster. I have improved. But I didn’t have time to give myself any credit. Nope, had to keep pushing.
But I’m lucky. I’ve got a team of seasoned riders – cyclists who have been riding for 5, 10, even 15 years or more. They aren’t just strong. They aren’t just skilled and fast. They are happy. They don’t care if they are cruising a nice 20 mile loop on a cool Autumn day, or blazing through the Hotter ‘n Hell 100 in August at 22 miles an hours with a 25 mph head wind. They loved every minute of it; even when they hated it, they loved it.
Watching them, I was able to snap out of the vicious cycle (hehe, sorry, couldn’t resist) of self one-upsmanship. It might be that in a couple more years I’d have discovered this on my own. Maybe it took them a while to reach that equilibrium point where you can challenge and enjoy yourself at the same time. In any case, I’m glad they were there to help me remember that this cycling thing has gotta be about more than just the next goal, the next achievement.
Do I still have a stupidly impossible-to-live-up-to self-image? Yup, he taunts me daily. And he stares me down whenever I hit a hill hard or dig into a sprint. But you know what I do to shut him the hell up?