Intermediate Ability Syndrome (IAS)

The riskier the road, the greater the profit. (Rule of Acquisition #62)

We’ve seen this before lots of times: in people who own websites, people who start leaning about file sharing, teens who start driving, and on and on. It’s the set of people within each of these groups that know just enough to be dangerous. Let’s call this condition “Intermediate Ability Syndrome.”

IAS can be a nasty bit of business. It creeps up on you, sneaking in with confidence and a bit of new-found skill. Here are some examples:

  • Learn how to make some changes to your website? Suddenly one of the changes doesn’t work, your site is down and you don’t know how to fix it.
  • Start file sharing? Your computer turns into a virus haven so corrupt you’re better off throwing it away.
  • Got your license and driving down the freeway at 65? Why not 80, 90, 100? Wait, what happened… why is the road on the ceiling and why is my steering wheel around my neck?

Well, cycling is no different.

The miles start to pile on, our average speed and distance go up, and our lines and handling improve. We start to think, “I’m getting better, so I can push my limits more.” We ride closer in the peloton. We start banking at higher velocities. We cut back on the gear we carry to save weight. Sounds good, right?

That’s the trap. It doesn’t just sound good, it feels good. Our performance does increase doing these little things that we pick up from far-more experienced cyclists (or dancers, programmers, drivers, etc.). But the catch with IAS is that we don’t know how to calculate the risks associated with these advanced methods. We know just enough about these more-complex skills to be dangerous – to ourselves as well as others. Let’s face it, at some point everyone crashes – it’s just a matter of numbers and time. But the more risks we take, the more likely that crash will occur. It’s like loading the dice.

For cycling, the consequences of some of these riskier behaviors include little things like concussions, broken bones, paralysis and oh yeah, death. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying to keep your mind focused on all the negative possibilities. For that just pop your bike on a trainer, lock the door and don’t go outside again. No. What I’m saying is that if we want to be better, we not only have to do the things that better riders do, we have to understand them as well. Understand the benefits as well as the risks.

  • Wanna do that high-speed turn? Better know that if your wheels don’t hold the road, you’ll go sliding on your side at best, or end up in the oncoming traffic lane at worst.
  • Wanna ride in a nice, tight formation? Have someone tap their breaks at the wrong moment and if your front wheel is clipped, be prepared for some dental work.
  • Wanna go screaming down a hill at 50 mph? Your bike better be in excellent working condition, or you and your bike will end up in different zip codes.

Point is, if you’re not ready to fully accept or comprehend the risks – and that includes the possibility of inadvertently injuring others – then it’s time to back it off. We have to take a step back and say, “Yeah, I’m getting better. I might even be pretty good. But I am not great.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, even if you are great, there’s nothing wrong with a little humbleness to keep yourself in check. And for cyclists, alive.