Leveling Up

Wanting better gear is part of riding. Just like hunting for mushroom is part of Mario.
Wanting better cycling gear = Mario hunting for mushrooms. It never ends.

Cycling is a lot like a really good role-playing game:

  • Takes no time at all to become addicted.
  • You spend hours travelling to places most people haven’t seen or ever heard of.
  • You’ve gotta grind out the experience in order to level up.
  • Only the bravest travel to the tallest mountains (there be dragons, and you know, steep grades)
  • Your clothing can match your adventuring style (road racer, mountain biker, half-orc barbarian)
  • You spend your hard-earned money far too quickly on ever-better gear.

The list goes on and on.

But that last one is the one I want to focus on. Now, if you’re fortunate enough to have the funds, buy what you like. Have a ball. Kudos on the moneybags. For the rest of us, we need to take a more patient approach to leveling up. And that means choosing the right gear to buy at the right time.

In many role-playing games, the better gear has level restrictions. This is typically done to prevent high-level demi-god characters from tipping the scales by handing a Sword of OMG to a brand new character and letting them blast through what takes everyone else months of play (by the way, for those interested – I know, all two you – that’s called mueling).

It's all 'bout da bling, boyeee!
“It’s all ’bout da bling!”

Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work that way. See, if you’ve got the dough – no matter how unskilled or inexperienced you are – you can go buy yourself a Bike of OMG with matching Shoes of Carbon and Helmet of Cushioning. It’s highly unlikely the LBS worker is gonna say, “Well, you really don’t need to buy that stuff, and I really don’t need the commission.” Nope, they’ll just make sure you also buy any and every accessory that goes with that dragon-slaying, um, I meant, mountain-slaying machine.

This leads to oddities like when I saw racers with Pinarello frames and ZIPP 404s in a Cat 5 (that’s entry-level) road race. Really? You’re gonna beat me as it is, do you really need to shave another three-tenths of a second? But, I digress.

There’s a more important reason for wanting a “level restriction” on gear. It’s that if you buy gear that far-exceeds your experience, you don’t really understand what it is your buying. A lot about riding isn’t just physiology and technology. A good portion of it comes down to experiential knowledge – teaching your body how to ride, how to be efficient without needing to think about it. Understanding the dynamics of riding is something that no purchase of gear will give you.

Think of it from the gaming side: yeah, you flew through the low-levels because you had that Sword of OMG, but you also didn’t really learn tactics, you don’t understand the logic of the game or the enemies. So yeah, you’re able to use your nice gear and you got some benefit from it, but not nearly as much as you would’ve had you understood the game.

In gaming, playing through all the low-levels and doing things like killing crows and sheering sheep (or other mundane tasks) to gain experience is called grinding. Interesting, since that’s what we call rolling up long mountains or riding rollers that never end: grinding it out.

Both serve a purpose – building up your experience, adding to your skillset things that purchasing gear won’t. When you have the miles under your belt, you’ll be far better prepared for the roads that lie ahead, and can make the most out of your shiny Bike of OMG.

"If I had my bike, you guys would be in sooo much trouble. Hey, are those swords carbon?"
“If I had my bike, you guys would be in sooo much trouble. Hey, are those swords carbon?”