I’m often told I romanticize Cycling’s past, that the days gone by weren’t quite as rosy as I make them out to be. There is some truth to this, certainly, but the assertion isn’t entirely accurate in the sense that I romanticize everything about Cycling.
Because events are seasoned by our thoughts and individual experience, we necessarily cannot see them for what they truly were. The thoughts that pass through our mind when looking at an old or new photograph, a race, or when we go for a ride influences the way it is remembered and the significance it holds.
Our minds are very good at forgetting pain and remembering pleasure; it isn’t very long after an experience that negative associations begin to fade and positive ones to amplify. This psychological mechanism is the gateway to romanticization. Certainly, I remember that climbing Haleakala last January was a horrible experience, but I’ve managed to forget what that means precisely. On the other hand, the memory of accomplishing a task that turned out to be much harder than I had anticipated lingers strongly; I find myself drawn back to the mountain for the chance to experience once more the purity that touches us briefly when we persevere despite total exhaustion.
Romanticizing encourages us to study the past, to appreciate how things were, and provides the opportunity to learn from the mistakes others have made. It reminds us that things were not always as they are today and that those things we wish were different may be so tomorrow. It helps us forget that many long hours of suffering are balanced only by brief moments of exhilaration. It helps us to dream, to imagine what could be.
Do the great races of the past seem more glorious than they were? Perhaps. Does the sunlight’s glint off a chromed chainstay blind me to the weight of the bicycle and the extra burden it places on its rider? Certainly. Does the memory of reaching down to flick a downtube shifter eclipse the inconvenience of sitting down to shift, and removing a hand from the bars? Absolutely. But they also form the fabric of what keeps me returning to the bicycle.
Vive la Vie Velominatus.