Maybe it’s the milestone of aging that I recently reached. It could be an awareness of the unique foibles of this sport/activity/pastime that I practice. Possibly, I just woke up one day and realised that this is a weird thing for a middle-aged man to be doing. The time for reassessment hit me, involuntarily and without warning. And I’m in a bind over it.
I’m sure I’m not the only one here who is over half a century old… of course the big man Gianni is a few more years advanced than I, and nothing seems to have phased his resolve to continue doing what he has done for so long. Like a priest who suddenly thinks that maybe this whole God thing is a crock of shite, I too am ruminating on the concept of Cycling and what it actually is to me, what it provides for me, and how it affects my everyday life. Thing is, my everyday life is 100% Cycling.
Over the summer, I rode my mountain bike a lot more and my road bikes a lot less. There were some outside factors affecting my decision, if it actually was a decision. The lack of a Keepers Tour meant that my previous two summers of avoiding the dirt through fear of injury was no longer a concern. A new bike that was just a total blast to ride meant that it was more often than not the one I reached for when trawling the shed for a steed on any given day. And the requirement, nay, duty, nay, obligation… oh fuck it, the desire to Look Fantastic was waning inside me. Not that I shirked my responsibility in this department, after all, I am not a savage.
When it came time for the inevitable road FRBs after weeks of dirty indulgence, The Mirror was sending me mixed signals. Everything was perfect kit-wise, but underneath the cloak things were decidedly less than neat and trim. Was I becoming a parody of everything I stood for, the very person whom The Rules was meant to be guiding? I started to get if not an understanding, then an empathy with the general population who sees not a late 40s guy in better shape than they, but a shaved-legged, sweaty poser clomping around a cafÃ© in ballet shoes and clad in a thin layer plastered in logos that leaves way too little to the imagination. I was becoming the guy I hated.
So much so that I began thinking of giving it away. Not Cycling per se, but the Lycra, the cafÃ©s, the duelling with tonnes of metal piloted by those who, if given the chance, would gladly run us right over just so they can make it to the supermarket 15 seconds quicker. It seemed that mountain biking, even though there are more variables in terrain to catch you off guard, more obstacles placed in front and all around you waiting to rip skin from bone or even shatter those very bones, was a far safer option. And while not really of the opinion that mountain bikers can wear whatever the hell we want (once again, not savages), at least there is a modicum of modesty afforded by baggy shorts, loose(r) fitting tops and shoes you can actually walk in. Hell, the thought of actually growing my leg hair back seemed appealing.
But not for long. Luckily, I have a good support group of riding friends, who share my passion for both tarmac and dirt. They know how much the tradition, the purity of the road means to me, and rather than let me concede defeat, encouraged me to continue to fight the good fight. The turning point came last night, when our regular Tuesday after-work ride was being discussed throughout the day by email. Who’s in, who’s out, why? I had an overwhelming proclivity that a bunch of guys who predominantly wear black, even in the dark of a winter’s evening, choosing to do battle with peak-hour traffic for the simple pleasure of riding a bike seemed a little, well, crazy. They could’ve belittled me, questioned my manhood, or even outright insulted me, but a few words of encouragement, underpinned with empathy of my thought processes, helped me realise that this is just what we do. So we did it.
And it was good.
So very good, that I wanted to do it again today, something that has been weeks absent. Ok, I went for a mountain bike ride, solo, but the joy of being on my bike was the same as I felt last night, last month, last year. And as I reached the top of the peak, a group of different friends were there, almost by some twist of fate handed down from Mount Velomis. We descended together, and while they knew nothing of the inner demons that I was slaying on the way down, they were well aware of just how much fun I, we, were having.
Never forget the reason we ride. The answer is in the question.