Fire Road 900 above Winthrop Washington

The Will

The Will

by / / 47 posts

No technology can increase the energy of the willpower of the rider, nor can it lessen the doubts which sometimes overwhelm him.
- Bernard Hinault

As I swung off the main road, I was momentarily consumed by the simple thrill of my tires leaving the hard tarmac and hitting the rough gravel of the unpaved forest road. It was a brief distraction of the sort that keep me falling in love with the sport over and again; these small thrills fill even an ordinary ride; all you need to do is notice them. Nevertheless, the reality of the climb I was about to start was never far from the surface of my mind. I’d been preparing for it for a few hours; the heat, the gradient, the diabolical nature of the sandy gravel.

We never get used to the pain, it never stops clawing at us. The best we can do is harden our minds against what is to come and endure it, pulling the most from ourselves along the way. Mostly, we learn that pain is quickly forgotten and its sharpness begins to dull the instant we finish the effort. Then we train ourselves to remember that point and use that to resist the urge to stop. The Will is the only weapon we have in this fight: when it is strong, we fly; when it leaves us, we falter.

I’m horribly finicky about my equipment and my kit, that’s not news to anyone who knows me. Everything has to be perfect – always –  but extra care is taken to guarantee perfection before an important ride. On a good day, it won’t matter whether the machine is silent or the bar tape clean; those things will never give me good legs. But if the legs are gone and I need to rely even more heavily on my mind, a creaking chain will start the tailspin into psychological collapse. The technology in our equipment can never stoke the fire of our determination but it can choke it off in an instant.

The best gains aren’t found in technology; they are found in building the strength of your Will; the Cave is a lonely place – if you don’t bring it with you, you won’t find it where you’re going. No one compels us to ride hard, to suffer. No one even asks us to. The choice to suffer is ours alone. The Will, it comes only from within.

// La Vie Velominatus // Tradition

  1. nice post, was this inspired by the Gran Fondo Winthrop?   I rode the Gran Fondo Leavenworth earlier this year and experienced a similar testing of The Will.  Brutal climbs on not always smooth gravel roads.  Could not stand to relieve the burning quads for fear of spinning the rear wheel.  Yes you must have confidence in your gear leaving no other explanation for weakness than your own pitiful self…

  2. Nicely written, as always.

  3. @frank

    @frank

    @imakecircles

    I’ve read somewhere or other, attributed to Merckx when he was asked how he was able to race so dominantly that, “There are no physical laws that govern the will.” I’ve never been able to find the quote again, though. Anybody on here know the actual quote or have heard of this gem?

    I’ve never heard that before, but it’s perfect. I will devote my life to finding it. (Not really.)

    Page 193 of Graeme Fife’s Tour de France – it doesn’t attribute where the quote comes from, but its there anyway.

     

     

    I think the remainder of the sentence is governed by the attributive properties of the introductory clause, “As Merckx says…”

    Yours,

    The Pedagogic Grammarian.

  4. @frank

    Sometimes I think that the better my gear has gotten, the slow I ride.

    That’s called complacency.

  5. Nice one Frank.

    Without the Will we are nothing and we have nothing; without it we can’t overcome our strongest adversary, ourselves.

  6. I think it was Yoda who said (and yes I know he’s not a real being) “Either do or do not, there is no try” or something like that. In my opinion the worse you are on the bike, the more will you require, but you also need other motivation, for example walking up a hill in cleats sucks balls big time so you may as well pedal up breathing out of your arse instead. In fact if you have a bike why the fuck are you walking anyway.

  7. @the-farmer

    I think it was Yoda who said (and yes I know he’s not a real being) “Either do or do not, there is no try” or something like that. In my opinion the worse you are on the bike, the more will you require, but you also need other motivation, for example walking up a hill in cleats sucks balls big time so you may as well pedal up breathing out of your arse instead. In fact if you have a bike why the fuck are you walking anyway.

    No need to qualify a Yoda quote. He is Yoda. Enough said.

  8. @KW

    “The best gains aren’t found in technology; they are found in building the strength of your Will…”

    This (and my Velominatus Budgetatus status) is the reason that I have no problem riding a steel bike that weighs 23lbs (gasp!) with 9 speed (double gasp!) Sora groupsan (are you fucking kidding?!).

    Better/lighter equipment might make me faster, but it will never make me stronger.

    Wow man… just… wow. Hard man this one.

    The VMH has a Sora set on her commuter. It gets the job done, but it ain’t pretty.

  9. @DeKerr

    @KW

    “The best gains aren’t found in technology; they are found in building the strength of your Will…”

    This (and my Velominatus Budgetatus status) is the reason that I have no problem riding a steel bike that weighs 23lbs (gasp!) with 9 speed (double gasp!) Sora groupsan (are you fucking kidding?!).

    Better/lighter equipment might make me faster, but it will never make me stronger.

    Wow man… just… wow. Hard man this one.

    The VMH has a Sora set on her commuter. It gets the job done, but it ain’t pretty.

    Hey hey hey don’t knock Sora 9-speeds. I’ve had the Sora 9-speed gruppo on the commuter since it was the #1 almost 10 years ago. Don’t worry, I’ve replaced the chain and cassette during the intervening years — she’s the commuter bike now, but she still deserves love and respect. The Sora shifts more reliably than the Ultegra I have on the current #1 and at a fraction of the price.

    Maybe the lesson to be learned here is I should go back to the aluminum Scott Speedster for more than just a few miles each day. That way I’ll appreciate the carbone all the more, even if the shifting can sometimes be wonky.

  10. @Owen

    @DeKerr

    @KW

    “The best gains aren’t found in technology; they are found in building the strength of your Will…”

    This (and my Velominatus Budgetatus status) is the reason that I have no problem riding a steel bike that weighs 23lbs (gasp!) with 9 speed (double gasp!) Sora groupsan (are you fucking kidding?!).

    Better/lighter equipment might make me faster, but it will never make me stronger.

    Wow man… just… wow. Hard man this one.

    The VMH has a Sora set on her commuter. It gets the job done, but it ain’t pretty.

    Hey hey hey don’t knock Sora 9-speeds. I’ve had the Sora 9-speed Gruppo on the commuter since it was the #1 almost 10 years ago. Don’t worry, I’ve replaced the chain and cassette during the intervening years “” she’s the commuter bike now, but she still deserves love and respect. The Sora shifts more reliably than the Ultegra I have on the current #1 and at a fraction of the price.

    Maybe the lesson to be learned here is I should go back to the aluminum Scott Speedster for more than just a few miles each day. That way I’ll appreciate the Carbone all the more, even if the shifting can sometimes be wonky.

    I’ve never used Sora, but the Shimano 105 that I bought using my summer chore money after 7th grade (more years ago than I care to admit) is still in use in my stable and I agree: it tends to work better than much of my top of the line gear.

    Well, maybe not better, but more consistently. There is nothing like Record when its tuned right, but for ease and simplicity and reliability, you can’t beat it.

    In fact, as the gear count goes up (8, 9, 10…) it seems to dramatically impact longevity as much as reliability. But Shimano in particular seems to be rock solid in the cheaper groups and gives something up as the price increases in how bullet-proof they are.

    I have to say, SRAM works like a champ both on my gravel rig (Red) and the VMH’s gravel rig (Force). Bulletproof stuff as well.

  11. Apologies also, it should be “Gruppo-san.” Off to do my Hail Merckx’s now.

  12. @Gianni

    @the-farmer

    I think it was Yoda who said (and yes I know he’s not a real being) “Either do or do not, there is no try” or something like that. In my opinion the worse you are on the bike, the more will you require, but you also need other motivation, for example walking up a hill in cleats sucks balls big time so you may as well pedal up breathing out of your arse instead. In fact if you have a bike why the fuck are you walking anyway.

    No need to qualify a Yoda quote. He is Yoda. Enough said.

    THE CAVE
    That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.

    What’s in there?

    Only what you take with you.
    Your weapons… you will not need them.

  13. Used reliance and belief today to go hard with an intent to chase the lead down — the will became automated. Belief can be fuckity fast.

  14. Timely Frank…. timely.

    I had a KOM (6km at 10%) on the weekend just gone. I’d been gaining on the guy in front for three kms. He had stayed on the winners wheel longer than I had, but it was clear to me he’d hung on for too long. I was within the last km. I was close and I knew he knew I was there, and gaining. 50m to go I was within 1om of him but something within me broke. I stopped gaining on him. The last 10m pinches up to the finish line and in an attempt to salvage a PB I got out of the saddle and went full.

    Once I had crossed the line I knew I had blown it. I had much more left that I thought I did. That sprint to the line was far too fresh, excruciatingly painful, but it should have been not possible

    . Thinking back I soon realised I had given up, I had lost the will to suffer any more and catch another placing. “What’s the point of 5th anyway…6th was no different” I had thought. I’ve been kicking myself ever since. Next year I won’t make the same mistake. On the upside I had shaved 1:08min off my PB.

  15. Top article… as usual. There’s rarely crap here, apart from when I comment.

    It’s funny how ‘no one makes us suffer'; I’ve recently taken to doing my interval training on a local, outdoor track/velodrome that is almost always empty. As I suffer like a dog around it, I always feel like I’m letting someone or something down when I don’t complete the fully-prescribed workout… yet never myself. That guilt comes later when the burn has gone, the legs move in a slightly more free fashion and the rasp of the lungs is just a lingering memory.

    As for noise, I’m with you on that. My local mechanic hates me for it (I must be the only person locally to never use headphones) and I am always looking for a niggling sound once it appears and satisfaction only comes once it’s identified and a remedy is found. Recently it was the bottom bracket; a changeover to C-Bear was the trick. Now it’s the grit from the degraded surface that lodged itself into my drivetrain making it sound like sandpaper. Time to strip the bike and clean whilst my mechanic does some mods to my cheap, heavy, steel track bike so I can ride my intervals on the track with it.

    Yes… I will use a whole other bike to avoid noise and/or unnecessary wear. I’m that anal. I’m so anal that I’m looking into ultrasonic cleaners for cleaning duties and waxing duties for the chain.

    Finding this site has been a blessing and a curse. A blessing to be on the path, albeit the chunky guy on the path, and a curse because the rules sometimes are harsh mistresses and make my family and friends sometimes wonder about the sanity of spending time and money on ‘silence’.

  16. Leaving town for a week, heading to Ontario for some lake time and I had to clean all the bikes, lube all the chains or I knew I just would be able to relax on the trip. Gotta return home after a week without bikes to a clean stable so you can choose the machine you feel like riding, and then ride it in style.

  17. @the-farmer

    I think it was Yoda who said (and yes I know he’s not a real being) “Either do or do not, there is no try” or something like that. In my opinion the worse you are on the bike, the more will you require, but you also need other motivation, for example walking up a hill in cleats sucks balls big time so you may as well pedal up breathing out of your arse instead. In fact if you have a bike why the fuck are you walking anyway.

    Always a pleasure to drop this one in:

  18. Great piece. Always true and thought-provoking. Just another Tour opinion. Even if Contador and Froome had stayed in, I think Nibali had the will to win. Had he been truly tested I don’t think he’d have been found wanting. There’s a huge pool of untapped will and panache with Nibali that I think this Tour win will unleash.

  19. @frank I love posts that cut to the essence of cycling. The will. Gold.

    @unversio

    turn
    an unlimited maximum
    will
    there is no end
    ciclismo
    a un glorioso strada
    victory
    one truth to find

    unversio

    You’ve captured it!

    @frank how about a haiku contest at the end of the VSP? Kinda like an ITT at the second last stage.

  20. @Owen

    @DeKerr

    @KW

    “The best gains aren’t found in technology; they are found in building the strength of your Will…”

    This (and my Velominatus Budgetatus status) is the reason that I have no problem riding a steel bike that weighs 23lbs (gasp!) with 9 speed (double gasp!) Sora groupsan (are you fucking kidding?!).

    Better/lighter equipment might make me faster, but it will never make me stronger.

    Wow man… just… wow. Hard man this one.

    The VMH has a Sora set on her commuter. It gets the job done, but it ain’t pretty.

    Hey hey hey don’t knock Sora 9-speeds. I’ve had the Sora 9-speed Gruppo on the commuter since it was the #1 almost 10 years ago. Don’t worry, I’ve replaced the chain and cassette during the intervening years “” she’s the commuter bike now, but she still deserves love and respect. The Sora shifts more reliably than the Ultegra I have on the current #1 and at a fraction of the price.

    Maybe the lesson to be learned here is I should go back to the aluminum Scott Speedster for more than just a few miles each day. That way I’ll appreciate the Carbone all the more, even if the shifting can sometimes be wonky.

    Man The Butler has 5 speed and down tube shifters, you were lucky.  In fact………

  21. @Teocalli Exactly.  And we were happier in those days, because we had down tube shifters.

  22. @freddy

    @unversio

    turn
    an unlimited maximum
    will
    there is no end
    ciclismo
    a un glorioso strada
    victory
    one truth to find

    unversio

    You’ve captured it!

    Thanx. I plan to incorporate this into a design project soon after. And will let you know when. In fact my design career is about to go full tilt ciclismo. I especially appreciate the ‘unlimited maximum’ — inspired by Emerson — at a stop during solo training. Began to think about no end in nature — no end in cycling.

  23. @unversio

    @freddy

    @unversio

    turn
    an unlimited maximum
    will
    there is no end
    ciclismo
    a un glorioso strada
    victory
    one truth to find

    unversio

    You’ve captured it!

    Thanx. I plan to incorporate this into a design project soon after. And will let you know when. In fact my design career is about to go full tilt ciclismo. I especially appreciate the ‘unlimited maximum’ “” inspired by Emerson “” at a stop during solo training. Began to think about no end in nature “” no end in cycling.

    endless cirlces

  24. Regarding equipment…about a decade ago I spent a few years running on the hilly powerline behind the plant during lunch breaks.  One day I forgot my running shoes.  So I put on my work boots and ran anyway.  My running buddies thought I was crazy, but I follow the old racing adage “Run what you brung”.  Years later I showed up to my first real charity ride (a century in Maine that shall remain nameless) with a Jamis mountain bike to which I had fitted road tires.  It was leaning against a porch, and I was walking around.  Some pros who were participating (and shall remain nameless) noticed it there and mocked each other, suggesting laughingly that one or the other should ride it in the century the next day.  I did.  Pussies.

  25. Love this article and its implications for cycling and life.

    @KW For the past 13 years I have almost exclusively ridden a 23-24 pound Trek 1000 (red white and blue) with Sora 7spd.  I had upgraded to better drive train, wheels, and cockpit components, but it got stolen.  My brother and I had bought the same bikes back in ’01 and he was no longer on the Enlightened path so he gave me his.  When I’ve really looked at it I’ve at times felt embarrassed about my ride, but once I start riding it doesn’t really matter any more. The Sora still shifts like I need it to,  I turn the pedals over as fast as my too fat to climb self can, and I just ride as hard as I can. In the end that’s what matters.  Of course, I am in the process of  building up a new to me steel bike…

    @Optimiste I often think about going more old school with down tube shifters…maybe on a second bike, when the above is finished.

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