The Illusion of Transparency
The illusion of transparency is perhaps the most important tool the Velominatus has in their toolbox, apart from having some measure of competence, being Casually Deliberate at all times, Looking Fantastic, and being able to dish out and endure heaping helpings of The V.
Cycling is suffering, and one of the most crucial lessons we have to learn is that we are rarely the only one who hurts. When the pressure is on or the group is heading uphill, every rider in the bunch is dying a thousand silent deaths. The rider on the front, while doing the most work, does enjoy a slight psychological advantage of being responsible for the pain disbursements, but they are suffering perhaps more than anyone else. Because everyone is momentarily cohabiting in the hurt locker, those riders who are best able to give the impression that they are in fact at ease maintain a distinct advantage over the others; there is nothing more demoralizing than feeling like a pig on a spit while the rider next to you is smiling and talking about the amazing view.
It turns out that as a species, we are really bad at judging other people’s emotions by their facial expressions, and generally over-estimate how good we are at it. In other words, everyone has a poker face and everyone sucks at reading them them. This plays into our advantage as Cyclists because it means it’s not all that hard to hide your suffering from other riders or, in fact, make them believe you’re suffering even when you’re not.
The most common tactic in this area is to keep your facial expression neutral and your pedaling smooth and relaxed despite how hard you’re pushing yourself. This takes lots of practice, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. Another tactic is to look about the bunch casually, take in the scenery, or futz about with your kit; this builds the impression that you are so completely at ease that you are distracted from the heavy work at hand.
My favorite approach is to engage in casual conversation during the hardest parts of a climb. There is a real art to this, because all that talking will get in the way of the most important element of climbing: your breathing. But you can work around that problem by being the one driving the conversation; you can choose your words to make sure they are short so you can continue to breath even as you’re speaking. The best thing to do is to fake an interest in the rider personally and ask them loads of questions. Seduced by the opportunity to talk about themselves, their ego will step in and force them to answer your questions at length, sending them into a spiral of accelerated hypoxic fatigue. It’s all bollocks, of course – you could give two shits about where they went to school or what their view is on the protests in Kiev – but they won’t catch on because they suck at reading your facial expressions while you carefully regulate your breathing and prepare to drop them. At which point you feign surprise that the pace was high enough to cause any damage.
Its gotten to the point where I don’t even realize I’m doing it. The more I’m suffering, the more likely I’ll be to strike up a conversation. And, should my Too Fat To Climb ass be successful in somehow dropping my companions, I’ll gulp in air like a rabid monkey at the top to make sure I’ve fully caught my breath by the time they catch back up so I can make idle conversation about how nice that climb is and how much I love that road and its so amazing that when I moved here I thought that was a tough climb but now I hardly even notice it and I’ll probably install a 42T because the 39T just feels so small.