The Cyclist

Being away from the bike is agony. Even for the day, while I’m at work, my mind swims about, thinking about my next ride. I worry that I won’t be home early enough to get the ride in that I’d planned – or worse yet – ride at all. I agonize over my decision not to ride in the morning, or to work, hoping one missed day doesn’t turn into two doesn’t turn into a week.

I wonder at which bike I’ll choose; I can visualize them hanging there, in the workshop, quietly waiting to be set free from their prison – a bike is only free when it’s being ridden. I imagine they discuss among themselves which is entitled to be ridden next; they might even place wagers on which will be the lucky one. I’m not sure with what bicycles might place wagers, perhaps a bit of grease for a creaking quick-release that I haven’t noticed yet.

All day, I evaluate how my body feels. Sitting folded up at a desk is a horrible place to judge one’s weight; I’ll lean against the desk’s edge and wonder if there was less of me touching it yesterday. I’ll feel the muscles in my thighs as I cross my legs in a conference room, and judge whether they feel stronger than the day before. Sometimes I’ll feel for the fibers in my muscles with my fingertips and then realize that the other people in the room with me probably find it odd that I’m rubbing my legs absentmindedly. To be fair, I find it odd that they don’t know what it feels like to be in shape.

It is a mystery whether I’ll be strong on the bike today or not. At the office, there is no way to know how I will feel; I won’t really know until I put in a real effort, which usually happens on the first climb of the day. Strength is a strange thing; the other day I felt blocked during my warmup but hit the top corner of the first climb so fast I almost lost my front wheel. Almost losing your front wheel in a corner on a climb is a special feeling.

Tim Krabbé wrote, “Non-riders. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.” Indeed; we are Cyclists, the rest of the world merely rides a bike.

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90 Replies to “The Cyclist”

  1. Shit the bed, those guns are awesome. Too true @frank, I’ve been on call and tied to four wheels for the last 36 hours with 36 to go til my next ride. I feel lethargic and every meal I’ve had seems to sit all day in my stomach, weighing me down. I feel like I’m gaining weight by the minute, which I know I can’t be, but the mind is cruel when you can’t ride.

  2. Chapeau. Words from my own thoughts – thanks for making them clear to me. I’ve just come back from illness, and after a recovery ride messaged my coach as to how I was feeling, how my legs were. I truth I don’t know as you so eloquently put, sitting here at the desk it is not knowable, even on the recovery ride, until I put them to the test. Championship finals start this weekend… I will know then.

  3. I was at work the other day after having done my usual fast Friday group ride in the morning where my plans changed that after work I’d meet my wife at my parents’ place, triple the distance I’d normally commute home. I was excited. I looked forward to taking the route that I don’t take too often, thinking about how I was going to power up the rolling terrain and hold a decent average speed. My heart broke however when I got on the bike that afternoon and two k’s in I could feel my legs complaining about that morning’s effort. It wasn’t until 7k’s to go until they came back. I’m glad they came back but I missed them mid-ride.

  4. I don’t know what’s creeping me out more. The narcissism of the thigh rubbing or the fact that the bottom of his bibs line up perfectly with the surface of the podium.

  5. Even for the day, while I’m at work, my mind swims about, thinking about my next ride. I worry that I won’t be home early enough to get the ride in that I’d planned – or worse yet – ride at all.

    Whoa. Are you me?

    Seriously, there have been occasions where I have bolted out the office door so quickly to catch the early bus home so I can get a ride in that I’ve left my wallet/cell phone/keys sitting on my desk, only to realize it a minute after the bus has pulled away. Then the calculation quickly becomes “can I do without my wallet/cellphone/keys for a night or should I trade in 20 minutes of riding time to go back and get them?”

  6. There is the given of cyclists trying not to look at the legs of other cyclists at races (we’re a subtle lot). The overt starring of non-cyclist at our guns when in public is hysterical.

  7. ” All day, I evaluate how my body feels. Sitting folded up at a desk is a horrible place to judge one’s weight; I’ll lean against the desk’s edge and wonder if there was less of me touching it yesterday. I’ll feel the muscles in my thighs as I cross my legs in a conference room, and judge whether they feel stronger than the day before. Sometimes I’ll feel for the fibers in my muscles with my fingertips and then realize that the other people in the room with me probably find it odd that I’m rubbing my legs absentmindedly. I find it odd that they don’t know what it feels like to be in shape.”

    What the …..   Have you got CCTV in my office ?

    The keyboard is the font of all knowledge and also the bringer of doom and the black dog, especially when others are out riding and we are stuck tapping away the letters and numbers printed on the plastic little keys.

    My only saving grace is that the AY-Ups burn bright into the night sky so I can keep some semblance of form into the coming warmer months and not look and feel like the oft laughed at spider rooting a light bulb at my desk.

  8. @Bespoke

    I don’t know what’s creeping me out more. The narcissism of the thigh rubbing or the fact that the bottom of his bibs line up perfectly with the surface of the podium.

    If narcissism creeps you out, then I am sorry to inform you that you need to find another community.

  9. @Phillip Mercer

    I was at work the other day after having done my usual fast Friday group ride in the morning where my plans changed that after work I’d meet my wife at my parents’ place, triple the distance I’d normally commute home. I was excited. I looked forward to taking the route that I don’t take too often, thinking about how I was going to power up the rolling terrain and hold a decent average speed. My heart broke however when I got on the bike that afternoon and two k’s in I could feel my legs complaining about that morning’s effort. It wasn’t until 7k’s to go until they came back. I’m glad they came back but I missed them mid-ride.

    The super ultra secret of Rule #5 is that you just keep fucking pushing and eventually your body will stop complaining and then you’ll fly. That is, right until the wheels really come off the bus and then you’re really truly, properly fucked.

  10. @frank

    @Phillip Mercer

    I was at work the other day after having done my usual fast Friday group ride in the morning where my plans changed that after work I’d meet my wife at my parents’ place, triple the distance I’d normally commute home. I was excited. I looked forward to taking the route that I don’t take too often, thinking about how I was going to power up the rolling terrain and hold a decent average speed. My heart broke however when I got on the bike that afternoon and two k’s in I could feel my legs complaining about that morning’s effort. It wasn’t until 7k’s to go until they came back. I’m glad they came back but I missed them mid-ride.

    The super ultra secret of Rule #5 is that you just keep fucking pushing and eventually your body will stop complaining and then you’ll fly. That is, right until the wheels really come off the bus and then you’re really truly, properly fucked.

    Damn straight, make them hurt.

  11. “I’ll feel the muscles in my thighs as I cross my legs in a conference room, and judge whether they feel stronger than the day before.”

    Me: “are my trousers around my calves and thighs tighter than before?”

  12. I’ve decided to Train Properly to be in as good a shape as I can be for next Springs TT’s and crits, so have made a concerted effort to fit in a ride on my way to work more often. This entails arriving in bibshorts. I realise I no longer care. Last week, I got wolf whistled as I walked in. Sadly, it was by a man.

  13. I put in a hard effort for nearly 4 hours on Monday and I can feel a few niggles. I did an exercise/weights/stretching/rolling session last night and am debating whether to get on the turbo tonight for a speed/spinning session. Will I be in pain if I do it? Will I feel guilty if I don’t?

    The constant equation of gaining or losing fitness and form.

  14. @RobSandy

    I broke my jaw a couple of years ago and had to wait for clearance from my insurance before I remounted my steed. I had to learn to love the trainer. In summer. While still healing. God I hate that thing…

  15. @Phillip Mercer

    @RobSandy

    I broke my jaw a couple of years ago and had to wait for clearance from my insurance before I remounted my steed. I had to learn to love the trainer. In summer. While still healing. God I hate that thing…

    I did the same after a shoulder op. It is a means to an end.

    I also try and keep my sessions really short and intense so there isn’t time to get bored. 45 minutes max, 30 minutes ideal.

    I’m also not keen on the wear it seems to be putting on my tyres.

  16. @frank

    @Bespoke

    I don’t know what’s creeping me out more. The narcissism of the thigh rubbing or the fact that the bottom of his bibs line up perfectly with the surface of the podium.

    If narcissism creeps you out, then I am sorry to inform you that you need to find another community.

    I wouldn’t know what to do with all of the mirrors I’ve had installed. Hung exactly horizontally, of course!

  17. Pretty much the perfect post. Frank, you are a mind reader and never let it be said you don’t know your community. The sentiments are particularly apt right now as the evenings shorten incrementally each night to cries (here in WI) on “Oh no, it’s only 7:30, it can’t be dark already!” This of course, means getting out of work as soon as possible to ride.

    My biggest guilt trip is if it’s a nice day or evening and I don’t ride (for whatever reason).

    I wore shorts to a weekend event at work the other week. I’m usually a fairly dapper dresser. The shorts and legs freaked people out. I cared not a jot!

  18. Work. What an absolute bugger. Few of us could afford to afford the bikes we do or even ride at all if it wasn’t for work yet it’s the single biggest thing that stands between riding as much as we would like or need to.

    To make matters worse, the word itself has double meaning, not just the job, but also riding itself; many of us will praise a ride or effort with the commendation “strong work” and whilst cycling is a sport, none of use would ever consider that we play cycling as others might play rugby, soccer, football, tennis or darts and snooker (for the Scots out there).

  19. Oh god…I’ve felt me belly pressing against my desk edge lately as well & found myself wondering. Not fun.

    For a few weeks now I’ve been riding my road or cross bikes for my commute to work. Got bored on the commuter bikes. Pretty awesome to start the day pulling on the bibs, look at the bike throughout the day, then finish the day with a fast ride home. Been a great change of pace.

    Chris – the New Yorker just had a piece on Ronnie O’Sullivan. Wow, talk about a character!

  20. @frank

    @Phillip Mercer

    I was at work the other day after having done my usual fast Friday group ride in the morning where my plans changed that after work I’d meet my wife at my parents’ place, triple the distance I’d normally commute home. I was excited. I looked forward to taking the route that I don’t take too often, thinking about how I was going to power up the rolling terrain and hold a decent average speed. My heart broke however when I got on the bike that afternoon and two k’s in I could feel my legs complaining about that morning’s effort. It wasn’t until 7k’s to go until they came back. I’m glad they came back but I missed them mid-ride.

    The super ultra secret of Rule #5 is that you just keep fucking pushing and eventually your body will stop complaining and then you’ll fly. That is, right until the wheels really come off the bus and then you’re really truly, properly fucked.

    The Velominipper and budding pedalwan rode the last Club Ten of the season last night. He came out of the last round about sprinting side by side with his minute man and two minute man (also twelve years old) but was losing ground on the faster of the other two. He sat down, got up and went again but you could see he was fucked and couldn’t put any more in.

    It was only later when he got his time that he’d knocked 39 seconds of his previous best and well over minute of his first attempt in June.

  21. @chris

    @frank

    @Phillip Mercer

    I was at work the other day after having done my usual fast Friday group ride in the morning where my plans changed that after work I’d meet my wife at my parents’ place, triple the distance I’d normally commute home. I was excited. I looked forward to taking the route that I don’t take too often, thinking about how I was going to power up the rolling terrain and hold a decent average speed. My heart broke however when I got on the bike that afternoon and two k’s in I could feel my legs complaining about that morning’s effort. It wasn’t until 7k’s to go until they came back. I’m glad they came back but I missed them mid-ride.

    The super ultra secret of Rule #5 is that you just keep fucking pushing and eventually your body will stop complaining and then you’ll fly. That is, right until the wheels really come off the bus and then you’re really truly, properly fucked.

    The Velominipper and budding pedalwan rode the last Club Ten of the season last night. He came out of the last round about sprinting side by side with his minute man and two minute man (also twelve years old) but was losing ground on the faster of the other two. He sat down, got up and went again but you could see he was fucked and couldn’t put any more in.

    It was only later when he got his time that he’d knocked 39 seconds of his previous best and well over minute of his first attempt in June.

    The boy done good as they say. Finishing a TT with the tank empty is the way to go. Give him my congrats on taking a minute off his first attempt time. I’m sure he can’t wait for next season!

  22. @Francesco

    Actually Krabbè regrets to “non-racers”, I remember because I’m “just” a rider.

    I actually dispute the popular translation. In Dutch, he writes, “Niet-renners”. “Renner” is meant to be rider in this context, not necessarily a racer.

  23. @chris

    The Velominipper and budding pedalwan rode the last Club Ten of the season last night. He came out of the last round about sprinting side by side with his minute man and two minute man (also twelve years old) but was losing ground on the faster of the other two. He sat down, got up and went again but you could see he was fucked and couldn’t put any more in.

    It was only later when he got his time that he’d knocked 39 seconds of his previous best and well over minute of his first attempt in June.

    Chapeau to him. I think a 10m TT should be a test of how well you’re able to keep cranking the pedals around when you’ve got nothing. I struggle to push myself to the point of failure, even in training. Obviously in a race it’d be a disaster but I think you should get close to know just where the red line is.

    Speaking of Velominis, when I arrived back at the Maindy Velodrome after the Cardiff Roubaix ride on the weekend (see @Teocalli and my posts in the Rides) it was to find my 4 year old hanging off the rails shouting ‘Go faster Daddy!’, and then going and bombing around the BMX track on his balance bike.

    Then when we headed to the car I picked him up, and he looked at the track, then at me (caked in mud and obviously on my last legs) and said “when I am a big boy…I want to do that”. He’s one of us.

  24. Who said what is most personal is most universal? I think this tunes right in to our inner OCD cycling daily lives. Love it!

    Question: What does one actually feel for when inspecting the guns? should they feel harder or just less sore and more recovered?

    There is defo a Pixar film in the gambling bikes in the workshop scene.

    I can’t imagine life without the feeling of suffering, joy and exhilaration that comes from being a cyclist.

  25. @chuckp

    I thought we all just surfed Velominati.com while we were at work.

    The days when I am on a customer site and can’t are almost as bad as the days I can’t ride.

  26.  I imagine they discuss among themselves which is entitled to be ridden next; they might even place wagers on which will be the lucky one. 

    Surprised no one has picked up on this.  I’m sure they do as after @ChrisO‘s “incident” in Jan his bike was in my garage with my collection.  I swear all mine moved up to the end of the garage cowered by seat tube envy as @ChrisO‘s towered over mine.

  27. @rfreese888

    Question: What does one actually feel for when inspecting the guns? should they feel harder or just less sore and more recovered?

    My wife used to be a massage therapist. She’s always badgering me on the state of my legs. If the muscles are happy (well stretched, massaged/rollered, properly looked after), they’ll feel like raw meat – which is kind of obvious if you think about it. When your legs feel like overcooked steak to the touch, its time for some stretching, massage and/or foam rolling.

    Basically they should be more pliable than not when pressed. If they actually feel hard to the touch in a relaxed position, you’ve got some self-care to attend to.

  28. @SamV

    @rfreese888

    Question: What does one actually feel for when inspecting the guns? should they feel harder or just less sore and more recovered?

    Basically they should be more pliable than not when pressed. If they actually feel hard to the touch in a relaxed position, you’ve got some self-care to attend to.

    You mean you don’t spend most of the day flexing all the different muscles of your quads and touching them?

  29. @SamV

    ………….feel hard to the touch in a relaxed position, you’ve got some self-care to attend to.

    Sorry what were we talking about here?

  30. @il muro di manayunk

    Even for the day, while I’m at work, my mind swims about, thinking about my next ride. I worry that I won’t be home early enough to get the ride in that I’d planned – or worse yet – ride at all.

    Whoa. Are you me?

    Seriously, there have been occasions where I have bolted out the office door so quickly to catch the early bus home so I can get a ride in that I’ve left my wallet/cell phone/keys sitting on my desk, only to realize it a minute after the bus has pulled away. Then the calculation quickly becomes “can I do without my wallet/cellphone/keys for a night or should I trade in 20 minutes of riding time to go back and get them?”

    Haha.  I almost always ride in the morning.  Recently I had the chance to ride after work and I forgot my keys and sunnies in the office.  It didnt cut short my ride, but I did have to race the dying light home at the end of the ride.

  31. @frank

    @Francesco

    Actually Krabbè regrets to “non-racers”, I remember because I’m “just” a rider.

    I actually dispute the popular translation. In Dutch, he writes, “Niet-renners”. “Renner” is meant to be rider in this context, not necessarily a racer.

    I had the same thought as @Francesco.  That line has always bothered me; I am a non-racer rider and everything in the book except for that first line is spot on.  I am relieved to learn about @frank‘s gloss of the original Dutch.

  32. I don’t speak Dutch but there’s no reason that should stop me from asking questions about @frank‘s translation of Krabbe, right?

    If Krabbe had intended to express shock at the lives of non-racers rather than non-riders, would he have used the term wielrenner rather than renner?

    I had always imagined that Krabbe implied that to be a “rider”, one must race. Of course, we all race in different ways, even if we’re only racing to finish a favorite ride just a bit faster than we did the week before. Sometimes that sort of racing is enough.

  33. Sounds like Frank is in a rut, would suggest some time on google maps looking for some place you’ve never been, or just ride and see where you go.  Take your favorite bike on a date, have some beer, and maybe you both get a happy ending out of it.

  34. @JCM

    I don’t speak Dutch but there’s no reason that should stop me from asking questions about @frank‘s translation of Krabbe, right?

    If Krabbe had intended to express shock at the lives of non-racers rather than non-riders, would he have used the term wielrenner rather than renner?

    “Renne”r is just short for “Wielrenner”, just like rider is short for “bicycle rider”. The omission doesn’t mean anything by itself.

    The art of translating is to infer what the author meant to convey and then convey that same sentiment using different words and grammar. This is my translation, and I feel very comfortable with that, especially having read the whole book in Dutch. But who knows. Tim probably isn’t even really sure anymore, after so much time. The whole book is so spiritual about cycling as a way of life that I have a hard time imagining he’d make that distinction so brashly.

    I had always imagined that Krabbe implied that to be a “rider”, one must race. Of course, we all race in different ways, even if we’re only racing to finish a favorite ride just a bit faster than we did the week before. Sometimes that sort of racing is enough.

    It’s certainly possible, but I never took that from his writing, which is to say you are correct in using the word “imagine”!

  35. @Sam

    Sounds like Frank is in a rut, would suggest some time on google maps looking for some place you’ve never been, or just ride and see where you go.  Take your favorite bike on a date, have some beer, and maybe you both get a happy ending out of it.

    I leave for South Africa on Monday. With a bike.

  36. Substitute booze for bike in around 50% of the instances in that Frank and you’ve got me in a nutshell. 3d Fitness. No point being able to scoot up the Alpe in under an hour without being able to stand the 8 pints at the top to celebrate….

  37. Perfect predicament really it is as I too agonize over which bike to take ,which kit to don etc etc, I rarely miss a day and feel tired and sluggish when I do, but as soon the wheels are turning the predicament,s gone and bliss begins . Where on earth would we be without our dear two wheeled friends .

  38. @frank

    That clarification is actually very helpful. Much is lost when a book is read in a language other than the one in which it was written.

    Along those lines, I’m curious to know how Krabbe’s new book De Veertiende Etappe is.  Maybe it will be translated into English at some point.  I don’t think I’m likely to learn Dutch anytime soon.

  39. @Ron

    Oh god…I’ve felt me belly pressing against my desk edge lately as well & found myself wondering. Not fun.

    In residency we called it “beeper obliterans” when the belly became big enough, when seated, to flop over the pager and obliterate any pages coming through (at the time only doctors and drug dealer were using pagers, now only doctors use the things). Now I suspect uber-nerds who wear their cell phones on their belt experience the same thing. Thankfully thanks to my bike, I find myself un-afflicted.

  40. @RobSandy

    @SamV

    @rfreese888

    Question: What does one actually feel for when inspecting the guns? should they feel harder or just less sore and more recovered?

    Basically they should be more pliable than not when pressed. If they actually feel hard to the touch in a relaxed position, you’ve got some self-care to attend to.

    You mean you don’t spend most of the day flexing all the different muscles of your quads and touching them?

    No, I do. Doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do though…at least physiologically.

    @teocalli

    @SamV

    ………….feel hard to the touch in a relaxed position, you’ve got some self-care to attend to.

    Sorry what were we talking about here?

    Haha possibly that too…

  41. @Bespoke

    @frank

    @Bespoke

    I don’t know what’s creeping me out more. The narcissism of the thigh rubbing or the fact that the bottom of his bibs line up perfectly with the surface of the podium.

    If narcissism creeps you out, then I am sorry to inform you that you need to find another community.

    I wouldn’t know what to do with all of the mirrors I’ve had installed. Hung exactly horizontally, of course!

    Mirrors ?   Thats what shop windows are for innit ?

  42. @chris

    @frank

    @Phillip Mercer

    I was at work the other day after having done my usual fast Friday group ride in the morning where my plans changed that after work I’d meet my wife at my parents’ place, triple the distance I’d normally commute home. I was excited. I looked forward to taking the route that I don’t take too often, thinking about how I was going to power up the rolling terrain and hold a decent average speed. My heart broke however when I got on the bike that afternoon and two k’s in I could feel my legs complaining about that morning’s effort. It wasn’t until 7k’s to go until they came back. I’m glad they came back but I missed them mid-ride.

    The super ultra secret of Rule #5 is that you just keep fucking pushing and eventually your body will stop complaining and then you’ll fly. That is, right until the wheels really come off the bus and then you’re really truly, properly fucked.

    The Velominipper and budding pedalwan rode the last Club Ten of the season last night. He came out of the last round about sprinting side by side with his minute man and two minute man (also twelve years old) but was losing ground on the faster of the other two. He sat down, got up and went again but you could see he was fucked and couldn’t put any more in.

    It was only later when he got his time that he’d knocked 39 seconds of his previous best and well over minute of his first attempt in June.

    That’s super cool stuff there. You riding behind ? The little ones are a blast to watch knock off PR’s with just about every new attempt at a TT. We alternate between a 10 miler flat as a pancake and a 2km up hill effort. The young lady in my house may very well break 30 minutes with next effort on the 10m. That’ll be a decent effort for 11 yr old on Jr gearing. I love this snapshot of her recently finishing the 2km effort. Bikes and kids are the best. Cheers

  43. Those first 2 sentences? Spot on: “Being away from the bike is agony. Even for the day, while I’m at work, my mind swims about, thinking about my next ride. I worry that I won’t be home early enough to get the ride in that I’d planned – or worse yet – ride at all.”

    The grueling calculus of it all: Need to work late; need to see the VMH; need to get the kids to music lessons/sports practice/homework; need to put food in the fridge, the pet, the children… Agonizing to know that too too often life intrudes on the ability to get on the steed and RIDE, dammit.

    And then, on every good day: click, click, and off we go.

  44. @SamV

    @RobSandy

    @SamV

    @rfreese888

    Question: What does one actually feel for when inspecting the guns? should they feel harder or just less sore and more recovered?

    Basically they should be more pliable than not when pressed. If they actually feel hard to the touch in a relaxed position, you’ve got some self-care to attend to.

    You mean you don’t spend most of the day flexing all the different muscles of your quads and touching them?

    No, I do. Doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do though…at least physiologically.

    Suppose the obvious answer is always most likely to be right. I keep an eye on the guns mostly at beginning and end of day, and when on or near the bike. I know they are sore or not on a flight of stairs, and try to roll them / stretch them after heavy rides.

    I was in awe of one man’s guns on a climb in the Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford a couple of weeks ago. They looked like the photo on this post.

    Stroke by stroke, weights this winter, the guns of Navarone will shine!

  45. @wilburrox

    Sub 30 for an 11 year old?! That’s incredibly strong work. She’ll be faster than the lot of us before you know it! Great photo too.

    I rode behind Angus the first 2 or three times but once he’s demonstrated that he wan’t going to be a danger to himself or the general public he was allowed to go off alone. It’ll be interesting to see how much he progresses next year but sub 30 might be pushing it, it far from a flat course.

  46. I am racing on Sunday. My first proper race, and also the first ride I have that I have trained/worked/prepared hard for. I am even flying to a different country to do it (Denmark).

    So I am now ‘tapering’. Which seems to be a way to say ‘not riding’. After over 2 months of hard training (riding or turbo almost every day), this weeks single ride & 2 easy turbo sessions just do not feel enough.

    I ‘know’ that being rested before Sunday us important. It just feels so much harder to do nothing than I thought it would!

  47. @wilburrox

    Just out of curiosity, being a dad and so on: are those regular size wheels (700-23) or smaller wheels? What gearing is a junior gearing? thanks!

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