All I know is this: The ride is inside you

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You see, the problem is that you want to keep up with people who you can’t keep up with. Some people are weaker than others. No matter how hard they try or train, they won’t ever be able to keep up with the faster riders when the whip comes down.

You’ve only been doing this a short time, and you’ve seen dramatic improvements that most people never see. But you make the terrible mistake of comparing yourself to people who are far above your physical ability. This causes you frustration, because you want to be as good as they are, which in your mind means “as fast.” I could tell you right now that you’re a million times better than most cyclists I’ve ever met, but because you equate good with fast, you can’t grasp my meaning, or you think I’m flattering you, or you think I don’t get it.

But it’s you, not me, who doesn’t get it.

I’ve been doing this for over thirty years. I learned early on that there are people with whom I can ride on a pleasant pedal, but with whom I can never keep up when they pedal in earnest. It’s futile to want to do so, and ultimately it can poison the real experience of riding a bike, which is inside you.

No one wants to believe that the ride is inside them. They think it’s on the road, or on Strava, or defined by their average speed, or by the number of miles they’ve logged, or in their race results, or in the engraved invitation that allows them to hang with the fast crowd. It isn’t.

The ride is that thing inside you that you can no longer hold in. When you exercise it, you exorcise it, and its release is intensely pleasurable. It leaves you unknotted for a short while, until the need arises to exorcise yet again. Each time you do it you change a little bit, forever.

The physical activity called cycling can be measured against the performance of others, but you cannot express that which is within you through others. You must first understand what is inside you, and express it to yourself.

Over the years I’ve seen many people get into cycling, and then get out of it for all kinds of reasons. The main one, though, is that they were cycling in order to achieve something. Once they achieved it, or once they realized that their goal was unattainable, they moved on to something else. Others cycled because they thought it would provide them with some material gain only to find that it made them much broker than they would have been without it.

The ones for whom the experience was the emptiest were the ones who did it, or do it, solely for the competition.

I am the least competitive cyclist you know. When I ride I’m not trying to beat you. If I were I’d never take a pull, or I’d never race crits, or I’d never upgrade until forced. When I ride I’m experiencing something very private that is frequently dependent on the participation of others, but never defined by it. Each person plays a role in my internal ride; those who ride faster and drop me, those who ride slower and get dropped, those who vicariously ride with me on FB or WordPress or YouTube, and those who ride next to me sharing a joke and a laugh or an update on the family.

Do you really know yourself?

If you do, you will see the gift and be thankful for it until your most final breath. If you don’t, the gift will not look like the thing it is, but rather like something that’s not quite good enough, that needs to be improved upon, or perhaps like something that you can return to the store for one in a more fashionable color.

The ride is inside you, but you have to be brave enough to look into that rather dark place poorly lit, and to accept what you find there. It’s not, perhaps, what you expect. Yet it is the greatest and most wonderful thing of all.

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