After I’m done with work for the day, I like to get out and have a short ride while the daylight lasts. The route I take is convenient and I ride it frequently. It’s a short hilly route that goes out and back, and it gives me a good workout without taking too much time. I found myself riding hard and fast on that ride recently. Conditions that night were ideal, not too warm or cold. I was breathing easily and had good focus. Traffic was light. I didn’t set out to ride fast, but once I was warmed up, I pushed myself to the end of the ride.
I was only competing with myself, knowing that I might just log my best time for that ride this year. I love the feel of speed and control and pushing my limits and the exhaustion and exhilaration of it all. This is just part of my personality. I’m competitive. I enjoy knowing my ride statistics – how fast and far I’m going, and comparing the ride to others using Strava. I sometimes get a feeling that my bike and I are a single unit. The feel of a beautifully tuned and responsive bike is a real joy. I think most riders come to know this feeling at one time or another.
These things are closely aligned to one of the driving forces of road cycling – racing. Racing is about excitement. It drives technological change. It inspires us to test ourselves. It’s part of the joy of what we do, and most of us have watched or followed a race such as the Tour De France, even if we have never raced ourselves. We respect racers and racing. In our own ways, we all emulate them. While that can be a good thing, and even great fun, most of us do not race. Thinking like a racer isn’t hard to do. In some ways. it’s encouraged. I don’t think that racing is something we can or should ignore, but sometimes it pays to stop thinking like a racer, and start thinking like a RIDER. Some people even find the racing aspect of cycling culture to be discouraging. Riding doesn’t have to be guided by competitive thinking. Thinking like a rider is important in two ways, practical and technical.
Practically, thinking like a rider is a matter of looking at the larger picture. Do you have a goal? Do you want to be fitter, or maybe drop a pound or two? Do you have events you’d like to try? Are you getting all the variety and enjoyment that you can from your rides? There are times when what I really want is an easy ride and I push myself anyway, or I set out to push myself and discover that I can’t. The important point is that I’m riding. In an ideal world I would be able to ride every day. That simply isn’t practical. You have to rest. I normally take Fridays off from riding, and on those days I clean the bike instead. The secondary benefit of this is that the act of cleaning your bike reminds you to maintain it. It’s a good way to build rest into your routine.
It’s also a good idea to do this when you’re riding: look up. Don’t just ride. See things around you! Birds. Scenery. All the things you pass that you might not notice if you’re focused on performance. There are many times when I’ve been riding a lot and my legs feel heavy, and I just don’t want to ride. I have two cures for that. The first is to do something different. Put the bike in the car and go somewhere fun. Shake up the experience. The second is to get some company. It’s harder to skip a workout if someone else is counting on you. Part of the joy of cycling is the experience. While it’s okay to push yourself, that isn’t the point of riding. You can get great satisfaction out of pushing yourself, as long as you keep your perspective. My absolute favorite cartoon character is a textbook fanatic – Wile E. Coyote. He is creative and focused and I love that, but he is a fanatic, because he redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his goals. You can satisfy your hunger without catching the bird, and you can be fit without being fast.
The other aspect is technical. Racers use the best and lightest equipment, because it could be the difference between winning and losing. What if you don’t race? Do you need the best tech? No. If you want the best and can afford it, buy it. Otherwise if you don’t race it isn’t necessary. I love bikes and bike tech. I ride a “retro-modern” bike. It’s a classic lugged steel frame with 11 speed Campagnolo components. I love the look of old style bikes and components, but in reality, I want something that I can ride every day, so I want modern convenience of shifting from the bars and a gear range to help me on difficult climbs. By racer standards, it’s too heavy. It’s all wrong. By rider standards, it’s perfect.
Technology in rider terms is the difference between “good” and “good enough”. There will always be something lighter and better out there. Tech improves every year. In my opinion, the best “rider” technology is a step or two behind the leading edge. Component groups such as Shimano 105 are excellent, give you a wide range of gearing, and are an outstanding value. I like to think that having a wide range of gearing options is wise for all riders. The best gear is the gear you can afford, but there are a lot of beautiful second hand bikes being sold because there are people who love the best bike tech more than they love to ride. As a rider, think about tech in terms of the options you need.
Cycling is a wonderful form of exercise. It can be cooperative, competitive, fun and even relaxing, Sometimes thinking like a racer can be great fun, but thinking like a rider can prevent burnout and keep your mind and body working together.