It’s simplest form was when I was a kid and I hopped on my BMX without wearing a helmet, lycra or even oiling my chain. It represented freedom and fun. Seeing who could do the highest jumps and longest monos was one of the great joys of riding a bike.
This evolved into mountain biking when the craze hit North America. I was obsessed with it. It would take me places I’d never otherwise be able to go and it satisfied my thirst for fitness and adventure.
Then I started racing. I remember my first mountain bike race and watching the Pro-Elites warming up outside their massive trailers thinking “I want to be one of them one day”. I was in awe of them.
I worked incredibly hard to made it to that level and found there was no money, no fast cars, and no swarms of women at the end of this road. It was not glamorous and I discovered it was only the tip of the iceberg into a whole new world.
Mountain biking at a high level naturally led to road racing. This was when I truly uncovered how deep this sport was, and how dirty it could be.
Racing gave me a sense of instant self validation. My motivation was driven by ego. If I did well, I was on top of the world and would want to stay on top. If I didn’t, I would need to redeem myself the next weekend. It was a drug that kept me coming back. You were only as good as their last race, and “success” was a never ending pursuit.
I always enjoyed autumn when I switched from a bike racer to a rider. No more training, no more pressure. I just got out there late in the morning and just rode until I felt like turning around. I would gain a few kilos and didn’t stress about it in the slightest. It was riding in it’s most enjoyable form.
I still race, but now it’s for fun. It’s about working towards a common goal with a group of mates and there’s very little ego involved. Winning is a great feeling when it happens to come along, but the way I raced is just as important to me.
I now see the racing chapter of my cycling life coming to a gradual close. I’ve begun to appreciate the pure and simple pleasure of riding with a small group of mates exploring roads I’ve never seen before. No power meters, no heartrate monitors, and no stopwatch. The only competitiveness that exists is a good spirited attack that ends when the first person gives up.
I still love to push myself, get out in horrible weather, and feel the pain in my legs. But it’s about me now, not about trying to challenge someone else.
It seems I’ve come full circle in my journey. I don’t regret one moment of training, racing, suffering, injuries, and the highs and lows it’s brought. It’s given me a life worth living, and has rewarded me with some unimaginable experiences.
Where are you at with your cycling journey and what does it mean to you?