The universal language of the cycling bunch

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I love travelling, moving to new places, discovering different cultures and what always makes it that little bit easier to do is the language of cycling.

My friends who know me are not surprised when I tell them about an upcoming move around the world. My family gave up noting down my current living address. That’s me – I love the adventures, the new experiences. Boredom is definitely not on my agenda.

Originally from Germany I stumbled, via the U.S. and Switzerland, to Australia. At the beginning of this year, I decided to move back to Europe after having spent two years in Australia.

I say Europe, because I wasn’t sure where to move to. But I had to start somewhere. I looked at a map, talked to a few friends and decided my first stop would be Andalusia, Southern Spain.

Awesome weather, amazing cycling terrain and friendly people. That sounded like the place for me!

A month later, I landed in Malaga with only my bike bag (the airline wanted to charge me $1000 for my suitcase so I left it in Australia). I hired a car and hoped for the best, driving on the other side of the road after a 30 hour flight.

I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know anyone and I have never been to this region. Yep, this was going to be an adventure.

Through a friend’s connection, I got to Motril, a small town 90 kilometres east of Malaga – away from any tourists and international industries. It was a very, very Spanish place. English would not get me anywhere.

I learned about a group ride that started every day at 9 a.m. from the church in town. The next day, I showed up and met the group. Did anyone speak English? Of course not.

Everyone smiled at me and had a very Spanish conversation. I smiled back. I had absolutely no idea what was talked about. But once we started riding, the language barrier became smaller and smaller. The way of cycling is the same anywhere I have ridden in the world. Tactics, attacks and heavy breathing are pretty clear ways to communicate. We spoke cycling now, and this I’m fluent in.

I loved it so much that I showed up every day at 9 a.m. at the church in town. I slowly got to meet the entire group. We did easy, hard and epic rides. I learned the strengths and weaknesses of every rider. I could guess from the intonation of the voices what was said. I was learning cycling vocabulary and surprised the group when I could answer a question.

Once, I heard a word over and over, I became too curious and asked them what it meant. Ah! It was one of the rougher cursing words. The remainder of the ride, they made sure I would learn plenty of other cursing words as well.

I could now communicate a few cycling terms and roll out a string curse words – it was a start but it was a good thing I had other ways of getting by. Being surrounded by familiar faces I could orient myself on the leaders of the group. It is interesting how you go back to basic understanding. When you cannot rely on verbal understanding, your other senses kick in. Non-verbal communication gives away 90% of whats going on. And if I misunderstood I could be assured there would be a good-natured laugh.

Solely by watching the group, I learned so much about the Spanish culture. I got to ride to places that only the locals knew and I learned things about the area I would never otherwise have guessed. The simple, but nevertheless important, things that help you feel at home.

Things like the nuances of what is considered acceptable, and more importantly not acceptable, when you are interacting with the group and car drivers. This can vary quite a bit around the world. Having lived in places where there is a constant battle between cyclists and car drivers, I was stunned by the tolerance and patience of the cars on the road.

Moreover, without the group I would have had to find out the hard way about the micro climates of the region. Reading the weather is something the locals have a vast knowledge of, and I am glad I never had to worry about planning the route around the conditions but could just sit back and enjoy the ride. A group who knows the quirks of a region and is eager to show the best of it is priceless.

Of course, the interactions off the bike were interesting as well. Just moving from Australia, the first question that comes into mind is when do they have coffee. It turns out in this group the answer was never. They would rather use the time to ride more.

However, when they realised I was a coffee junkie they worked in a cafe stop occasionally. While I was working to understand and fit into the group, the group was also making the effort to understand and consider me. This helped make me feel welcome, not just into a new cycling group but also a new country.

Yet again the bike has helped me immerse myself in a new culture and throw myself into a new country and a new adventure. Cycling – it’s the ultimate universal language.

Monika, aka Rad Monika, is a travelling endurance cyclist and writes a blog about her cycling adventures, passions and challenges that ranges from informative to funny and sometimes even gets a bit controversial. If you are looking for more inspiration, motivation or just some pure entertainment read more here.

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