THERE IS A SAYING ABOUT OLD DOGS AND NEW TRICKS...
As I progress toward “old dog” status, I ponder more on this venerable adage. As a cyclist it is easy to pigeon-hole oneself into a specific sub-category. In the 1970’s there was only road cycling. Then came BMX, then came the mountain bike and from there the specificity has run rampant. One can no longer be just a “cyclist”. Now there is the endurance road cyclist or the racer or the cross country mountain bike racer or the trail rider or the Enduro racer or the downhill racer or the park rat… It goes on, and on, and on.
What many see as a detriment to the sport, I see as an opportunity to grow. Each of the many disciplines require a special skill set, however all skills make a cyclist better. Some people focus on trials riding, but anyone can benefit from learning to hop over a log or clear a rocky section of trail.
For quite some time I have ridden primarily a light cross country hard-tail bike. It is fast, lean, and mean on the trails and great for getting from point A to point B as quick as possible. This year I decided to try something different. I have always eschewed the lift-access riding. I was taught to earn the downhill, but for this season I put together a cool new Pivot Phoenix downhill specific bike and spent ten days throughout the summer in Whistler, BC attacking the trails with aplomb.
Trip number one was a rocky start (pun intended) to say the least. Getting a little over zealous on a jump I landed wrong and broke my thumb and a couple ribs, thus ending trip number one to downhill cycling Mecca. Trip two was a treatise on pain as I was not fully healed yet. Lesson learned… Take the time to heal broken things. Trip three and four (yes, that WAS a lot of driving) were where lessons started to take hold. I spent time in the gym working out muscles that the XC rider sees as extraneous. Seems like T-Rex arms don’t hold up well to steep, fast descents and drop offs hour after hour. My hands toughened up with calluses that kept the blisters away finally. Along with the changes in musculature came a balance and skill set that made the park a fun place. By trip three and four I had ridden most every trail in the park, to include the double black diamonds and even a pro line (kind of). I learned a great deal during my summer of descent. I thought that downhill riding would be no work-out, but each night I was so tired I could barely move, and the stiffness in the morning was impressive (may be part of the “old dog” thing). I learned to accept crashes as a part of riding. Learning to crash well is one of the most under-rated skills a cyclist can acquire. The various skills I learned have translated well to my cross country riding with improved handling and jumping skills.
There is always a fear when learning something new. I think this is what prevents us from doing so as we progress through life. When young, pain is fleeting and generally unknown. The world is an adventure. Scrapes and scratches seemingly heal over night and even the broken bones we endure are memories after a few months. Age brings slower healing, longer memories, and more awareness of our own mortality. Stepping out of the comfort zone can lead to lasting repercussions like thumbs that barely hold a glass after four months. The consequences of not learning, not progressing, and not expanding is stagnancy. Life is here to be lived and if all we do is wash, rinse, and repeat our days, are we truly living life or just subsisting until something or someone pulls the plug? I prefer to face my fears, accept the scratches, bruises, and occasional broken part to truly live. Life… Get out there, try it, you may like it.
Many people ride a bicycle. Few people race a bicycle. Racing requires a level of commitment which is difficult to convey to anyone who has not done it.
Without a doubt, training for bicycle racing is easily the hardest, longest commitment one can make. It is said that it takes two years of committed riding just to determine if a person has the body and skill to be competitive and two more years before that potential is even partly tapped. Even those that end up pack fodder still must commit a large portion of their lives to the sport.
Cyclists dedicate hours of suffering in the cold and inclement weather and too many nice days to recover for the effort of the weekend. The commitment doesn’t end when one gets off the bike, either. There is the daily struggle to watch our calories and eat only the healthiest foods. Then there is the gym. Cyclists spend hours pushing iron to make the legs grow strong and dense.
How does one determine if they are truly a cyclist? Easy: If you are tired all the time, sore all the time, hungry all the time, and dread walking up or down stairs all the time, you may be a cyclist.
Get a competitive cyclist on the bike that one special day, and the weird, misshapen frog-legged creature with no upper body suddenly becomes a beautiful sight. Thin and lithe, the cyclist floats up hills at speeds that seem impossible. The trained rider flows through rock gardens like a dancer glides across the stage. For that special time all the training and suffering and starvation is worth it. All the cold and misery is gone from memory. All that remains is the joy of competition and, hopefully the win.
Cycling is an odd sport, mostly misunderstood by outsiders. Competitive cyclists do nothing to rebuke that stereotype. It is a culture of masochists who only can be understood by the few who have undergone the transformation from human to cyclist.