I came to road cycling as a relatively late starter. I’d always been a running enthusiast, and had a knock around on a hybrid and commuted to work regularly, but I never would have said I was a cyclist. I bought my road bike in January 2014 at 30 years of age, and that first year was spent getting to grips with the basics.
I had to learn how to clip in and out, how to pump my tyres and grease the chain not to mention trying to ascertain the rules imposed by the Velominati that seemed extreme and confusing. Year one was an education, a baptism of fire. Year two has been a transformation into my own identity as a cyclist. Here’s what I’ve learned in 2015
Not all rides are created equal
You can have a succession of rides where you feel like a complete hero. You can sense the training paying off and your strength in the saddle is better than it ever has been before. One week later, it feels like you’ve never been on a bike before, you’re nervous and lacking technique and even clipping in is a struggle. Cycling is a cruel mistress and will always throw in a hard session to keep your grounded and safe from complacency.
It’s as much about miles as it is about culture
Miles are important, of course they are, but another metric of performance that Strava does not record is the strong culture club that binds cyclists together. It’s those rides to the coffee shop, new vocabulary like ‘the pain cave’, the ‘social’ laps at 6am in Regents Park, it’s the socks that make a statement and the caps snapped back in a debonair fashion. This year taught me all of those intricacies and cultural quirks that alluded me in my first year.
You must earn your bike upgrade
As soon as I bought my first road bike, I knew I’d made an error. It was heavy and had a massive cassette and wheels that weighed a tonne. But it made me discreet and able to practice away from the attention of fancy bike spotters. I could also haul it up a hill as extra weight training. It grounded me and taught me everything I needed to know. When I upgraded to a carbon Colnago ACR last month, I knew I had graduated from the beginners class and was ready for a ‘serious’ bike.
Friendships can be forged on two wheels
Never did I think that my social life would be so rewarded from owning a road bike. I have gained actual, proper and real friends from the sport. There is something so connecting about riding with people that somehow allows you to get to know them in half the time it does in a normal scenario. I am very glad to have met the people I now spend most of my time riding with and they will be friends for life.
Significant life moments can be born of rides
Two months ago my boyfriend proposed whilst we were riding our bikes around the Verdon region in France. He had planned to propose to me on the summit of Mont Ventoux, but the sheer work involved in cycling up a mountain caused me to vomit at the top so he thought it wise to delay until I was bonking less hard! Who would have thought a road bike would have been so instrumental in my life plan?
It is not about getting from A to B
It’s a misconception that a road bike is about having a means of transport. Rarely when I get on my bike do I think about the destination. The very fact that you don’t tend to take a bike lock with you on a ride says a great deal about the types of journeys you go on as a road cyclist. It is just that, a journey, and not a vehicle to get you to where you are going.
To relax is to succeed
My first year of road cycling was spent clinging onto my handlebars for dear life, as if that would somehow make me less likely to fall off. My hands would go so numb from clenching in fear that when I actually did need to brake, they could barely operate. Through miles of practice and the subsequent confidence that ensues, my posture is better, I have more energy and my core feels engaged. This just means that I’m more connected with my bike and we are at one rather than two separate entities.
Hills are mental
This year has involved harder rides and with that I mean, more metres of ascent. Hills can really test you as a person. The sensation that you are grinding to a halt but still keep pushing up of course takes a certain level of physical fitness but also a large proportion of mental strength. I found I was using the latter for the best part of climbing Mont Ventoux.
Falling off is a rite of passage
This year I had my first proper stack. Obviously I’d already had a wobble at traffic lights from not clipping out before and had the odd scuff here and there but I hadn’t actually had a crash and the very thought of it left me trembling. That was until this summer when I had a bit of a malfunction with the brakes on a downhill and crashed into an electricity pylon at speed. I escaped with a slightly bent spoke and black left arm but now that I’ve had this experience, I feel like a proper road cyclist and bizarrely less scared.
There is still so much to learn
The great thing about road cycling is that there is always somewhere to go with it. I don’t mean literally (which of course is true) but I mean in terms of improving your fitness, and honing your technique. I can’t wait to see where 2016 will take me.