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performance cycling is weird if you allow it to be

Posted Mar 17 2010 9:21am
"If you step back for a moment and think like a normal, non-cycling human being, you’ll realize that pounding six packets of berry-flavored snot in an hour is not usually considered normal eating."    --Frances Morrision

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On the face of it, much of what is done in performance cycling is pretty weird.

We wear clingy -- too clingy, for some of us -- lycra. We wear funny-looking shoes that work best with even funnier-looking pedals. Our helmets make us look like Mushrooms or Angry Insects. And for the most serious among us, our bikes weigh 20 pounds or less. It's enough to intimidate a newbie into not even trying at all.

Then there's Andy Dingsor. he's a 50-something self-described "office geek" who got into cycling a few years ago when his wife brought home an old 12-speed bike she'd fished out of a dumpster. (Why can't I ever find cool old bikes in dumpsters?) A rail-trail opened near his house and allowed him to have a car-free route to work. And he began riding a bike every day. He liked it so much he started riding on the weekends with a friend. And before too terribly long, the distances grew. Andy discovered RUSA (Randonneurs USA) and at first thought the whole thing was s spoof. But as his mileage increased, he realized that he might be capable of riding a century. Over time, he learned how to fix flats on the road, how to pack food and drink to bring along for the ride and generally how to pace himself so he could finish these longer distances. During that process Andy realized that the basic rules for randonneuring were sensible and reasonable enough that he might be capable of riding a 200k (125-mile) brevet . So he went for it, and accomplished the goal. He has since completed several 200k brevets.

In his article for the latest edition of American Randonneur magazine, Andy lays it all out in a very simple, matter-of-fact way. Anyone can do this, he says. Look at me. I'm nobody, I'm just a regular guy who likes to ride a bicycle. And there alongside the article is a photo of Andy and his bike, the same one fished out of the dumpster, with upright handlebars and a gym bag strapped to the rear rack. He's wearing slacks (with longjohns underneath, according to the photo caption); a windbreaker; a construction worker's safety vest; leather work gloves; and hiking boots to ride his plain flat pedals with. I'm guessing this is how he dresses to ride to work. Perhaps he swaps in sneakers and jogging pants for the brevets, I don't know. But there's Andy, dressed like Just A Regular Guy and with a hint of a smile on his face.

I think the hint of the smile is the best part. It's the admission of the reality that if you take this performance cycling thing too seriously, you run the risk of turning it -- and yourself -- into colossal joke. When Andy was learning about randonneuring and confronted all the tips about gear and diet, he read it all and said, "Balderdash... I don't need all this to get started." And he was right. All he needed to do, he surmised, was to ride his bike. He'd learn the rest of what he needed along the way. And he seems to have learned enough to enjoy the trip.

Obviously, Andy sounds like a guy who doesn't have to deal with some of the stuff I deal with every day, and that's fine. But what I like the most if that he boils it all down to a single idea: Ride your bike for pleasure and enjoy it. The rest is peripherals, and if you want to get that intense about it, go ahead. But start by just riding your bike and enjoying it. Smart guy. His article is probably the best and most useful thing I've ever read in the pages of American Randonneur, or indeed in any performance cycling magazine.

So this week, while I continue to recover from a massive sneaker-wave of a flare-up and I deal with stress at work and elsewhere and my rides are short and transit-aided, I will think of Andy and try not to take the whole enterprise too seriously. And I will go back to remembering what it is I like about riding my bike, and focus on that for now. No performance, no "training", just riding around town on my bike and listening to my body so I don't blow up (and no beating myself up for needing to toss my bike on transit while I am recovering from the flare-up). I need to get back to just riding for its own sake. Thanks, Andy.
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