It’s taken me the best years of my life to reach the best years of my life. That statement is certainly true of cycling.
I find nearly all forms of exercise a chore, with the exception of riding my bike. Although I will agree that even that is not a pleasure when I am below a certain level of fitness. It becomes a pleasure when my level of fitness allows me to ride at a level where I am happy.
I remember in the 1980s living in Southern California, great weather, wonderful terrain, hills etc. However, I didn’t enjoy riding because the pressure of my business, didn’t allow me enough time to ever get fit enough to ride at the level I wanted to ride at that time.
It had not been many years since I had quit racing, and I still expected to ride at that level. Hammer up the hills is what was in my psyche told me, but my mind was making a promise that my body couldn’t keep. The result, I suffered horribly. It became a chore.
Lance Armstrong’s assessment “It’s not about the bike” is absolutely correct. Once I started racing it became about how hard could I push my body. The competitiveness of beating, or even just hanging on to the wheel of someone at a level of fitness way above mine.
The bike was simply a tool, a piece of equipment necessary to participate. Even training rides with others were unofficial races, always trying to be first to the top of a hill, or always having my front wheel ahead of the rider next to me. (Known as Half-Wheeling.)
Today, I have reached an age where I have nothing left to prove to myself or anyone else. Just to get out and ride two or three hours is an achievement in of itself. I am content to ride without pushing myself to the point of exhaustion.
My level of fitness doesn’t seem to affect my speed, just the distance I can cover. More miles equate to more time on the bike, and more cycling pleasure.
I now remember what it was like to ride in my early teen years before I started racing. For me cycling started out as a means of escape from my dysfunctional home life. I would stay out and ride for hours, and would even cover close to a hundred miles at the age of thirteen or fourteen. All this on a Hercules Roadster with a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub gear; the bike must have weighed around forty pounds.
Mostly I rode alone because none of my friends were willing to cover the distances I did. I grew used to, and even enjoyed riding alone; this still is the case today. Now, a ride on my bike is almost sacred. I enjoy social situations, and good conversations, but not while I’m riding.
Riding is my "alone time," I have few thoughts and it becomes a form of meditation. I am at one with the elements, the temperature, the wind, even the rain on occasions. I am at one with the terrain, up or downhill; the road surface, smooth or rough.
Lastly, I am at one with my bike, it becomes an extension of my body. The closest thing to human flight without actually leaving the ground. The feeling I can imagine some get from flying a glider, or sailing.
It is still not about the bike, it is about riding the bike and all that goes with it.