“You’re addicted!” The only way you’ve avoided hearing that phrase is by either not telling people you ride most days of the week or by not actually riding most days of the week. Such sins of omission are entirely understandable. Keeping the peace, or a low profile can be difficult enough when you’ve got a tan like a panda bear and legs as hairless as Michael Jordan’s head. The full story has been known to cause non-cyclists to think your last known address was Area 51.
But addicted? It’s not like any of us would ever say, “I can stop this any time.” We don’t pretend our lives could go on without cycling and remain fulfilled, enjoyable. And shouldn’t that be the definition of addicted? Shouldn’t a true addiction be something we are honest about, the thing without which our lives would lose some luster?
We, ourselves, can joke about being addicted to cycling. About how when we miss our riding we get the DTs. How we get neurotic without that outlet.
No matter how we joke, most people simply don’t understand our devotion. From following the racing, to structured workouts and, of course, the numbers of hours we spend in the saddle each week, our love for the sport can seem unnatural, even unhealthy. And anything done to excess must be unhealthy, right?
But here is where I find the difference remarkable. True addictions narrow one’s world. Whether drugs, alcohol or compulsive disorders, addictions define a person’s world into necessary and unnecessary and as the disease progresses, less and less is necessary. Meals, jobs and eventually even loved ones can be determined expendable by the brain hijacked by the disease.
What cycling has done for my life is anything but. I don’t think anything else in my life taught me the value of hard work the way training has. My interest in cycling has led to learning about physics, metallurgy, physiology, GPS technology, blood chemistry, metabolism, diet, European cultures and cuisine, Hannibal, and wine, not to mention expanding my knowledge of other subjects I was already interested in including geography and photography.
My experience can’t possibly be unique. But universality is no standard by which to judge. The epiphany I came to in defending my love of and devotion to cycling is that the sport has made my world bigger. What it has done for me is nothing short of miraculous. It has exposed my weaknesses and foibles like no shrink could. I give nearly everything in my life greater effort thanks to cycling and there’s a chance that I’m a more tolerable person to friends and family.
I doubt very much the definition of addiction includes feeling better about yourself.
Even if your training isn’t regulated with Swiss train precision, chances are you ride some base miles in the early season, do something approximating intervals in the spring and whenever the mood strikes you, really, really hard efforts once you start to feel fit, and recovery rides any time you can talk yourself (and your friends) into it. It’s a form of discipline that balances the enjoyment of riding against the desire to get fit without making it, well, work.
Any sort of periodized training plan, aside from being PRO, suggests an understanding of junk miles. Junk miles are the purgatory of the cycling world: Neither hard enough to be true training that will result in the coveted faster you … and not slow enough to allow you to gain any recovery at all. For most of us, the concept of junk miles was a little difficult to grasp at first. Worse yet, even when we thought we understood it, our bodies were usually slow to follow. I was lucky to have a friend who was a Cat. II to my Cat. Nothing.
“When I say easy, I mean easy,” he would say to me. My body understood “easy” the way a cat understands “heel.”
Ultimately, what we learn is that riding is a binary system. When you go hard, you go really hard, whether a three-minute interval, a full-on sprint or the half-hour climb. And when you go easy, it’s really easy. Frankly, it reminds me of a dog I had. When he was on he had the energy of a top-fuel dragster on Red Bull and anger. And when he was resting he slept the sleep of a bank vault, only with his tongue hanging out.
But there comes a point in the season when you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Wins, upgrade points, epic rides, by late summer only the most dedicated riders still have unfinished business. The resulting mix is a once-a-year bouillabaisse of sustained fitness, great weather and waning motivation. So what is there to do?
Junk miles. Let’s hear it for going out and riding 80 percent with friends. Putting in an attack hard enough to send a message, but not so hard to leave you (or them) crippled for the rest of the afternoon. Let’s hear it for turning off the wattage meter, leaving the heart rate monitor at home and riding your priciest wheels after work. Going someplace pretty just for a change of scene.
Sometimes, pretty hard is just right.
When the sh*t goes down and the screws are turned, we all wage the war against the ingress of doubt. Like cold, salty ocean water, doubt will find its way inside a breach and then… it’s only a matter of time before the ship goes down.
Following an effort so hard that it leaves the eyes bloodshot and your feet fried, a rider tries to sort out the race’s details. How can one’s fitness vary so greatly on back-to-back days? All things being equal, one can point to doubt.
At times, denying doubt is harder than any of the physical efforts doled out. When the group is strung out into a razor sharp point and riders begin popping, doubt becomes tough to ignore. At that moment, the difference between a good day and a bad day is determined by the mind’s willingness to ignore the persistant whisper of that f*#ker doubt.
Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International
The sticker may be the single most valuable form of currency in the bike world. On the surface, stickers are created equal, but upon closer inspection, stickers, like currencies, have differing values. Don’t get me wrong, all stickers are important, but like teaching the value of money to a child, five singles are not as valuable as a twenty dollar bill. Here is a brief tutorial on the denominations of the sticker world.
Loose change - Loose change stickers have the lowest value and are often affixed to common, daily items such as travel mugs, the backs of your MP3 player and, on occasion, they are used to make minor repairs in place of tape. In the bike retail world, these are the stickers that find their way to garbage cans, parts bins, and new guy’s tool box.
Singles – Singles have a bit higher value than loose change. Like the dollar bill, you would step off the curb to grab one of these. Singles are often a bit larger or offer a cool die-cut shape. Singles are also good for daily items (see above), but their value makes them good for the bumper of your car, the window in the service area, or maybe to cover a rust spot on the trusty ’85 Ford shop van.
Fivers and the Ten Spot - Close in relation to one another, the value of the Fiver and the Ten spot is often determined by your love and personal investment in the message delivered by the sticker. A Sun Records decal carries more weight than a Sidi sticker that came with your shoes. Both are cool, but until Elvis records a historically relevant tune at Sidi HQ, the Sun sticker trumps. Fivers and tens are perfect for your tool box, even if you are a clean aesthetics kind of cyclist. One of these babies would make the clean lines of your roller cabinet that much tighter.
Twenty and the Five-0 - Now we are talking about some serious booh-kooh. If lost, the twenty and the Five-0 are the type of decals that are mourned and even warrant a bit of eBay time to try and find a replacement. Stickers like these are never wasted on short term items like cars, computers, or rental apartment refrigerators. The battle over where to place these gems is sure to be waged in your mind. Like your retirement savings strategy, think long-term.
Hundos – The largest of the folders, hundos represent the top of the sticker heap. These stickers can be any size, any vintage, and any area of interest. The value of the hundo is so great that often you hang on to it for years, waiting for the right place to affix such a valuable commodity.
Rare and Precious - Some adhesive-backed images were never meant to be adhered, plain and simple. The rare and precious are worthy of a designation greater than sticker, they are elevated to the designation of decal. Decals are coveted, they are the reason you have a sticker drawer, or special plastic bag in which all decals are stored. Some decals may be twenty plus years old and have only seen the light of day on very rare occasions; they may even have a home inside a bag inside the bag. Decals may never have their backs peeled off and their stickiness may never be realized. But like a collectable postage stamp, or an antique pistol, their worth is not measured by their functionality but rather by their pure essence.
As long as I have been a cyclist, stickers have always brought a simple joy. As a kid, I would run from booth to booth at the bike shows collecting stickers. Later in life, as I walk the isles, I still find myself pulled to booths, which among other things, has a pile of cool stickers on their table. Like cycling itself, the hunt for the perfect sticker keeps me young at heart.