I’ve got quite a few labels attached to me. I’m Mom. Wife. Recent college graduate. Pet owner. There are many more things I can call myself, but I’ve never been able to call myself a cyclist. I’ll tell people in conversation, “I like road biking”, or “I do some biking when I can.” But, I look at the serious riders when I’m doing a tour, and don’t think of myself as belonging to their world. The question creeps into my psyche now and then. Am I a true cyclist?
What is it that qualifies a person as a bona fide road cyclist? Is it the number of hours spent training each week? A hundred-mile weekly average? More than $1,500 spent on a carbon bike? The number of tours or races completed? I don’t really fit into any of these categories. I’m riding a $700 Trek. I’m a Mom with young teens, and I have my own business from home; I don’t have time to put in 100 miles a week. I’ve only ridden in a couple dozen organized tours. I have yet to complete my first century (but I’m close). Not much of a resume for a cyclist who’s been on skinny tires for a couple of years now. I’m not a novice anymore, so what am I?
Today, I kissed my husband goodbye and glided down the driveway and into the street, beating back the laziness demons that constantly torment me. “Just go later” they whisper, “you don’t have to ride today.” Every time my derriere hits the saddle, I feel a small bit of accomplishment. It means one more ride soon to be under my belt, and the demons get the door slammed on them again. Surely, true cyclists don’t go through this struggle. I went out and rode alone, between rain showers. It was just me and a glorious Wyoming spring in the country, only a few miles from my home in town. Along the highway, a fox ran across the road not far in front of me, and I stopped to watch him bound through a field. His rust-colored fur was a stark contrast to the deep green sea of waving grass that enveloped him. Above us were clouds that looked as though a child had taken cotton balls, dipped the bottoms in grey-blue paint, and glued them to bright blue paper. But it didn’t rain. About a mile up the road a beautiful Swainson’s hawk launched away from its road kill snack with an agility the best fighter pilot in the world could only dream about. The entire ride was filled with a chorus of meadowlarks, robins, and some cars, of course. Not that there was a lot of traffic to worry about, even at ‘rush hour’. “Wow,” I thought. “This is why I love Wyoming.” But it’s also why I love biking. Does that euphoric contentment make me a true cyclist?
My thoughts shifted to all the things I can do on my modest road bike, instead of focusing on what I can’t do. I can change a flat and handle many bike repairs on the road, by myself. I’m not afraid of traffic anymore, although I’m always vigilant. I’ve ridden forty-five miles in snow (the weather doesn’t necessarily make sense out here in the West, especially during Spring). I’ve had the best conversations and laughs with my friends out on the road. I’ve met the kindest people who’ve made my rides memorable; ride volunteers who hand out fruit and a smile when I’m dead tired, the guy who stopped on Fremont Pass in Colorado and helped me with a severely stuck dropped chain when I first started riding (I’ve since learned how to shift properly); the guy in an old Suburban who had a water cooler with him the day my friend and I ran out of fluids, twenty-five miles from civilization, on a scorching 97-degree afternoon. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life, and I’m getting stronger. I’m more careful about what I eat and drink. I’ve recently begun passing a few men on hills who have calves as thick as my thigh and are riding Cervelos and Merckxs. I’m starting to mentally keep track of my cadence, averages, and distances; my personal badges of honor on how much I’m learning and improving. Huh. Maybe I am a true cyclist.
I have concluded that I carry a lot of preconceived notions about what it means to be a cyclist. It’s likely most of them are stereotypes I’ve developed or witnessed. The only thing that truly matters, ultimately, is how I feel about biking. It’s not possible to have the experiences I’m having in any other sport. I can’t imagine ever giving any of it up. I dream about multi-day tours I’ll be able to take with my husband when the kids are older. I now regard the asphalt rising vertically in front of me as a challenge, not an obstacle. I absolutely relish the satisfaction I feel at the end of the day. I think I am a true cyclist, after all.
“Good ride!” my riding partner always tells me as we pedal back into town and split in different directions toward home. You’re right, my friend, good ride.