“Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride.” – Eddy Merckx
It is cycling season, that time of year when the days are longer and warmer. A time that I can ride my bicycle not only on Saturdays or Sundays but on Tuesdays and Thursdays too. Miles go up, pounds come off and the brown landscape seemingly turns green overnight.
For years I rode with a testosterone fueled group, and that was just the women, hell-bent on beating each other up on every hill and flat stretch of asphalt. We wore matching jerseys so any random cyclist would think twice about hitching a ride with us. We weren’t simply enthusiast out for a glorious spin, we were serious, snobs, serious bike snobs, intent on dropping anyone and everyone that couldn’t stay on our wheel or in our draft.
I spent hours away from my wife and kids to feed my cycling habit. And then the kids were gone and I was just spending hours away from my wife. One day I had the bright idea to buy my wife a bicycle. She is built for cycling, more so than I am. Tall, thin, fit and very competitive, I convinced her this was something we could share, do together, use to fill the empty nest void.
Cycling on the road among cars, trucks, potholes and dogs is an acquired taste. It takes a certain controlled reckless abandon to share ten feet of asphalt with a pick-up truck going 55 mph while he talks on his cellphone and smokes a cigarette with beer in a paper bag stuck between his legs trying to get home for dinner. To make this work I would need to give-up my group rides and focus all of my attention and energy on making my wife comfortable.
We started slow, riding in the neighborhood for five or ten miles. As she got more comfortable I found a business park with a bike lane so she would get used to tractor-trailers blowing by us. Pretty soon she was ready for more miles and more challenges, big hills, dogs nipping at her heels, pedaling inches off my back wheel down a two-mile flat ribbon of road at 25 mph. She was a natural and the cycling bug bit her hard.
But there is a big difference in riding just with me and riding in a group of twenty, a very big difference. Cycling in a group or peloton as we call it requires not only skill but trust and without both it can be very stressful. That was my wife’s experience with my group, stress and stress does not equal enjoyment. I had to make a decision, what was more important to me, spending time with the woman who twenty years from now will be spoon-feeding me applesauce and wiping it off my chin or abandoning her for ego fueled, hammer and suffer fest group rides?
My bike snob days are behind me. My wife and I ride for the enjoyment of being together, getting some exercise and sharing the experience. We aren’t just cruising around smelling the roses, as a fifty plus year old couple we can hold our own with most any cycling enthusiast our age or a little younger. I can still drop the hammer and catch some guy up the road but I won’t drop my wife to do it. I can still put a guy under stress who thinks he is going to get a free pull back to his car, but I won’t drop my wife to show what a bad ass I still am. I ride today for the beauty of the scenery, for the magic of the moments, to feel my heartbeat, my legs ache, to share it all with a woman I love and to eat a cinnamon roll at the top of the climb.
“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring.” – Desmond Tutu