About a book + (tangential) cycling.

So, somehow I ended up buying an amazing book on bicycle riding called ‘Just Ride‘, and I’m glad on this not-very-binge-shopping of mine.
Just Ride book imageI call it amazing because it pronounced a significant number of latent thoughts of mine about the way I see cycling evolving (or ‘cyclists behaving’ if you will) around me. I think the author, Grant Peterson witnessed a similar trend about a decade or more ago in the US and decided to collate much of his gathered wisdom into this tiny book. The author highlights the existence of the predominant category of cyclists, who he refers to as unracers. I also see a vast majority of them: with the increasing income and knowledge, the upper-middle-class in India is buying bikes which are generally in the range of 15-30K — a price range that would have made them and their folks jump out of their chairs when they were young. Undoubtedly, it is a welcome trend and should be encouraged by all means.

Apart from things like caring for the environment and all that jazz…one of the primary reasons most of us get the bike is for the joy of riding. And I know, this ‘joy’ part has been said a million times to the point of being clichéd. But that’s a fact — so please excuse my rhetoric.
But, the author makes a very valid point that this very joy starts eroding when these unracers mindlessly start copying the professional racers. It starts with the gadgets (or apps), moves to clothing, and progresses to always yearning for the next best equipment or component that one could get the hands on. I confess to being gradually and involuntarily falling prey to this mentality — even though I do not plan to race in near or not-so-near future — I had already ordered a riding jersey and was eyeing more sophisticated (read: expensive) ones. I was also about to order thinner tires for my (non-racing) bike because I wanted to go faster. I was and am still keen on knowing how many KMs have I clocked on the bike ride and whether I outdid my previous timings.

However, with the fresh perspective after having read this book, and as I indicated earlier, with a pronounced set of underlying unease that I had by observing the cyclists around me — I am beginning to get a hang of where we, the evolving cycling community of India is going wrong. ‘Wrong’ is maybe too strong a word — ‘tangential’ is more like it. We’re going tangential! We get the bike because it’s something that resonates with the inner child in all of us — of going out, unbound and unhindered, and feeling better connected to the world around us. Apart from that, we realize that it’s a great means to stay “healthy”. We then start attending group rides or go out for solo ones, and end up getting influenced by the ‘cooler’ riders on their road bikes — in full-fledged bike gear. We pay less attention to their pot bellies or the fact that they’re more keen on where would we break for food, but rather, we start concentrating on the superficial things like when one of them announces that “15KMs more and I’d be done with my ‘century ride'”, or when another one highlights the top speed he reached on the last segment.
This is a passive yet strong influence, and if one is not conscious enough, has the power to sway our original intent of getting the bike — the fun gradually erodes and we become almost ‘one of them’. That is, yet another potbellied cyclist, always concerned about the distance or speed on a ride, and living in the illusion of being healthy. Now that I have mentioned ‘health’, allow me to delve a little bit into it. Modern bikes allow us to ‘cheat’. With a range of gears (usually 18-30), there’s almost always a way to minimize the effort and hence, the total amount of effort that the rider needs to apply is minimal. Again, I’m referring to the predominant unracers here. This is different from running where there’s no such option. That’s why we see regular runners more lean and athletic than regular cyclists.

So, inspired by what Grant Petterson lists down as a way to get back to the joy of cycling, with a tinge of my thus-far experiences, here’s an Indianized list of tips that one can ponder over:

  • Do you really need to be in full riding gear for short rides..say under 50-80 KMs? If ‘getting ready’ is time-consuming, it might slowly but surely evolve to become a deterrent to heading out for the ride in the first place. It makes sense if it’s a BRM — you should wear padded shorts and avoid getting a sore bum. But otherwise, you might want to get into or get out of something quickly — and be at ease otherwise also. In fact, loose clothing is far more comfortable for city/short rides.
  • Ride when you feel like, as long as you feel like. Don’t ride with the sole intention of bragging about it. (This is applicable to everything nowadays, I believe.)
  • If you’re on a geared bike, the number of calories you’ve burnt are, sadly, not a lot. Also, don’t immediately shift to an easy gear as soon as you hit an incline. Let your legs do the work initially. Shift only if you have to.
  • Be mindful of what you’re eating before, during, and after the ride. This is kind of related to the previous point of easy-going geared bikes. Petterson summarizes it as: ‘don’t drink if you’re not thirsty’ approach (extrapolate it to: don’t eat unless you’re hungry).
  • Don’t ride out of compulsion or guilt. Don’t go for a ride if you don’t want to. If you want to ‘free the endorphins’, there are other options. Running is great! The newly evolved ‘CrossFit’ is fun (although there’s a fluctuating aspect of bragging there as well, but anyway!), or do some other activity that you love.
  • Decent bikes of the current day are sturdy and do not require as much maintenance as you think they do. Don’t let the equipment own you, rather you should own it! If your bike requires maintenance every now and then — change the bike — it’d be a worthy investment!
  • Ride in groups if possible, but, then again, don’t let the peer pressure dislodge your peace. If the group leader doesn’t care about every person in the group — even the slowest one — then leave that group. If the group members are racing all the time, then that might not be a group for you. If the group’s main motivation is food — you’ll end up being (as) fat. Join a group of like-minded people instead. Otherwise, go solo* — if you’re like me, you’ll soon realize that it’s much more fun!

I’m kind of bummed that I did not realize these aspects earlier — it’s been quite some time that I have been cycling. But I am happy that this book gave me a chance to step back and take a stock. It would be inauthentic of me to say that the adrenaline rush is not addictive for me — a PR^ on Strava, or (on rare occasions) a KOM# does make me feel good. But I think there are different times and places for that kind of thing, and one should not try to mix those — that is: let the joy of riding get clouded by a yearning for achievement or acknowledgment.
From now on, I want to head out to be at peace with myself — in my own company — when I feel like. In comfortable clothing.

If you’re a non-professional cyclist or an expectant-cyclist, I would strongly advise you to get your hands on this book. It’s a short read, but deeply impactful, and helps you get back to the true essence of cycling. Not tangential!


* In Indian cities, I would advise solo riders to go out when it’s a bit bright. Since busy roads reduce the overall speed of all the vehicles, even in the case of the oncoming vehicle not spotting a cyclist earlier, the driver has a chance to act within time. Most of the rider fatalities that I have got to know took place in the wee hours of the morning. It’s easy to figure out that the ‘culprit’ vehicle wouldn’t have expected a cyclist. If you have to, be as visible as possible.
^ Personal Record
# King of the Mountain – a virtual award given in Strava to the fastest rider on a given segment

Update (2017-11-27): Added KOM definition, Fixed grammar.

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