Road Biking and I: Not a Good Match

Katharine Hepburn: if you do what interests you at least one person is pleased.In the early nineties when I was a graduate student in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I had regular appointments with a fantastic psychotherapist because of my tortured relationship with food.

We talked about all sorts of things besides food. I retained exactly one piece of lasting wisdom from her.  I can still see the way the light came into the room from the high window behind her when she told me how to tell a guy that I wasn’t interested in seeing him anymore.

She said, “You say, ‘It’s not a good match.'”

“That’s it?” I said. “What if he asks for more of an explanation? What if he wants to know why?”

“Then you repeat yourself: ‘It’s not a good match.'”

Brilliant. Briliant. Brilliant. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about the two of us together.

Oil and water? Not a good match.

Round peg, square hole? Not a good match.

Flip flops and subzero temperatures? Not a good match.

Road cycling and I?  Not. A. Good. Match.

I’ve tried. I really have. But in the end, it’s just not working out.  I’ve blogged about suffering on the bike. See here. I’ve blogged about my mixed feelings about leaving the safe space of winter indoor cycling. See here.  And I’ve talked about my struggle to like the bike. See here.

I’ve never really posted anything positive about the road bike. And that goes totally against my firm belief that if I don’t love it, then there’s no great reason for me to do it.  See my post “If You Don’t Love It, Don’t Do It.” And yet for two years I have continued to do something that I’m not all that crazy about.

Why was I doing that?  A couple of reasons. Let’s go back to that thing I needed my food therapist to give me a script for: letting someone down. I do things sometimes because I feel like I should or because I don’t want to let people down.  I stick it out way longer than is necessary, sometimes months or years longer, because I feel as if I’m not supposed to not want this or I should try harder to make it come together.

I have so many great friends who love to ride.  Sam, Nat, Kim, Catherine, Christine, Cheryl to name a few. All have posted on this very blog about their adventures on the bike.  I am in no way blaming them for my own inability to assert the obvious and take action over it.

I kept thinking, “If they love it so much, there must be something lovable about it,” as if “lovable” is an objective quality inherent in the activity of cycling.

This thought brought its own special kind of torture.  As if I myself fell short because I didn’t see what was so great about the bike.

Closely related to this was FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.  I’m not the biggest joiner in the world. In fact, I’ve blogged about how much I like solitary workouts. But I have a long history of agreeing to do things because I don’t want to miss out on something special. And when lots of the cool women I know use cycling as a reason to get together, that’s something special.

Still, FOMO is a real thing. I’m not the only person in the world who is afflicted with it.  I heard a segment on the radio this morning as I drove in to work listening to The Current about a FOMO study:

A new study has found that more than half — in fact about 58 per cent — of respondents admit that posting the perfect picture has prevented them from enjoying life’s experience. The study is called Society’s New Addiction: Getting a “Like” over Having a Life.

Here’s what happened last week. I made other plans in order to have a legitimate reasons not to go on the first Thursday group ride of the season with a group Sam’s coach leads. It’s the the group ride especially for people who may not be able to keep up with the really fast group on Tuesdays.

And then I had a moment of clarity: I do not have to do this.

I don’t have to make other plans not to do it. The weather doesn’t have to be awful for me not to do it.  It doesn’t have to be too cold, too hot, too dark, too anything. I don’t need to feel unwell, or tired from my long run on the weekend. I don’t have to be too busy. I don’t need to have any reason at all not to do it other than I don’t want to do it. Period. Enough said. Not a good match.

So what’s keeping me from loving it?  I mean, I like my commuter bike just fine. Riding to work gives me joy – the wind against my face, the freedom of the two wheels spinning underneath me, the exhilaration of zipping along under my own steam. You’d think the road bike would give me all of this and more. It’s faster and lighter. I usually ride with a group. It’s supposed to be a fun outing.

The simple fact is this: I’m scared most of the time I’m biking, even when it’s out of the city, on the rural roads around London. I’m not scared of losing control of the bike. I feel fairly confident about my basic skills. I’m not even scared of falling behind, though it’s not my favourite thing to be last. It’s not a fear.

I’m scared of drivers, especially the cars I can’t see coming up behind me.  I know, I know, statistically it’s rare for cyclists to get hit from behind. Most accidents occur at intersections. We can all have our wits about us at intersections and drastically improve our chances of never having an accident. Yes, yes, yes (and thank heavens for that, since so many people I care about love riding! See above list and add to that my cousin, Geoff).

I keep the fear at bay when I get on my bike, but it never really subsides.  This year, it’s reached phobic proportions. My stomach goes into knots and I start shallow breathing whenever I even think about going out on the road.  No one can convince me that it’s not dangerous. I’ve had a few reminders of this lately.

Sam posted about her positive experience getting out on the bike for the first ride of the season last month. But as a counterpoint she compared it to a horrible first ride in 2011, when she ended up in the hospital after a pot-hole related bike crash.  She included trigger-warning worthy photos of her bashed up face in the post. That’s Exhibit One.

Then there’s Exhibit Two, regular commenter, avid cyclist, and fellow blogger, Jean. Jean is a model cyclist, totally committed to cycling as a lifestyle, as transportation, as an integral part of her day whatever the weather.  But on January 1st Jean suffered a head injury when she had a bike crash with another bike on a path in Vancouver. She is slowly on the mend, but it’s taking time. She’s had to take time off of work and she lost six hours of memory surrounding the crash.  I know that was on a path and not the road. It doesn’t help me feel better about the road.

I have quite a few colleagues who are seriously into cycling.  More than one of them have had head injuries from serious bike accidents with vehicles. Exhibit Three.

I’ve talked about that horrible accident that killed London artist and cyclist, Greg Curnoe, who was killed by a distracted driver in 1992.  That was in 1992, before cell phones and text messaging. The risks of distracted driving have increased exponentially since then. Exhibit Four.

And to top it all off, I’m teaching a writing course on The Art of the Personal Essay this term. I have a talented group of students. One wrote an essay about finding his limits through Ironman training. He gave a vivid description of the trust he puts into the hands of other drivers when he’s training out on the rural highways.  All it takes is someone taking their eyes of the road to read a text message, fumble for their coffee cup, or enter a new destination into the GPS and bam!  Exhibit Five.

I’m not trying to be a downer for other people. If you love it, maybe it’s worth the risk. That’s not me. Like I said to Sam the other day, if something ever happened out there, no one would be able to say of me “at least she was doing something she loved.” That makes it not worth it in my mind. I made the same decision for the same reason when I sold my motorcycle a few years ago.

So where does this leave me and triathlon? That may need to be a follow-up post as I work through my options. I see three: (1) do a bit of training on the road if I can tolerate it but take most of it inside, (2) stop worrying about my bike performance in triathlon and just do my best, (3) give up triathlon and focus on running, which causes me none of the stress of cycling.

Meanwhile, I feel a huge relief at my decision, FOMO be damned.  I like what they said on The Current this morning: replace FOMO with JOMO: the Joy of Missing Out! It’s just not necessary to do everything. Sometimes, it’s just not a good match.

25 thoughts on “Road Biking and I: Not a Good Match

  1. A few thoughts. First, I had no idea you were so scared. You’re brave to have stuck with it so long and it sounds like you’ve made the right choice for you. Second, my crash story was also a commuting story. I wasn’t even on my road bike. And the moral was remember to take the lane, to be more assertive in traffic. Also, I wasn’t hurt. No concussion, no stitches, no broken bones. They kept me to look me over but I was fine. So I’m not sure that ought to count against road cycling! I was commuting, not road cycling, and I was fine, thanks to my helmet. And now, I ride out around pot holes and claim the lane. Third, triathlon is trickier. Lots to think about there. Will you be happy not being competitive on the bike? But you’re such a super strong swimmer maybe that’ll make up for it. Looking forward to hearing how that works out. I’d hate for you to have to give up triathlon which you’ve loved so much.

    1. It’s not abject terror. More like unshakable anxiety. All good points and phobias are resistant to reason.

  2. Thanks for the honesty and bravery and introspection that it took to do this post. It’s hard when friends love and so obviously enjoy an activity that doesn’t work for us. Hiking in rocky, steep, scrambly sections is like that for me (especially the going down– much worse than going up)– it terrifies me, while my friends and partner all look forward to those bits. It’s good to hear that FOMO can be overcome!

    One thought here: if you like the feel of road biking but not the cars, rail trails may be for you. When I am away from home by myself (usually a conference), I try to find some rail trails for riding. There are no cars to worry about (except at intersections, which can be frequent in some sections, I admit), hardly any navigation to think about (they are super-well marked, and usually straight), and they at least feel safer or more protected (as a woman riding alone in a strange place). It doesn’t address the triathlon training issue, of course; it will be interesting to hear what options you pursue among 1)–3) above. Keep us posted!

    1. Trail riding is something I might like but we will have to see. I don’t need new activities right now. I’ve got enough happening with the old. But thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Wow. I understand deep seated anxiety. It is irrational and horrible.

    I think you are brave and very smart to decide to do what feels best for you. Keep commuting. Perhaps one day you will feel the urge to ride with a group on the road. Maybe not.

    Maybe triathlons aren’t going to be your thing. There is nothing “lesser” about being a runner.

    Do what you love and what brings you joy. Pushing through for the sake of pride or FOMO is silly.

    Nice post. Pure honesty is always beautiful.


    1. Thanks. I agree there’s nothing lesser about being a runner but I do like multi-sport events a lot and I’m a strong swimmer, so there’s that.

  4. I feel the same way you do about road biking! I love spin classes and biking on trails far from roads but going out and biking on a road with actual traffic scares me and I refuse to do it! I agree with Catherine from above – rail trails may be for you. That is where I normally go to ride and it doesn’t scare me. I don’t bike as much as I would like to because I always need to drive somewhere in order to ride but oh well! There is always running which I like more anyway! You don’t have to do anything you do not want to do!

  5. Tracy, props to you for being so honest! I agree with the “if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no” sentiment when it comes to our workouts. There are too many options out there to spend time doing the ones you dislike. For me, I love biking when it’s sunny and not cold. Rainy days are better for swims or runs or trips to crossfit gyms or yoga studios or rock climbing gyms. Life’s too short to do what we don’t actually like. I hope you find a spot that works for you when it comes to tris! Maybe you can find a partner in race crime who wants to do the bike portion as a relay (I can think of quite a few people who “can’t run” for a multitude of reasons). Keep on keeping on! 😊

    1. Thanks. The relay idea might be worth pursuing. That would be fun and I wouldn’t have to think about the bike at all!

  6. I so agree. Not worth the risk. Even driving a vehicle is risky with all the “texters” out there !

    1. It’s tricky. Fear can’t rule our lives. I’ve had two friends, one a cyclist, one not, killed by cars in the past couple of years, while they were out walking. But I’m not going to stop walking places. I think what matters in Tracy’s case is that it’s not a source of pleasure and so not worth the stress. I’m personally holding out hopes for the driverless, computer controlled cars! Much better for cycling and pedestrian safety.

      1. Exactly. I’m not one to let fear rule my life (obviously, or I wouldn’t have given it an honest try for the past year or two), but if I’m trying to have fun and not succeeding, at a certain point it’s time to move on. I’ve reached that point. It doesn’t mean never. It just means I can’t make it a central thing in my life that I go out of my way to make time for.

  7. First day reading your blog, wow, thank you! I have involved myself in too many activities (hot yoga is the first one to come to mind) due to FOMO. And the anxiety….whoa, I gave up my bike out of irrational fear. Slowly working on getting back on, so to speak. Thanks again for being so open and honest. I look forward to reading more.

    1. Good luck with getting back in the saddle. I’m glad I tried my best. I hope you have more success with it!

  8. Good for you. Seriously, it takes a lot of courage to try something for as long as you did – even though it scares you – and then even more to admit publicly that it didn’t work out.

    FWIW I still don’t really like riding on roads and prefer riding on recreational trails. I find that a lot more fun and a lot more relaxing because I don’t have to be hyper-aware of cars. (Just of squirrels, small children and dogs on retractable leashes. 😉 )

    And also, if you are still interested in doing triathlon, a lot of people who do triathlon – professionals and amateurs alike – do almost all of their training on indoor trainers.

    But even if you don’t decide to ride every again, I give you serious props for trying as long as you did.

    1. Thanks so much, Caitlin. I will probably look at indoor options with the occasional outdoor ride. We’ll see.

  9. Tracy, rock on with the honesty in this post! Really appreciate hearing you speak so clearly about what you need for you. Hold your line, girl.

    Once you look ahead to the tri issue, LOTS of options. There are duathlons with no riding. There are relays (I could do your riding! I don’t like to run but love to swim and ride). There are super fun trainer options – I actually love spin classes for the camaraderie, and am doing a spin-bike based six week boot camp as we speak.

    And any time you get a hankering to ride on the road (it might happen; who knows?), give me a bell. I am ruthless about fending off crap drivers!


    1. Thanks for the offer, Kim. I might take you up on it! Spin is definitely in my future too. And don’t worry. I’m holding the line. Unless I decide I actually want to ride, I won’t be riding.

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