It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a road bicyclist for five years now. In that time, I have accomplished a lot of things that I never thought I would do. I have successfully buzzed around cities and towns, country roads and quaint paths, all with my feet latched securely to my pedals. I have gone up and down the Niagara Escarpment more times than I care to count. I have eaten a lot of bananas, drank a lot of coffee and known the agony of the “bonk” (a sudden drop in blood sugar due to insufficient calorie intake on a longer ride).
There are a few things I have not done. I have not become immersed in hard core cyclist culture. I was tempted. There is a lot of nobility in that crowd but there is also a lot of toxicity that my middle aged feminist self was not interested in. “The Rules” epitomize the complexity of it. I’m not knocking the folks who really get off on that sort of thing. It just is not me and never will be.
Still, the thing I enjoy most about road biking is the social component and without it, I doubt I would have carried on as long as I have or upgraded my bike to my delightful new one (Trek Domane 5, for those who care). In order for the social component to work, the cyclists have to be like minded in some way and I am so grateful that I found a little tribe of people who find the same things important that I do. Whether they are more experienced, stronger or faster what counts is the experience of the whole ride. We try hard and wait at the top of the hill. If someone is really full of beans, they buzz ahead and loop back. We drink coffee and eat butter tarts to fuel the adventure and as we speed along, we tell each other all the stories of bike rides past and those yet to come.
We look out for each other while we pee in the woods. We share water and tell each other how good we look on the bike. We praise strength. I have never felt so strong as I do riding my bicycle, amazed at my capacity to endure another 10km or to haul myself another 50m up that wicked hill on Limberlost Road. There is something about the rhythm of biking, especially in hilly Muskoka Ontario. It’s natural interval training amongst the call of the crow and the loon. It’s getting chased by the black flies and watching them fall away as you pass 11km/h. I can’t wait for the heat of summer when I can come back into the drive of my family cottage, lean the bike on the pink granite rock, take off my shoes and walk straight into the lake, bike clothes and all. That is pure joy, I tell you.
The older I get the more I realize that the benefits of exercise that we all read about are a synergistic package of things. It isn’t just the movement or the heart rate or the metabolism or the blood flow to the brain. It’s the feeling of competence, the possibilities of connection, the agency and the joy. They all work together whether it is a mountainous cycling trip or a social walking group.
You know, I didn’t know where this post was going to end up when I started it, but I think I’m starting to see my own point. Road cycling is the hardest, most extreme exercise I have ever done, and enjoyed at the same time. The reasons for this are the fullness of the experience as described here. What it is most decidedly not, is solely a mechanism to change my body or allow me to eat more ice cream. It is not the thing I punish myself with or do out of duty. It does not purify my moral short comings and neither does my skill or lack thereof speak to my worthiness as a human. I’m not doing it because my doctor threatened me. It’s just firkin’ joyful.
I hope you find that movement that is that thing for you.