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.