One of the best things about cycling is that nearly anyone can do it. Its not that hard to learn because its all about physics…you’re just perched on the saddle like a captain on the bridge of a ship, barking orders at the crew. However, as facile as you become, cycling has (at least) two challenges which separate the proverbial men from the boy: and they are both hills.
Climbing and descents are some of the most challenging aspects of cycling (click links for techniques). When you’re on a road and turn a corner or look up as the road rises rapidly before you, you get this feeling, no matter how experienced you are, of elation mixed with dread. Especially under the hot sun, or with a stiff headwind pushing you away from it; the world seems to be saying, “why didn’t you stay in bed this morning, do you really need this?” But you clear those voices from your head, drop into your lower gear, relax your body, and try to keep your cadence up.
In the middle of the hill the voices recommence: this hill is never going to end; I’m not fit enough to make it; how did that guy pass me on this incredibly steep hill!? Then you look down and see your bike computer tells you that you’re moving at 7 mph, and you wonder how you’re even staying upright. But you continue…then you turn the corner and see that what you thought was the top of the hill was only the approach to a still steeper section.
You gird yourself, and continue to pump your legs, thinking your thighs are going to give out…then you hit that steeper portion and the MPH goes from 7 to 4. Strangely, you’re not sweating though. Even though its hot, there’s still a tiny, imperceptible breeze…so you continue, powering up the steep section.
Finally, you see the grade lessen and see blue sky on the other side of the rise and realize that you’ve reached the top. The wonderful sense of accomplishment is worth all the torture. The elation you felt at the bottom, starts to come out in full force as your MPH goes from 4 to 9 to 12.
Then there’s the descent. You shift into your higher gears, and start to use muscle instead of cadence to get your speed up. If the road is wide and clear, or you are familiar with it, you start to pick up speed, avoiding the brakes. As you pick up speed, the wind blows away the heat built up on the hill, and the elation you felt earlier builds as added to it is a touch of fear.
Will my tire blow out? Will a car or animal push me off the road? Will I hit a pot hole and bail? Will I be injured if I fall at 30 mph? Especially on steep hills, it can be difficult to control these voices. Yet you do and make it to the flats, feeling refreshed from the climb.
I’ve only been cycling for a year, but I’ve seen riders go through this internal struggle many times. You can see it on group rides as you make your way through the pack, listening to the conversations, or the looks of determination on the faces of the riders.
That’s why I cycle. (Photo by Bob Katz.)