[068] Am I a cyclist?

Swim: 2,000 m/66,000 m

Bike: 36.3/334.2 miles

Run: 8.3/109 miles

I’ve been doing a lot of biking this month, and it seems that every mile that passes only illustrates how much I have to learn about the sport.

I’ve always enjoyed biking, but it’s been a purely individual pursuit for me. Like every suburban boy I was on a bike for most of my childhood, even through a stunt-riding phase in my teens. I biked around my college campus and then, a few years after graduating and before I started running regularly, I took up mountain biking to get my adrenaline fix.

Now, after a hiatus of several years, I’m back on the bike, but this time I’m taking it to places I’ve never been before, both physically and mentally.

Physically, my biking has moved from the trails to the roads, and not just the quiet roads of the neighborhood. I have found myself on roads ranging from 55 mph, two-lane country roads to heavily traveled thoroughfares in my suburban county. Riding with traffic, even when the roads have shoulders and bike lanes, keeps you on your guard, and there is so much to be aware of. Unlike running, I’m riding in the same direction as the vehicle traffic, so it can be difficult to know what’s coming up behind you or who’s going to pull out from the next intersection. It can be harrowing at times, and every ride brings some new realization about how to ride in these situations.

Mentally, the cycling community has seemed to be the most intimidating to break into. Cyclists can sometimes seem like a secretive sect who only allow entrance to those who have proved themselves worthy. From the gear (oh, the gear) to the group ethos of a pace line, there’s a steep curve before a neophyte can feel like he actually belongs.

Sure, I’ve got a decent bike (although road cyclists tend to look askance at riders on tri bikes), but I wear the same goofy helmet I wore in college and I use toe cages instead of clip-ins. I don’t have a bike computer or fancy sunglasses or tight cycling clothes or padded shorts or even a water bottle on the downtube. I’ve never drafted 12 inches behind another rider at pace, and I only know the rules of the road from the perspective of a driver.

As a prospective triathlete I don’t really need to fit formal group rides into my training, so pace lines and cycling etiquette are not pressing concerns at this point. But learning how to ride more comfortably in traffic is vital – as my rides grow longer I need to explore new courses, and the reality is that there are not many quiet roads where I live.

I may never become a true cyclist, in the same sense that I may never think of myself as a real swimmer. In my quest to become a triathlete I’m using these disciplines to reach that overall goal, and not necessarily to consider myself a specialist in a particular sport. I wonder if other triathletes feel this way – do we hold onto the sport that got us started (for me, running) and lump the others together under the triathlon banner? In a conversation I would agree that I’m a runner, but if asked if I am a cyclist or swimmer I would probably just respond, “I’m training for a triathlon.”  

Perhaps finding a label for myself or what I’m doing isn’t the point. I’m learning new sports and having a ton of fun, so that should be all that matters.

– Note: In Monday’s swim session, I covered my 300-meter race distance in 4:18, a new personal best by 3 seconds.

This entry was posted in biking, running, swimming. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to [068] Am I a cyclist?

  1. steena says:

    I can relate with all of that. I came pretty close to buying a cyclist shirt yesterday with the pockets on the back, but the $75 price tag stopped me.
    It’s absolutely true that the cycling community is intimidating, they all look so serious! While runners tend to wave at each other. It’s interesting.
    It’s good to not get caught up in the labels thing, but once you finish that first tri, you get to call yourself a triathlete!

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