Thursday, 8 July 2010

I think I have worked out what it is that I miss so much when I am stuck unable to ride my bike, or just reduced simply, to short elbow aggravating sorties every other day. Most bike riders in this situation would suggest they simply miss the buzz of exercise; the sensations of sweating, the feeling of breathing deeply while your heart pounds out of your chest. But I think that's too simple a take on things for me.

Maybe I miss the satisfaction of being fit, lean and knowing everything is working pretty well – you know your body a lot better when its condition is the focal point of your life. But then it’s also damn hard work so it’s isn’t really great shakes to be told that you re not able to wear yourself out for a few weeks.

I know the extra two kilos that have crept up on me will be worked off, I know the muscles that seem to have forgotten that they ever had a job to do and have rolled out their beach towel and dozed off to sleep, but inevitably I will work them back to strength. I like the satisfaction of the hard work, but I don’t miss it.

It’s not really the competition I miss either, I do find it hard to not go along to the races and be stuck in the same town for more than two weeks at a time. But then, I have raced and journeyed enough in my life now to appreciate the break. Plus if I need a really competitive time we can always go to the park with the girls and play just about any game you can imagine. If you thought being part of the peleton was fierce, try playing boule with girls on a calm summers afternoon.

There is of course a little element of camaraderie that I miss, not being out on top of the Mendips with one or two of my mates on my bike does bother me a little bit, but we still catch up at the coffee shop, or the bar, or wherever. What with most of my mates being bike riders anyway, I don’t miss out on that social element. I just miss out on those moments when you are convinced, in your slightly fatigued state that the ‘mate’ you are riding with actually really wants to hurt you.

It took me a while to work out exactly what it was that I was missing. I have been quite a lucky guy this year in that during the time that I haven’t been able to ride, the weather has been great; there have been plenty of visitors to Bristol, parties, picnics, occasions, a lengthy visit from my lady and all sorts of Pimm’s related fun. But in this, a practically unheralded dream world for me in a normal cycling season, I knew my unsettled heart was missing something.

I worked out what it was today, while I was sat alone waiting for my injured housemate outside the plastic surgery ward at Frenchay hospital. More than anything else I miss the most basic and simplistic essence of the bicycle; I miss the freedom.

I had always thought talk of the ‘freedom’ that the bicycle allows you, was peasant talk, taken straight from the pages of a biography of a poor boy who made good by riding his delivery bike further and further into the hills until finally he won France’s most prestigious amateur race on it, or the wistful poetic musings of the current crop of the peleton’s self appointed renaissance men, who can’t describe a race without saying how ‘beautiful’ everything from the dirt to the manhole covers along the roads were.

But, that is exactly what I miss. The rides I spend alone, where the physical rhythm of riding allows my brain to relax into it’s most useful and creative state, the hours I spend going through albums on my iPod and listening, really listening to them, the endless myriad of thoughts and ponderings that go on during the periods splendid isolation that the bike gives me.

Part of something and yet part of nothing, I love riding alone, I love the view it gives me, I love the thoughts I chase myself around the countryside with and then discard on the cutting room floor. I think I love the distance too, it’s a really simple thing, and I always know where I am and exactly how far form home I am, and how long it will take me to get anywhere, but I love the fact that I get to distance myself from where I dwell the rest of the time.

When I can’t ride my world really noticeably shrinks, and even though it’s a pretty cool world to hang out in, I like to be able to slip out and take myself off to for a little while. It’s certainly not the only reason I ride, but it’s one I’m looking forward to appreciating very soon.

Go easy, step lightly, stay free – The Clash

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