To be honest, it was sort of hard to even look at my track bike the past few days.
It’s more than a little embarrassing to admit, but this time last year, I hardly knew what a derailleur looked like. I naively thought that only things with cogs and lockrings mattered. Sure, I had friends with road bikes, but those never seemed to get ridden. It was fixed or nothing.
Ironically, it was when I decided I wanted to put some decent miles on my legs that I suddenly found myself in an uncomfortable limbo. I was hanging out with roadies, but given their inability to go less than 30mph on “easy” rides, even if they were female, I’d never be able to keep up. Solo rides on a single speed were [and continue to be] my destiny. Sure that meant I got to go at my own pace, at whatever time I wanted, without worrying about being categorized as “deadweight,” but that’s not to say that I didn’t get more than a little discouraged or lonely last summer.
For the record, people did offer to ride with me. But I didn’t want to be a pity case; I never want to be a pity case. So I politely declined and went it alone, but tried to absorb as much from competitive cyclists as I could. And between the talk that didn’t involve bikes, but pieces of our lives, it almost seemed like it didn’t matter how much I couldn’t ride. They asked about my bikes and answered my never-ending train of questions; I asked about their girlfriends/wives/fiancees and was even seen in their presence with no eyeliner on. But then, in a response to an honest email I sent which was really only meant to inform about my own current cycling-related battles, came what felt like an electronic bitch slap:
“If you spent 15-25 hours a week training and racing and immersed in the side of cycling that I'm in I could see why you'd [think that]...”
To be fair, the email did tell me to just be myself, but it stung more than the last time I had to spray Bactine onto a knee that was clearly missing flesh. In hindsight, I should have just told the respondent that I never got the memo on how to be his friend, and left it at that. In reality, after a further snarky exchange, I managed to [electronically] spit back that if 15-25 hours of training was required to win his [or anyone else’s] respect, that I didn’t want it. And if he chose his friends based on their training programs, I honestly didn’t care if I didn’t make the cut.
I know, aren’t I immature?
To his defense, I still think he’s a nice guy. But it was a harsh reminder of my perpetual status in limbo [or lack thereof?]. There’s nothing I’d love to do more than ride on a banked ‘drome and try to get dizzy in the corners, but simple enthusiasm doesn’t really get you anything. And when the only sport I’ve competed in involves wrapping my legs around a one ton animal and trying to hang on, maybe he was right when he said that I’ll “have to work hard to dig [myself] out of that hole.”
That email scrolled through my head again a few days ago, as my attempt to crest a hill with gusto tapered off into out of the saddle climbing, face screwed up in an effort to complete the pedalstrokes. It was snowing, and as usual, I was ill-prepared for the weather. A man drew up beside me: a super commuter, the kind with more than one shade of neon on his back, lights on both his helmet and bike [front and back, mind you], and a bundle securely fastened to his rear rack. He told me he was headed to Natick, “from here, only about 11 miles,” and shamelessly drafting off of him, I went down that hill faster than I would have ever tried it alone in those conditions, and pedaled faster through snow than I probably should have.
It wasn't an ad hoc race, or a competition of any kind. He knew I was behind him, but made no effort to drop me or prove what I already knew: that despite his pretty dorky attire, he was a better cyclist. None of that mattered, because we were both precariously balanced on two wheels in weather that most people try to avoid walking in. Yeah, we weren't about to win any UCI points, but that was okay. We were having fun. And in the end, that's what it really should be about, anyway.