Those first days of school are an indoctrination. We executed the circles, the lines, the angles that make up the letters movement by movement, like sheets of paper spat from a printer. The repetition is as much to remind those little brains what to think as how to draw a curve. Soon it’s numbers, then math, the problems factored until the result is automatic, as natural as falling rain.
It seems as if each new problem, every conjugated verb is a lack of faith, a basic statement of mistrust, disbelief that we’ve learned anything at all. Over and over. It’s the shorthand for what numbs the brain, a rejection of process, a plea that there are other efforts in life, good reason to chase new pursuits, other ways to learn if this one didn’t work.
What most of us didn’t realize was how long division was rarely about the divisor, never about speed. The repetition was a study in process, a lesson in work. How many of us bored of it, anxious to move on to something fresh, something new, anything different?
Those early school days were an introduction to concepts that as cyclists we hold to be self-evident truths. Of course, most of us didn’t appreciate the true nature of what we were learning. How in doing addition problems over and over we were learning what work is. What it means to train.
But here we are, tens of thousands of kilometers—or miles—later. A spin so perfected we know the difference between 172.5mm and 175mm cranks. We feel the slip of a seatpost in the knees. Work, in its simplest sense, is our only path to speed, to experience, to enlightenment.
One of the legends of frame building told me that he thought the only want to hone the craft of frame building was by spending some years in a production environment. It’s not until you’ve done dropouts or bottom bracket shells for days on end and are sick of them that you can hope to gain the experience necessary to develop that muscle memory. That’s the point, he said. Once you’ve done several thousand dropouts, when you pick up the torch you don’t have to worry about remembering just what to do, it’s automatic. Not until you don’t have to worry about the craft are you in a position to think about it.
Think about how many times you’ve been sliding back in a group and made that tiny acceleration to move onto the wheel of a rider coming by you. You may do it a dozen times or more even in a short ride. Somewhere in our past it stopped being an exercise in how to do; rather, the very thing you do.
For at least some of us, those years in school were just an interruption in the fun we wanted to have. Cycling gave us the chance to have fun for hours on end. And not until we got our fill of fun did we begin to think about what it means to really work.