Rider’s Block

I try to keep things simple. I ride my bike, and I write about it. That seems to be the one and only “technique” that works for me, and when I’m true to it, it’s true to me.

The problem comes when the motivation to ride everyday wanes, when getting out the door requires more mental calculus than my tax forms. That’s where I’ve been lately. Unlike past winters when I’ve ridden into the teeth of the wind, smiled, spit and rolled on, I’m finding it cold this year. My hands hurt. Rides aren’t leaving me satisfied and inspired. They’re leaving me trashed and tired, ragged and spent.

And the harder it gets, the worse is my rider’s block, the harder it is to get out the door. I am only really commuting now. Every other week or so the guys from the office drag me out for a trail ride, but I’m forcing myself. Even with a  new bike, I’m forcing myself.

Fortunately, I’ve been this way before, and I have faith in the bike and faith in the process of riding and writing, and riding and writing, over and over until I’ve crossed all the invisible finish lines and rolled out of all the imaginary start houses and climbed all the unrated climbs and arrived at all the destinations that weren’t the point, because it’s the journey, right? Always the journey. Keep riding. Don’t stop. Find the rhythm.

Is it working? I’m riding everyday, or awfully close to it, and I’m still writing. I’m just not in that beautiful unconscious place you get to when you’re fit and motivated and every hill is a dragon to be slain and every ride is a deposit in that Swiss bank account in your soul. I’m faking it to make it. I’m muscling through, instead of finessing it.

In the past, when I’ve had conventional writer’s block, I’ve employed this basic method. Keep writing, or perhaps more importantly, keep reading. Find the inspiration. Write through all your bad ideas. Go back. Revise them. Make them worse. Start over. Put them in an envelope. Seal it. Light a match. Move on.

What I can’t figure is, the weather has been kind to me. It’s mid-January and we’ve had a dusting of snow. That’s it. The cold hasn’t even been very cold. Al Gore’s got his thumb on the thermostat, I guess. The conditions are right for success.

I must be one hard road ride away from salvation. Or maybe one day of trail flow, stump hurtling, switchback slaloming flow. Or maybe, just maybe, a few hours of wrenching will put me right.

I’ve done the hardest part. I’ve identified the problem. That allows me to accept ride invitations despite serious misgivings. That allows me to get out of bed before dawn and pull up the bib straps. Ride the bike and write about it. Keep it simple. Ride.


Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

, , ,


  1. Peter Lin

    This winter is has been more dry than usual, but it is cold. The mornings in worcester have been in under 30 degrees. It’s getting to the point where my water bottle is starting to freeze. It would be nice to see an article on cold weather clothing. This is my second year road riding and I finally forked out money to buy warmer clothes. I’m still trying to get the hang of proper layering, but it’s a slow process from a californian transplant.

  2. S

    It is this time of year I find it critical to check my Super-ego at the door. Its’ difficult to convince my ego that I need a break (recovery period) as much as I need to put in piles of miles during the racing season. The two are NOT mutually exclusive. The endorphin release is very real and my body and brain have become addicted to the daily hits. But just like any other junky the body will eventually break down and the hits just don’t satisfy like they used to and body (like any other machine) can’t keep going without a tune up. Performance suffers as a result and as performance suffers the mind body link breaks down and things start to come unraveled. The most difficult aspect of training is recovery in my book. I hate it. Training is a no-brainer. Over the years I have been much more diligent in my recovery efforts…that doesn’t mean they have become any easier.

  3. Doug Page

    “S”, so true! My buddies would wonder how I got so fit so quickly in the Spring, and my answer was “recovery”! It is too easy to get excited and overtrain, putting your fitness gains off for weeks while the body strains to recover. Now, however, I find motivation to be the biggest challenge. Like Robot, I have good weather, time, and the equipment I need. Also I have identified the problem. I wish I knew where to go from here.

  4. todd k

    I think I am exiting my rider block. Mine started mid way through a cross season that was not going quite as well as I was hoping it would. The wheels came off and I had to take a step back.

    In a lot of ways what I was going through was similar to what S mentions above. I needed a break from too much structure defining how and when I was riding. I ride for fun. That is my first priority with the bike. Goals are fun. Sometimes. Sometimes, they can become a bit of a cudgel that starts to beat one down. So I called it a season early. Put away the power meter and the training plan. I allowed myself some time away from the bike and permission to do other activities. It has taken a while to rejuvenate, but I am starting to see the motivation and the fitness slowly coming back.

    But it is also early in the year, so I am exercising some restraint. I have a tendency to come out of February with some fantastic fitness with nothing to apply it to and then flame out a tad just when the weather gets great and fun events start dotting the calendar. In this way I envy pros a bit in their ability to stay so doggedly focused over such an extended period of time. But then, I get to do a lot of other fun stuff outisde of cycling that they must forgo, so I’m not complaining.

  5. Chrehn

    I like to commute by bike and write for my own enjoyment. A long time ago I was at the Pacific Ocean in Southern Washington State and I noticed someone had painted on the seawall; ” I found the meaning of life here.” Apparently, graffiti is part of the Enlightened Mind. However, that message has stuck with me over the years as I have watched the waves come in and go out not only at the Pacific Ocean, but, in myself, as well. I go through cycles of creative energy when I seem to be in the flow, and at other times I feel like I am standing knee-deep in mud. Time has shown me to enjoy the creative times and learn from the slower times. I have heard that the Hopi Indians say, “We learn from everything that comes around and if it comes around to fast, we wait, because anything that moves that fast will be around again, soon.” Have a Good One.

  6. craig

    Winter is all about LSD (long slow distance). Besides commuting into the city, I ride the same roads here in Metro Boston that I do in the warmer months but without the need to push harder and faster, or trying to peak at the right time. I see every day on a road bike this time of year as a gift (and an excuse to lay off the trainer sessions). In a couple of months I’ll start working on training goals but right now I just want to enjoy riding my bike.

  7. Souleur

    @ Robot, S, toddk: spot on
    and I think craig nails it: LSD, i love it.

    this season for me has been a bit different because here in the ozarks we have enjoyed a moderate winter, being south of the ole man of winters hard north jet stream.

    so, i ride, ride long, ride slow and don’t look at the numbers
    i am simply riding, laying a base and looking to pull on dividends in march

    hope the encouragement oozes out all your computers in order for all who are suffering…to hang in there

  8. me

    You could smoke some pot before you go out. That always makes things funner. Or if you don’t want to go that route, just put beer in your bottles; also a nice change up.

  9. Author

    @All – A rest is obviously the answer. Maybe. The Catch-22 I find myself in is that I am psycho/emotionally dependent on what cycling gives me, even if cycling isn’t giving it to me.

    My general strategy for winter riding is “survival.” I stop trying to go fast. I just resolve to keep going. So it’s not that I’m pushing too hard.

    Am thinking that some mix of climbing/soccer/running may suffice as a “rest.”

  10. PeterLeach

    I let myself be guided by something that I read from Fred Matheny when I first started training, rather than ‘just riding around’: “When you go hard, don’t hold back. When you go soft, don’t feel guilty”.
    Just riding around need not be soft, but it definitely shouldn’t make you feel guilty.
    Ride for fun.
    Ride forever.

  11. DavidA

    Im not sure but alot of the times it is the juggling of family, kids, and joby-jobs that exhaust a person quicker than anything. Maybe you need a new ritual…like a new embrocation or diet change to try out something that changes up the training….like do an extra 30mins on the weekend ride after your wife hands up some warm soup as you ride by to do a small tour in your neighborhood. Walter Planckaert used to do this in the wintertime in Belgium. You will find your way through….work on swiss ball back and corework, hard foam roller work on your whole body unblock the muscles and toxins. Robots will prevail over mere mortals….LOL

  12. Steve Wilson

    It is cold. It is hard. You need the right mix of road time mixed with time on the trainer to make you appreciate the road time. Take the computer off your bike in the winter and try to remember why you ride in the first place. Smell the fireplace smells and relish the crisp air and cold hands. What you are doing now will determine who you be come Spring. Enjoy the bike. Enjoy the wind. Enjoy the ride. Most of all keep writing because a lot of us enjoy it a hell of a lot and it keeps us riding as well.


  13. Author

    Hey, thanks Bryan. Oddly, I spent a couple evenings on the trainer this week and that seems to have me going again. Indoor cycling blows, and you realize how badly it blows when you’re watching old Paris-Roubaix(s) while doing it. So I’m back on the road and psyched about riding even though it’s been frigid.

    Have a trail ride (possibly in the snow) scheduled for tomorrow.

    How’s the riding in Maine this January?

  14. Bryan Lewis

    Robot inquired: How’s the riding in Maine this January?

    So glad you asked. I set a PR (of sorts) this morning by bike-commuting to work when the official temperature was 4 degrees. It felt a little cumbersome, wearing four thin layers up top and two on the legs, with winter boots, but it was still better than the indoor trainer.

    The Minnesota Bike commuter guy (my current hero) has a PR of commuting at 20 below, not counting the winds off Lake Superior.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *