Your bike is always ready. Even in states of disrepair and wanton filthiness, last night’s off-road tryst still clinging dirtily to down tube and chain stay, your bike is prepared to do its level best for you. Hung neatly in the garage or stowed carefully by the door, slung carelessly against a pile of similar machines or in pride of place in the front entry-way or even the living room, your bike is not thinking of not being ready.
While you are assessing the suitability of the weather, checking the hourly forecast, considering the wind, your bike stands stoically by, ever-willing. You pick a base-layer, discard it for another, assemble a pile to be donned at dawn, arm warmers, shoe covers, your phone in a baggy and your heart in your throat, all in anticipation of an effort your bike will make unstintingly, autonomically, like a knee jerking under a hammer blow. Your bike will never use the word ‘epic,’ doesn’t feel cold, doesn’t feel hot, doesn’t dehydrate or bonk or worry about either.
Later, as you work it over with cloth and degreaser, with wrench and lube, it does not care. It bears spraying at the garden hose with its dignity intact. You are not taking care of your bike. You are taking care of yourself. Don’t be deluded. Your bike isn’t thinking about being cleaned and tuned. It is not considering itself as an instrument of joy or torture.
Pull up and preen. Stand gaudily at the meet-up, ass on top tube, making small talk. Your bike is immune to the temptations of vanity. Its shininess or ornateness or elegant simplicity are not a thing that it considers. It feels neither humble nor proud. The worst seeming bike, rusty at bottom bracket and drop out, is fully prepared to go toe-to-toe with whatever carbon monstrosity it encounters. It never feels not-aero enough.
Your bike isn’t thinking about losing or winning. It doesn’t care that you shot off the front or out the back. It cares not one whit for its place in any order. It travels good roads and bad without comment or complaint.
Your bike is not thinking. It is only doing, mainly because it is unconscious. In this way it is even freer than we are when we pedal it away into our daily adventures. It is built with the truth that doing is almost always better than thinking. We would all do well to be so ready, so unburdened by doubt, so insusceptible to shame or pride or the urge to do more or less than is asked of us. Your bike isn’t thinking any of the thoughts that keep it from going. Why would you?
Image: Matt O’Keefe
It’s been a long time since I won anything. I can tell you, right now, this very day, I had forgotten what that felt like.
This morning I learned that Outside Magazine named Red Kite Prayer the best blog in cycling. That we even made the list was really terrific. I read through the list three or four times just to make sure I was reading it right. We were at the bottom of the list, but there was no mistaking that the numeral 1 was next to our name.
I admit, I feel like I dumped Philippe Gilbert at the foot of the Mur de Huy. This means more than any bike race I ever won. It would be easy to turn this into an ego-stroking moment of self-congratulations. I’d like to avoid that. While I’m proud to share this acknowledgement with you readers, there’s a deeper reason for mentioning this.
Outside has been a source of inspiration for me both personally and professionally for more than 20 years. The writers who have written for them are a “Who’s Who” among the best of those working in magazines. If you have worked for them, you know more about writing than just how to construct a grammatically correct sentence.
Their collection of features, “Out of the Noösphere,” served as a lighthouse for me when I was feeling lost in my graduate work. It reinforced in me my desire to write about cycling. I can remember thinking how I wanted to bring Outside-like writing to bike magazines. For me, this nod is an implicit endorsement of that quest, of my results.
As Robot said to me this morning, “This changes nothing … but you know, it’s really f***ing cool.”
In his biography of Eddy Merckx, Rik Vanwalleghem said that Merckx took almost no time to enjoy his victories, that as soon as he was off the podium he would begin stressing about the next race on his calendar and whether or not he could win.
I get it now. I do.
Back to work.