The 313 Life

Winter storms can have a curious effect on a dedicated cyclist. Their greatest effect is to curtail riding. Whether it is snow, rain or something more ambiguous, any precipitation in cold weather makes riding less convenient at the very least, but has the ability to make it downright impossible for days at a time.

But for other sports, namely skiing and surfing, winter storms are the Promised Land, Christmas day, the prologue of the Tour de France. It’s times like these that I start thinking it’s time to broaden my horizons again.

Each of these sports shares some similarity in appeal. They require a fair amount of balance and coordination. They are also much easier to participate in if you have some fitness and strength. That’s why you never see zombie skiers, surfers or cyclists; they have mad strength, but terrible coordination.

Skiing—any variety of it—and surfing both have the advantage of being less equipment-intensive than cycling and, therefore, the potential to be less expensive as well. Yet for every feature that makes these sports attractive, I can think of a few reasons why cyclists are more fortunate. Now, given that you’re already reading this blog we can assume you are a dedicated cyclist and therefore need no sales pitch on cycling. However, a celebration, even at this time of year, of just how good we have it can’t really hurt.

The first and perhaps most obvious difference between cycling surfing and skiing is its lack of restriction due to geography or season. Surfing is confined to the coasts, so if you’re a waterman in Salt Lake City, yours is a life of ennui. Even if you live near the beach, there are plenty of days when the surf is just kind of eh. It’s even worse for skiers. Skiing is but a vacation endeavor if you live in Texas. But living near the mountains isn’t enough; the best ski areas are still open fewer than six months. Sure, there are wintery days when getting on the bike would be no fun, but there aren’t many places where you can’t ride at all for six months and terrain isn’t much of an issue. If there’s a road, you can ride.

My favorite feature of cycling is that it has the ability to be social in a way that skiing, surfing and virtually every other sport is incapable. Sheltered within the bubble of the peloton or just out on an easy ride with a friend, we can ride in close proximity, pedal and chat, all at the same time. Just getting close enough to another skier to speak while moving can be suicidal. I really cherish that ability to do and share simultaneously.

It’s true that straddling a surfboard and waiting for waves can be a great opportunity to catch up with friends. Similarly, the trip up on the lift is best spent chatting, so that you don’t focus on the cold. The problem for me is, compared to cycling, both of those periods are not doing. Compared even to soft pedaling deep within the group, that still counts as riding.

Here’s one of the unfortunate corollaries to cycling’s more social nature: With surfing and downhill skiing, much of the sport is about taking turns. While that’s a good way to learn social graces, it does hold the potential for conflict if someone doesn’t much feel like waiting their turn. Even getting a wave at a surf spot you are new to can be very difficult. I’ve never had someone tell me I couldn’t ride a road, though.

And whether you’re talking about downhill or cross country skiing, going downhill fast—as fast as possible—is rarely an option unless you’re in a race. Odd to say, but in cycling, many of my fastest descents came on roads I wasn’t racing. Even more frustrating for me was the fact that the steepest trails I most wanted closed during a cross country ski race—so that I could utterly rip them without fear pile driving another skier—never were used in races.

Let’s not forget the front door quotient, either. Being able to step out of my garage and swing a leg over my bike instead of having to load up equipment and drive anywhere from five minutes to five hours to enjoy my sport of choice really helps me maximize my time. There’s no doubt that Mammoth Mountain is worth the drive, but it really can’t be part of a practical daily regimen.

Ours is an opposite problem. We have the opportunity to do our sport too much, to overtrain. In some places, riding 365 days per year is possible; as a result, we actually have to choose days not to ride. If you make sure to take one rest day per week, that works out to about 313 days of riding per year. We never get that many days of riding, but it’s nice to know the 313the limitation is more inner than outer. Skiers and surfers can barely fantasize about so many days of their favorite sport in a year.

I’ve thought about what life would be if I, as a cyclist, faced the challenges found in other sports. What if I got a hostile reception on an unfamiliar road? What if I didn’t live near roads where I could ride? What if I could only ride during vacations? The reality is, I’d want a new sport.

That thought scared me, made me wonder if my devotion to cycling is less than a surfer’s who may wait years for a massive swell to hit his favorite break. What I realized was that my desire is no different from the motivation to get married. I want this thing in my life on a daily basis. I’ll take the mundane of base miles, the could shoulder of the wind, the disappointing days when the form just isn’t there. I’ll revel in the big days where every climb feels like a honeymoon. I love it enough to take it all and not just wait for date night, for vacations.


  1. Alex Torres

    Padraig, I´ve had those exact thoughts so many times in my life. I love the feeling of being on the straps while the wind blows my board to the point it barely touches the water going so fast, and I love the feeling of the fresh powder when I´m snowboarding down some beautiful mountain. I also love skating fast on the ice, playing some hockey with friends.

    But even though I can ony perform those activities I dig so much a few times every year, I´m not sure I´d like to snowboard, windsurf or skate 313 days a year. Even if I had wind, powder and ice readily available for that long. It´s exhilarating when it happens, every second. But unlike cycling, I reach a point when it becomes over. Those are passions, they burn fast. I guess cycling is love, slow burning but long lasting as you said.

    I mean, I first took on mountain biking almost 24 years ago, coming from BMX. Even though it´s much easier to hit the trails than get to the snow or windy waters around here, I moved on to road biking soon after just so I could be even closer to the sport I really love, which is always there, just a leg swing away from the next ride.

    Nice one, thanks.

  2. Souleur

    Alex brings out a good point, which I would like to elaborate a bit.

    Sometimes, well, often times I beat myself up if I don’t ride 5x a week. My buddies call me pussy if I ride 3-4x a week. And, I push myself to ride 6 days or more a week, for many many reasons. 313 days a year is a good thing, and there is a good deal of flexibility in it.

    However, to my point, if skiers or surfers had 313 days do dude-it-up, would they feel the same seasonal fatigue and would they burn out the same as we do? Would they become more hardcore or stratisfy into wannabe’s, enthusiasts and the real ‘skiers/surfers’ depending on the frequency of their ride?

  3. Adam

    I like the post, but my immediate reaction was ‘why compare to skiing and surfing when running is an obvious choice?’
    It’s social, almost free, can be done anywhere and a good cross country run gives me the same emotions as a bike ride.

  4. Alex

    Souleur: my friend and business associate is a surfer, and he´s always on extremes in regards to his sport/hobby. He´s either complaining about the surfing conditions (or lack thereof) or about pains (in the back, neck, etc.). There seems to never have good waves, and when it does it´s him not having the time to drive to the beach, or he is suffering terribly from aches caused from this on-off cycle of his hobby.

    And he´s a good surfer, always traveling in search of the “perfect waves” around the globe… I wonder how it is for less fortunate surfers. If he´s lucky, he´s surfing in one year what I´m riding in one month. If he´s lucky, I´m being optimistic in my comparison here. I feel lucky 6 days a week, and that´s a normal week for me. Year in, year out.

    Also, if I´m traveling for business or pleasure, here or abroad, it´s no big deal to bring my bike and equipment along. Roads and trails are never in shortage, and if I´m visiting a town even for the first time or for 2 days, I have a 90% chance of meeting local riders who´re more than willing to show me the best their area has to offer, bike-wise. I treat foreign riders the same here. That´s so cool about cycling.

    He on the other hand is always around with locals not being as friendly or receptive about their waves, wherever he is. At some places he´s not even alowed in the water, mind you. I´m not criticizing or anything, but I can´t help feeling thankful for loving cycling instead of surf, hehehe…

    Adam: As for running… well, I agree it´s even more accessible and easier than cycling. But (to me) it lacks the technology, the equipment, the speed and the terrain. I love the contrast of high tech (the bike) and low tech (the environment) inherent to cycling. But that´s me.

    1. Author

      Everyone: thanks for your comments.

      Adam: Fair question. For me, the answer is simple: I love skiing. I really admire surfing and love surf culture. Running? Eh. Running lacks the one parallel that I think allows surfers, skiers and cyclists to identify with each other: riding terrain. There’s really no technical parallel to turning, which makes the other three sports so interesting, challenging … and fun. Put another way, to me running is canned tuna compared to cycling’s seafood lasagna. Mind you, I mean no offense, but it has just never held my interest and that’s really the bottom line. Skiing and surfing fascinate me.

  5. Robot

    In defense of running, I really enjoy trail running quite a lot. The varied terrain. The jumping from rock to rock. It’s like mountain biking, but cheaper. Of course, with the opportunity to go trail running, I usually just throw my leg over the mountain bike, cause, you know, bikes rule.

  6. Adam

    I suppose your perception is based more on what you get from cycling. For me, my favorite part of cycling is the places it takes you. No doubt many of the greatest vistas I’ve seen have been from the vantage point of a bicycle seat. Likewise, I’ve been running in places and times equally memorable: through the streets of Paris and London at 6 am before the city is alive to single track paths in Englands Lake District.
    It tugs the same strings of my heart for that reason. Off to Buenos Aires next month, can’t wait to run around the neighborhoods as people are still making their way home from the previous night.

  7. James

    When I lived in Wisconsin I loved cross country skiing, especially during a weekday! To go somewhere like Blue Mounds and have the whole place to ones self, the quiet on the trail and a light snowfall. It was heavenly and a nice change from riding. Now I live in Portland, OR. and I can ride all year since the weather is so mild here. Still, I miss those days out skiing and do get a little burned out from riding all of the time. I think it’s important to have a change of focus periodically so why not enjoy all 3 pursuits if one desires?

  8. dacrizzow

    james-hats off. i too live in the PDX and from dec. through jan. it’s the trainer and DVD’s. i do find a zen in running and a stumble through some yoga but it’s not the same. the small amount of skiing i’ve done convinced me i could go just as overboard as i do for bikes except once the days get longer/dryer/warmer i’m on the bike. let’s face it, looking at the new year’s buyer’s guides is so much more interesting with bikes as opposed to a piece of fiberglass or wood.

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  11. Ben

    Couple of points:

    1. In many parts of the country you’d have to be a fool to not enjoy two or all three of these sports. As you pointed out when the weather is bad for one it’s perfect for the other.
    2. The biggest barrier to 313 days of skiing is physical, ask anyone who has put in 150 full days in a season and they can tell you about the toll it takes.
    3. The out the door factor of cycling is undeniably wonderful.
    4. Cycling is great for exploring but there is something nice with ski touring and not needing trails or roads, every surface not a cliff is available for travel.

    1. Author

      Thanks everyone for the insightful comments. Skiing and surfing are both terrific sports, which is what makes this consideration so interesting. If nothing else is certain, this much is: Every one of us, to a beating heart, would love the opportunity to be overtrained in our sport of choice. Faced with the choice of too much riding/surfing/skiing, we’d choose it every time, provided the rest of our life didn’t suffer. There were winters that I skated so much I didn’t want the winter to end. I had two seasons where I got more than 90 days on the snow.

      To be honest, I’ve had this debate internally on the merits of skate skiing versus downhill. Skating kills downhill every time (and twice on Sunday), despite the fact that I think downhill skiing is entirely superior to the vast majority of all sports out there. Given the choice of a night with Angelina Jolie or a single day at Kitzbuhl, I’d be headed for Austria on the next flight.

      Oh, and to those of you who can cross-country ski on weekdays, I’m envious. Been a long time since my life included that.

      Thanks for reading.

  12. Da Robot

    Skate skiing is fun, but, because I get to do it so seldom, it hurts my body in the most diabolical ways.

    In the summer, I ride my bike to soccer games, play, ride home.

    In the winter, I ride my bike to the rock gym, climb, ride home.

    Cycling is my hobby and my transport, my exercise and my viewpoint.

    But I love sports. Almost all of them, and it’s really hard to find balance between cycling and the rest. It’s a bit easier, because I don’t race, but soccer, skiing, climbing, running, yoga, etc. add this incredible physical burden that challenges my cycling regularly.

    My ideal would be 313 of each.

    1. Author

      Robot: So, so true. Skating only works if I do it regularly. I used to have lats, delts and triceps. Turns out I had to surrender them when I got my upgrade to Cat. 3 10 years ago. Even after I stopped racing I didn’t get them back. WTF?

      Peace: You’ve nailed the bottom line. 313 is the goal, even if you’re mixing sports, which, all things considered, really IS a good idea. Some folks talk about trading up for a better set of problems. I submit that overtrained in any sport is a better problem than not getting time in.

      Here’s to wishing each of you 313 outside.

  13. Kevin

    Great article. I’ve been complaining about the winter here in Canada that I can’t go riding. But this article really puts things in perspective about other sports that have even less time. One thing I would argue against is that skiing is cheaper. A day pass on a decent hill can go $70 – $100. That’ll add up quite quickly when you also include food and gas for the trip to the mountain. The upfront cost of a bike is higher but I think it’s actually cheaper in the long run.

  14. John Gulino

    Skiing is LESS equipment intensive than cycling?!? You got it backwards! Cycling is basically just the bike. Skiing is lift tickets, and skis, and boots, and and and….You must be kidding.

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