I spoke about the culture of witch hunt around doping in cycling on my own blog the other week as something that has come about as cycling has become much more popular in the past few years. Another thing that has begun to be talked about in hushed tones ad naseum is suffering or, in most cases, the idea of suffering.
Everyone agrees that cycling can be fucking hard. Real hard. Being out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a hunger flat; or strung out in the gutter as you try to hold the wheel of someone considerably fatter than yourself, is not something which many people would call easy. Not only that, but certain cycling brands really like to flog the idea that a kind of physical or mental purity comes out through the shared suffering of a hard ride with friends.
So more and more, when I ask people how their ride was, I'm hearing descriptions like 'brutal' 'hardcore' and 'sufferfest' when, you know, I kind of just expected 'dry', 'windy' or, heaven forbid, 'fun'. I mean, I've suffered on a bike. Like this one time I rode 200km out to Yea and back, almost all on gravel, having eaten nothing but cheese toasties (you know that single slice plastic stuff that is individually wrapped) the day before. That was a hard ride. I'm pretty sure I saw things that weren't there. I suffered, sure, but I still had fun.
As Pete the gym trainer said to Brendan one time when he complained about something being hard, we all do this for recreation. The odd bit of pain on a bike is good for us. It pushes our limits, we show ourselves that we are capable of much more than we think, and we eventually accomplish something kinda cool. But are we really suffering? Has it become unpleasant?
Bike racing has a working class history. The early Tour riders rode the tour because it was preferable to having to work in the coal mines. They didn't race because of the suffering. They raced because it was easy. Racing a bike, no matter how hard its raining, or how fast the bunch is moving, is always going to be preferable to sitting underground, waiting for the canary to snuff it.
So, sometimes when I hear people talking about how super brutal their ride was, I kinda feel like asking them how we can consider having the leisure time to ride our bikes around for, say, eight hours up and down hills, counts as genuine suffering. Sure, it was probably really hard, but in the same way it's really hard to finish a huge slice of chocolate cake: overall, pretty awesome.
I mean, we're all guilty of this. We all want to believe that the things we do are harder and require more skill than they actually do. But maybe we should recognise riding for what it is: fucking awesome, pretty much all of the time.
If you want to suffer (and by this i mean proper suffering, not going on the ergo for an hour and sweating a bit while watching cyclists who are better than you do what they do outside in the sunshine) maybe you should start digging a big fucking hole in the backyard.
Don't forget the canary.