A Tan Topper

WARNING – Deep Content!

It’s unlikely that many of us will forget where we were actually born, or grew up, however life barrels along at such a pace, that we are forgiven for not giving our soul defining past more than cursory consideration every once in a while. Further, as we’re continually evolving through experiences and events we may not actually recognise our current or future self when compared to our prior self. I hope you’re following! For a number of reasons, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my former self recently, and been astonished (perhaps as I’ve been travelling at 100 miles per hour in no particular direction) that I was equally in love with cycling when I was a kid, as I am now. (I know that’s not the deep conclusion you were expecting… me neither!)

Growing up, I lived in a village on the Lincolnshire coast where for 7 weeks of the year it was bedlam, as most of the residents of the East Midlands descended upon it for their summer holidays, staying in an array of static caravans, or substantial holiday homes. The other 45 weeks of the year it was ‘tumbleweed’, with very few people and/or cars, and miles and miles of quiet roads and paths. For someone with ‘wheels’, and nothing better to do, it was paradise. And that was a very good thing, as having ‘wheels’ was very important, as there was nothing better to do, in fact there was very little to do at all.

To give some context, the nearest Supermarket as we would know them today, was about 35 miles away in a foreign place called ‘a town’, that in my mothers 1977 Vauxhall Chevette (The ‘Shove-It’ as we affectionately called it!), felt like a three and a half day round trip. Life was so backwards that I didn’t even have my first ‘McDonalds’ until I was 11 years old. In fact, I’d had my first hangover before I’d had my first experience of fast food. The hangover was the result of a family friends wedding, where my best friend and I decided to hoover up the half full glasses that were unattended while their respective ‘owners’ were dancing. Our game was more fun than dancing, for sure. However, less fun was being carried home by my father, which diminished further when being made to go and play football for my under 12’s side the next morning as a punishment for our frivolity! 🤢

As I got older, the benefits of the contrasting population of the village became clearer… outside of the summer holidays it was quiet and you could do what you wanted, when you wanted without fear of anything bad happening, as nothing good or bad ever happened. Then, in summer when people arrived, everything could and sometimes did happen. Work became available as a waiter, cooking (I won’t pretend I was a chef, as I was merely deep frying anything that didn’t melt, until it floated, which meant it was cooked. REALLY!) and even better, perhaps the pinnacle of my career, driving an ice cream van. This pinnacle was only really notable as I gained an incredibly brown right arm, compared to my pasty white left arm, from sitting in the driving seat reading ‘The Sun’ and listening to Radio 1, with my arm out of the window for hours each day. (My affinity with ‘bad tans’ has not been lost, and I have now assumed my summer cycling tan with exceptionally brown face, arms and lower leg… while everything else remains milk white… my hands included! No swimming without a T-shirt for me!)

It is also worth noting that this influx of people also brought with it a fresh audience of the opposite sex. In a place where everyone knew everyone, and their business, the idea that there may be some different ‘people of interest’ always added to the intrigue of a night out on the (limited) tiles. Quite honestly, and perhaps predictably, normal service was rarely troubled while we (I) may have been interested in some, they were not interested in us (me – or my wonky tan). But all of that said, living ‘in the sticks’ was brilliant! There were no busses, or trains… so if your parents weren’t taking you – you were ‘on yer bike’, or you weren’t going. Therefore, I really had no choice but to get along with my bicycle – and fortunately I loved it!

And so, some self-reflection, perhaps a confession, but certainly a realisation…

In the last few weeks, I have stopped enjoying my bicycle. I’ve lost my perspective on why I am riding. It’s not become a chore by any means, but certainly the unadulterated, perhaps childish, joy of just leaving my street to set out on a journey has gone. Each ride has become a mission. I doubt that many people who have gone on a ‘mission’ have enjoyed the process of executing it, and perhaps the achievement / enjoyment / recognition is actually in the end result – accomplishing the objective. Riding my bicycle cannot remain in this territory. The hours I spend on my bicycle are precious. I don’t get paid for riding my bicycle (and never will be) or for accomplishing the self-determined mission, and crucially I could probably spend this time doing or indeed not doing many other things, that in the context of my new lack of enjoyment may actually be more fulfilling. Troubling… perhaps self-destructive.

Am I going too deep for you? Stick with me… and you, non-cyclist, don’t bail just yet!

I even know when it started. While there are many other factors in my life at the moment that are impacting what I think about and how, it fundamentally comes back to when I got my new bicycle. A dream racing machine. Yes, it’s fast. Yes, it’s light, stiff as hell, a technical masterclass and looks jaw droppingly beautiful (I would say that, wouldn’t I?). And it’s doing nothing wrong! My relationship with it is the problem.

When we make any change in our lives, whatever they are, we have an expectation as to how that change will impact us, make us feel, and crucially in the context of my bicycle, perform. Rarely does the actual experience match the anticipation. Equally, others have a perception on how a change will or should impact us, make us feel and perform. Some are very willing to pass on their perspectives, thoughts and predictions as to how this change will / won’t ultimately manifest itself. These opinions may even serve to reinforce or perhaps challenge our own expectations. Others however may keep their thoughts to themselves, or actually have no thoughts at all as the change you are making is irrelevant to them. All valid points of view. Making a change is often challenging enough on its own, without the melting pot of needs, wants, expectation, opinion, reflection, self-doubt and questioning. And therefore, holding your needs and wants close to you throughout is like a compass. You may get some re-direction on the way that help or hinder the journey. Equally, you may hit some storms that knock you off course, or push you backwards… but North is always North (except in some odd situations) and by holding those needs and wants close to you as ‘your North’, you will have a much better chance of making the change, and making it stick. Just to be clear, I am not saying don’t ask your friends, family or even complete strangers for their opinion, as they are likely a very important check / balance / challenge… but I am saying to be clear about why you’re wanting to do something and what you want from it, use this as your compass, and remember why you set off to make the change in the first place. (I have no idea where that came from? I see a book coming on…)

And so my new bicycle, unfortunately I’ve internalised the actual voices that question the what, how and why?… as well as the views that I assume people have… and then unfortunately validated all of that by actually being substantially faster on some rides, which in my head meant every ride now has to be better as I’m riding a bicycle that is far more capable than my last. WOAH there!!!

I have lost my compass, and and allowed the change to change my purpose of riding and it’s become about satisfying an expectation of riding faster (be that real or not!)… not enjoying a satisfying ride. This is a sign that I didn’t manage what is a very simple change (buying a new bicycle) very well at all and got distracted by the shiny thing and expectations that go with it. I’ve never been a competitive person, perhaps a great loser, but power meters, cadence sensors, heart rate monitors, electronic shifting and Strava only go to pour fuel on the fire with the constant reminders of how much faster I was (or wasn’t) on an individual ride or segment. I have more telemetry and analytics available for my 20 mile cycle around Rutland than were used in the early space missions.

On reflection I know, as well as you do, that this is absolute nonsense. Cycling is just about me, my bicycle, what I want to do with it and need from it.

And so, this weekend, since I am not going into space, my only mission is to ensure that my rides are not ‘missions’. I am going to just enjoy them for what they are. They won’t be fast. They’ll be a ‘tan topper’… with a pint on the way back in… gratifyingly smooth… as smooth as my freshly shaved legs.

Yes, the razor is back (as are the cuts on my knees)!

One Reply to “A Tan Topper”

  1. And I think that is the very reason that I may leave Strava. All the years, all the events both here in this country and on the continent I really never questioned any analysis other than I either felt good or not so good in the legs. Now with strava, clubs etc you feel compelled to keep up or try when life maybe doesn’t afford the same time to cycle as others enjoy. So I am going to quit strava and go back to enjoying our lovely local area.

    Liked by 1 person

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