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Time to Refocus Your Cycling

Sheila Ascroft

Sheila Ascroft

Sheila Ascroft - Cycle for Sight June 2011

I’ve had a lousy cycling season.

First a hip injury then a respiratory virus and a new puppy took away most my chances for some great long summer rides. I didn’t even come close to my usual mileage, managed only one charity event instead of four, and gained weight so my shorts are way tighter than they should be. Now it’s October and I dread another cold snowy winter without my memory bank full of joy rides. Bummer.

If this was in any way like your cycling season, I will tell you this: don’t give up. The cycling season is not over yet. There are ways to recoup something before the snow flies.

First off, there is still cyclo-cross season — it lasts through November and is a pile of fun if you like to bike and run while carrying your bike. I know it sounds weird but it really is fun, as in child-like, riding in the rain and muck, falling down and getting filthy fun. It is worth checking out. Even watching is interesting.

The good thing is you can use a mountain bike or hybrid rather than a special cyclo-cross bike—until you’re totally addicted and must have one! Essentially cyclo-cross involves riding the same lap as many times as you can in usually an hour. The up, down, circuitous route has varied terrain that usually includes some pavement, grass, maybe some single track. The catch is that there are obstacles on the route that require you to jump off your bike and carry it while you run over the obstacle and then remount and ride. It’s short, it’s sweaty and you’ll laugh a lot.

Mountain biking can be done even after there’s snow on the ground. You don’t have to be a gonzo downhiller or highly skilled, you can just ride in the woods away from the nasty winds and enjoy a different way of biking.

But maybe, like me, you are a roadie at heart, and you are sitting there discouraged.

My motivation was swirling ever downward when the weather gods graciously sent a spate of warm sunny late September days. Hmmm. Maybe I could get out for a little ride. I pumped up the tires, lubed the chain and wrestled into my too-tight cycling clothes and biked. It felt odd and wonderful at the same time. The skinny tires seemed skittish on the wet road, but the sun was out and so was my smile.

Yet, my mind kept saying that it was hopeless. I couldn’t possibly recover all my lost miles, my lost speed and it took more effort to pedal the 15 km (9 mile) route along the river path. I came home—and took off my bike computer.

The next day’s ride was so much fun. I wasn’t worrying over speed and distance, I was just cycling. What a thought. I was focused simply on pedalling for enjoyment and seeing the sights. It was a revelation. I could allow myself the pleasure of cycling for its own sake. Heady.

On the third day of glorious fall weather, I asked a newbie cyclist in my neighbourhood to come out for a spin. She demurred as usual saying she wasn’t good enough to keep up with me. I reassured her that it was her company not the biking that mattered. We didn’t go far but did stop for a coffee and chat, and I showed her some low-traffic bike routes in the city. We both came home satisfied with our ride.

With the weather holding, I went for a ride and deliberately cycled roads that I’ve never tried. It was mentally stimulating as I literally did not know what was around the corner. It didn’t matter how far I went. That evening I couldn’t resist and went cycling around dusk. Yes, I had put lights on my bike. I rode into the posh area and looked into the houses that had lights on but had not yet closed their drapes. It was legal snooping with the rich and famous. Fun. Silly and still I was cycling.

On what turned out to be the last nice day before the cold rains came, I went out cycling to think. What did I want to achieve for next year? What would make my cycling joyful? A ride across the country? A three-day solo tour? Mega miles? A bunch of new charity events? Once I had a goal or two in mind, I then focused on what I needed to do this winter to make those goals achievable—and still have some fun. I thought about how I could set up a fitness-fun plan. Something old like indoor cycling, something new like taking up snowboarding, something stimulating like working with a dietitian.

It’s raining today and I’m writing this. But I’m content. I’m back on my bike and looking forward.

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2 comments to Time to Refocus Your Cycling

  • V & J

    Since it appeared that you did the “Cycle for Sight” ride any tips for tandem bike riders. We seem to be the forgotten group. Thanks.

  • alex

    I LOVE cyclocross, I recently decided to give it a try and I am absolutely obsessed! I also made a bit of an impulse buy to get a cyclocross bike but it’s totally worth it! I definitely recommend cyclocross to everyone, it’s a very different atmosphere from other racing, everyone is just there to have fun and there’s no stress at all!

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