‘Stick’, ‘Hole’, ‘Kangaroo’

I moved to Canberra in 2020 and started to ride more often. I encouraged myself to join a cycling group who rode around a few loops every Friday morning at 6am. It was actually a bit of a challenge. Even as the guy at the back, you have a few jobs. Look and listen for approaching cars from the rear, especially larger, faster cars. Most importantly, you need to study and focus on the wheel a few inches in front of yours. Stick to it. Glue to it. Don’t touch it. Don’t kiss it.

After a few rides I found myself at the front. When you sit at the front you take all the wind, and do a lot more ‘work’. That was fine with me. What was trickier was the focus. I had to focus. I had to shout out if there was a stick. I had to look for bad curbs, leaves, holes, cars, because I had a lot of guys behind me going 40km/h who need enough reaction time. A little less time thinking and more time looking. I would make some excuse and say I’m just nervous because I don’t know the route yet. If I knew the route off the top of my head, off by heart, or like the back of my hand, I could get back to thinking, rather than looking. I think the most likely time for someone to crash during a bike ride is likely when the front rider ‘rolls off’, allowing them to start thinking again.

These distractions can also be feelings. I feel nervous when a car speeds by behind me. But do I need to feel that nervous? Do I need to hold onto much anger for the driver who was going just a little too fast? If I’m that angry about stuff like that, it’s fair to say my mind is not on the road.

I also spent time learning to ride a track bike in the velodrome. Try daydreaming while your riding in a fixed gear with no brakes at 50km/h behind a motorbike!

Terminal velocity

Tom Pidcock puts his brain on ice during his descent of Mt Ventoux.

“Consciousness deserts all processes where it can no longer be of use” William James, 1890

“Accelerate through the corners” – Grandpa

“I have no idea. I don’t know what my grip is called…It’s just all automatic. I don’t know how to explain it.” – Federer”

“I have my mind inside the pectoral muscles when I do my bench press.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger redefining the word meathead.

I’ve never been a great descender. My hands are gripped on the brakes. A few weeks ago, I crashed. I was taking a tight right turn and I slipped on the road. I was conscious of moving too quickly to the edge, feeling scared and out of control. I couldn’t move my bike. Brakes are a useful invention, but I was likely relying on them heavily as a crutch. Are you using your brakes to come to a controlled stop, or are they a bit more automatic? Have you simply built up too much speed?

A pro cyclist on the other hand, has spent years training themselves to become one with the bike. Lance’s bike position looks like he has started melding his fingers with the bars. They put their faith in the machine, the road, their skills and go with the flow. When the descend, brakes are rarely on the agenda, more like an insurance policy or a killswitch. They are physically and mentally at ease with letting their bike reach something close to terminal velocity.

Tadej Pogacar is furious with his brakes locking up, because now he’s forced to think about something he shouldn’t need to.

If you are able to focus, you should see a reduction in judgements (both good and bad) and errors on the bike.

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