I am a cyclist? I AM a cyclist.

It is a rare day, indeed, that I think of myself as “good” on the bike.

I’m coming clean: I’ve been a hypocrite.

I’ve talked a time or a dozen about how central our thoughts are for influencing the way that we act.

While I walk this talk in most aspects of my athletic life, there is one area where I’ve clearly been lacking – yes, even hypocritical.

I’ve said some pretty negative things about cycling. For example, I take credit for the hashtag #BikesArePoopy. More specifically, I’ve said some not-so-nice things about myself as a cyclist. I may have said a time or a dozen that I suck on the bike. I consider a compliment about my cycling to be that I am “average.”

Self-talk influences our actions. In this case, my negative self-talk has limited my progress as a…cyclist.

It feels weird to even type a sentence that connects my identity to that of a cyclist. I’m a runner. I’m a triathlete. Rarely, as in never, do I think cyclist. 

But, in order to be the best triathlete I can be, I have to re-direct this self-talk and call myself a cyclist instead of someone who rides a bike.

And, I should probably stop tweeting the hashtag #BikesArePoopy (although, it’s such a good one…).

I’ve been tweeting for years that #BikesArePoopy. I need to stop.

No, I definitely don’t see myself entering any cycling races. A bike without a swim first and run after would just feel unfinished to me. But, my thoughts must shift so that my actions can follow. Rooby-Roo and I need to become a machine together. 

Back in September, I attended the USA Cycling level 2 coaching certification clinic. I wanted to round out my knowledge and understanding of training for cycling for both myself and for my clients. This clinic did not disappoint in either regard. The three coaches (Kevin Dessart, Steven Pye and Derrick Williamson) that ran the clinic were AMAZING…and patient. Turns out the latter trait was really necessary for dealing with the likes of me.

The USAC Level 2 clinic offers on-bike drills and skills sessions that left me feeling more knowledgeable and humiliated – at the same time. We did a series of slow speed drills during the clinic, such as:

  • This drill shown above required that we practice bumping tires. I died inside a little bit that day. Just a bit. Moments after this picture, I bumped the tire and them promptly crashed in the grass because, yeah, I was that good at it. ;-). Photo Credit: Practical Coaching, Steven Pye. 

    circles (awful) and serpentines (OMG – my nemesis),

  • straight line drills (rocked it!),
  • bunny hops (nope),
  • sprinting drills (okay),
  • emergency braking drills (surprisingly okay at this one)
  • clip in drills (hahahahahah!!),
  • riding in groups of 12-24 with our hands on each others’ shoulders (never again)

Throughout each of these drills, one thing became very clear to me – and to everyone else including the coaches leading the clinic – I was the only person there that didn’t like cycling. I was also mediocre in my handling ability. Go figure.

For example, the circle drill required that we ride our bikes in a tight circle around cones at about 4 mph. During my first pass at the drill, I had a hard time with it. I was stiff. Nervous. Disconnected. The coach leading this drill asked, “Are you terrified?”

I wanted to burst into tears. Because, yes. Yes, I was terrified. Terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it. Terrified I would be humiliated as the rest of the group watched me try to navigate this little circle. Terrified because I sort of sucked and I didn’t want to suck any more.

My thoughts raced: What-in-the-actual-WHAT-THE-F*CK was I doing at a clinic for coaching cycling if I couldn’t even properly ride my bike in a circle?

I fought the urge to spiral out with my thoughts, reigned them in and managed to make it through the drills. That’s why I signed up for the clinic: to learn how to be better. When I read the description of the clinic, I knew it would be the best thing for me – even if it terrified me.

I know how to train on the bike. I know how to make the watts. But, I struggle with the finesse of bike handling–and these drills were pushing me well beyond the limits of my ability. Eventually, however, I did improve as I worked through the various drills. On the second day, I was able to ride the circle and the serpentine without the risk of tipping over. Success!

As it turns out, practicing these drills allows you to get better at riding your bike. So weird! 

But, yet I still feel disconnected from my bike, which comes, mostly, from how I think and talk about cycling (e.g., “bikes are poopy”), which in turns impacts how I act with the bike. If bikes are “poopy”, then why bother to learn how to have fun with them? It’s not possible if they are truly “poopy.”

I’m not going to lie: this process has been hard for me. Bikes are mystery machines, with a series of things that can go wrong at any time: flat tires, dropping chains, snapping cables, failing brakes, getting hit by cars… I won’t go on with the list of mishaps I’ve experienced while riding.

When I watch others ride bikes, I can see they are having fun. They zip and zig and zag. They smile. They say things like: “Weeeeee!” So, I know it is possible. I have to get myself to that point, where the bike feels like play – just like the swim and the run.

So, yup, I’ve been working on my handling. It is definitely a work in progress – but, I’m getting there. I’ve noticed that my u-turns on tight roads are definitely better than ever (maybe 37 laps in the Double Anvil also helps with that?), and I feel much more comfortable pushing big watts on the road – more in control of what’s happening in my body – and with my bike.

I’m committed to fixing this weakness, and while I may not be a trick BMX rider (but, hey, you never know, right?), I WILL ride my bike in a circle. I will corner tight turns. I will feel comfortable descending. I will enjoy the movement of cycling.

I will call myself a cyclist. 


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