It's More Than Just the Lycra

By Trey Steele & Dave Appel – January 2, 2013

Riding a bike is something that most, if not all, Austinites have done. From riding around the neighborhood with friends to jumping over homemade ramps, bike riding is definitely an American pastime.  But beyond simply riding a bike lives another world—the world of cycling.  Cycling is not just about riding a bike; it’s a lifestyle. So how does one make the transformation from bike rider to cyclist? Let’s find out.

Most of you probably have an emotional connection to bike riding, the very words conjuring up childhood memories of getting your first bike and the freedom that came with it.  For some of you, childhood was not only the beginning but also the end of your biking experience. When the driver’s license was awarded and the first car handed down, your bike quickly headed to storage to await its fate at the next annual garage sale. Perhaps you rekindled your relationship with biking in college when you realized that it was much easier to lock a bike close to the classroom doors rather than park a car miles away.  Upon graduation, the cycle repeats:  this time, the bike makes it onto Craigslist or is donated to charity. For some of you, that may have been the last time you ever rode a bike…at least until you have children, when you will purchase their first new bikes and the cycle will start all over again.

So what makes the difference between being a bike rider and being a cyclist? The transformation to cyclist begins the moment you start using the bike as a fitness-training tool rather than merely as a mode of transportation. The crossover from casual bike riding can happen in a number of ways. For example: when a lifelong runner is told that, due to the impact on damaged joints, running is no longer an option, cycling is often the first alternative due to its low-impact nature.  Others get into cycling when attempting a first triathlon. The common theme behind the start of every transformation from bike rider to cyclist is a desire to improve fitness.

But that desire is only the beginning of the transformation. Some of you may even be in this transformation process right now. How do you know?

  • Do you wear tightly fitted cycling clothes when you ride?  Do your shorts match your jersey? Do you call that a “kit”? Transformation complete. 
  • Do you know the secret verbal and non-verbal language of road cycling? Do you say “on your left” when you walk by people? Do you point out debris on sidewalks to your family during group outings? Transformation complete. 
  • If you frequently use the terms electrolytes, recovery ride, or Strava Suffer Score, you’re past the point of no return in your transformation. Time to go all in and shave the legs!

The transformation comes with physical changes as well.  You may start with rides of 10 to 15 miles around the neighborhood.  Once you have the mental confidence that you can unclip from your bike without falling over and you have become comfortable enough to be around others in cycling gear (a.k.a. your kit), you may head somewhere else, such as the Veloway.  The Veloway is a 3.1-mile paved loop in South Austin that is only open to bicycles and in-line skaters (no runners, walkers, or motor vehicles are allowed). During their transformations, many Austinites make a pilgrimage to the Veloway. Upon conquering the Veloway, you will likely begin to seek group rides, which will enable you to see how your fitness compares to others. During this time in your transformation, you start to meet other riders with your interests and new friendships form, and so riding buddies are found, with new experiences following. You might even attend your first charity bike ride, where you meet even more people who look like you and speak your language. As your comfort in the cycling world increases, so will your mileage and the speed with which you will conquer your rides.

If you have been through this transformation, we hope you’ve had a chuckle or two while you reflected on your reasons for riding your bike. If you have not been through a transformation, grab your bike and go for a ride. Maybe even test yourself a bit by seeing how fast you can ride around your neighborhood. Who knows what transformation that ride might spark? In our opinion, the most gratifying parts of rekindling your interest in the bike and undergoing this transformation are the friendships that come from pursuing a truly lifelong activity. The fitness that results is a very close second (if not a tie), because your new friends are going to challenge your fitness… just as you are going to challenge theirs. What makes cycling so beautiful is that you get to spend time socializing and exercising while enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. Good luck with your transformation!


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