It’s been 10 years since I started cycling seriously. The first couple years almost don’t count. They were ridden on a steel frame Trek 400 bike that had not a prayer of going anywhere fast. That bike was like an IUD preventing my impregnation as a true cyclist. Covering 20 miles at an 18mph average was a big accomplishment then because I never felt one with the bike.
Yet human nature is persistent. Even that experience gave me the foundation for wanting to ride more, and better.
I recall the specific moment where my origins as a more serious cyclist began. Invited to join a group ride with friends, we covered the first five miles at a pace that was hard for me, but I hung on like an embryo to the umbilical cord of the peloton. Then the group lifted the pace on a long incline of country road and the cord holding me to the group first began to stretch, and then snapped free. I floated off the back like a zygote with nowhere to go. Or grow.
Perhaps we all start out cycling this way. We all have an ontogeny. That is the word that describes the origination and development of an organism, We all begin as masses of unformed flesh perched on a bike seat. Only through time and the divisive experiences of hanging on through pace, cadence and tempo do we come to be fully formed cyclists. It doesn’t matter whether we wind up with penises or vaginas in the long run. In the beginning we’re all just folds of flesh that look alike.
There used to be a theory that says ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. That is, early development in life resembles the evolutionary history of a species. Recapitulation theory has been largely discredited, perhaps due to the fact that mere capitulation was enough to satisfy the minds of scientists. Recapitulation was just a branch too far.
Perhaps your brain is spinning in its little socket by now. That’s what happens when you go deep into your origins as a cyclist. The topic of how and who we all become in the endeavor to become better cyclists is a poorly studied science.
Yet it’s all so very simple. If you ask any rider how to become a better cyclist they will give you one answer. “Ride more.”
That’s because there is no substitute for time in the saddle. And it’s like that every year. We all get to begin again. It’s like we’re all just biking embryos at the start. And just like embryos, in the beginning we all look a bit alike stuffed into our bike kits.
Some among us never move out of the embryo stage. They keep their bland monotone bike kits and ride their own pace like a sperm in no hurry to get up the fallopian tube. They don’t care if their ontogeny advances one bit. They grow gray beards and wear those little rear view mirror selfie sticks on their helmets just to make sure there’s no other sperm sneaking up behind. They’re happy in their biking embryo stage and could not care less if you want to race past them on the way to discovering your own, quite personal cycling phylogeny. To them you’re a different species altogether. What does it matter?
But the fact remains that every year no matter how much we ride on trainers during the winter, that whole cycling ontogeny has to take place every spring. You go from a huddling embryo battered by the spring winds to the next stage where your cycling cells seem to divide and provide muscles for climbing, crosswinds and pace lines. It’s all part of the annual evolution of cycling. Ontogeny recapitulates pain and suffering.
If we’re lucky we eventually evolve wings. Well, that’s wishful thinking. But we can at least hope for some better quad strength to carry us through a competitive group ride, century or criterium.
And then there’s the triathlete cyclist. That’s a whole different track of evolution there. Bent over the tri-bike like a tadpole with eggs sprouting out the ass, the ontogeny of a triathlete is an entirely different branch of science. In evolutionary terms, we call that divergence. Of course the operative principles of cycling are the same. Yet there’s something permanently different in ontogeny of a tri-bike and its rider.
That might be a topic for a different day. In the meantime, we’ll see all you fellow embryos out there on the road.