It’s about quality not quantity
I am really loving the time I have spent on the bike lately, and I know exactly why. It’s the little things that matter. A clean bike. A lubed chain. A good riding group. A nice piece of gear or kit. A new place to explore. It is about quality, and the most important thing to have is quality time. Life is too short for a crappy bike ride.
I really wasn’t much of a cyclist two or three years ago, but man did I want to be. I spent lots of time trying to get more fit, so that I could ride in any situation or group and not feel out of place. I needed to commit to hours on the bike so I could get fit, get comfortable, and not always feel like a noob.
My whole life seemed to turn into numbers. FTP. Watts per kilogram. Normalized Power. TSS. CTL and ATL. I tracked, and I looked deeply at my numbers to see if I was really getting better. I set goals for mileage and hours on the bike. I used Training Peaks to try to set up my calendar, inputting time, IF, and TSS into the week ahead, so that I would be ready.
I pretty much coached myself, and tried to learn more every week. Slowly, there were less and less group rides that I felt awkward on. I raced several times, and I did okay. I was in the bottom third, but I saw steady progress. I rode in the cold, in the rain, and in everything in between. I did not dare to skip a day that I had logged in the plan. I rode over 5,000 miles in 2017. Eventually, it became a bit much.
When I looked back on the best rides of the year, there were many. But there were a lot of rides that had nothing memorable about them. This year, I still set a goal of 300 hours on the bike. One reason that I switched to hours over miles was to accommodate more time on the mountain and cyclocross bikes where the miles just do not pile up. Somewhere along the way that mentality of just getting out and not worrying about "metrics" changed my perspective on 2018 and the rides ahead. I have been trying to live by three words this year: prepare, share, and dare. At the halfway point, it is working out to be a great year.
You need to prepare a little to make each ride a quality ride. I cannot lie, the first step is to get your shit together personally. Clear some time to get out on the bike after you prioritize and get family stuff done. Make sure everyone you are responsible for knows that you are considerate of them before you head out the door. Cut the grass, empty the dishwasher, cook lunch, whatever it is that you can or often do. When you head out the door with unfinished business, the ride is never really as good. This might be the hardest part for many of us. Cycling is a time consuming activity, and it is easy to choose selfishness.
The next step in preparing is to make sure you have good plans. I personally use Ride with GPS, but there are many resources and tools to generate or search for rides. It's nice to have a plan before heading out. When I plan ahead, I can let the family know how long I expect to be out and when I will be back.
Okay, so know that you are clear to ride and have a route, make sure your bike is in good repair. Check your tires and chain. Lube that puppy. Keep your pump handy. Buy a bunch of spare tubes, patches, CO2 canisters, and valve cores. Have some quick links on hand. Make sure your seat bag is stocked before you leave. Have a mental checklist for pre-ride inspection. Buy good components if you need to replace something. Buy good kit, good rain gear, and make sure you wash it and always have something ready to go. Buy a Road ID to wear every time you go out.
If you have electronics, set up a little charging station and charge your lights, computer, and whatever else you need for a ride. I have eTap on the road bike, and I try to remember to charge the batteries. I have a little piece of blue rope that I hang over the stem. This tells me that the eTap batteries, Bolt, or lights are on the charger and not on the bike. It has helped me remember before I get too far away. I mean, I would figure it out eventually, but why not get it together before you shut the door behind you? I remember more than once riding to work and realizing my backpack was next to the floor pump at home. Ugh!
I have an electric boot dryer for when I get home from a rainy ride. This has helped a lot. I also keep a bin of rain gear and arm and leg warmers near the bike so I can grab something to throw in a back pocket if needed for later. I usually have some sort of nutrition near the bike to grab and go as well. I keep a few small plastic bags handy to throw my iPhone in on a rainy day.
There is just no doubt about it, riding is better when you share. There have been many great rides when someone has shared a tip or story with me and vice versa. Once in a while, you will come upon a really strong rider and be able to grab a wheel for a bit. I know when I run into guys like Brian, Rob, Joe, Greg, or Nick (the list goes on) on the road that it is always a nice bonus.
Sometime over the last year, I fell in with the Campus Cycling Collective, and started doing the weekly group rides as a coordinator. It was a big commitment, but a commitment that has paid dividends. More than anything, I saw how happy people were to be out there on their bikes. There were people who were ready to hammer it at 22 MPH, people who wanted to ride for ice cream, and people everywhere in between. The common denominator was that people were coming out to have a quality time on the bike. Being responsible for that helped me look a little more at the quality of my own experience on the bike.
Share your time with riders who need a partner or guidance. If someone sees a ride you did on Strava and asks about it, maybe you offer to show them the ropes or send them your turn by turn directions. If someone needs a tool, offer them a hand. If you really trust them, offer them the tool.
I have spent many years working in youth sports, and I feel like I still give a lot to that part of my life. But, I see lots of people who just take, take, and take. They never volunteer, and sometimes they complain the most. I vowed never to be "that guy." Now, I help any chance I get, whether it means coming early to the group ride and grabbing a bike rack to set up, or staying late after a crit and grabbing cones.
Sharing gives me the chance to show people that I care about how much time and effort goes into cycling locally. I know it doesn't just happen, but that it has lots of moving parts.
Lastly, put a little excitement into your life. Try a new ride. Ride a cyclocross or mountain bike for the first time. Race. Do a time trial. Do a recovery ride without a full kit, in jeans and a hoodie. Talk to someone new after a group ride or race. Buy that new kit or bike you have been wanting. Take a gravel ride. Do a century. Heck, do a double century.
Dare to try something new. Dare to make every ride this year a quality ride. Make every one count, don't worry about counting every one.