When people ask me what I like about road cycling, it can be hard to know where to start.
There is the wonderful feeling of freedom, to be powering your own journey – that feeling that you are the master (or mistress) of your own destiny. Provided your legs are strong enough, you can get to wherever you want to be under your own steam. That feeling of independence is priceless; how wonderful, to not be worried about the cost of petrol. How liberating, to be travelling by a mode of transport that you yourself can repair. Short of something going catastrophically wrong, with a well stocked saddlebag there is a good chance you can get yourself back on the road.
There is the exhilaration of what feels like flying as you soar down hills, grinning like a dog with its head stuck out of the window of a fast car, the exhilaration heightened by the effort it took to reach the top of the hill in the first place.
There is the strength your body develops: the honed muscles in your legs and the happiness you feel when you lie in bed, tensing your thighs, flexing your calves and seeing that definition. The satisfaction when you swing your bike over your shoulder without batting an eyelid to jog up a flight of steps. The lift that cycling gives to your derrière – no Spanx required here, thank you very much!
There is that incredible appetite you develop, and the insatiable hunger after a 100 mile ride, and the sweet satisfaction that you feel, knowing you have earned every mouthful of that post-adventure feast: never has a pizza tasted so good as when you have already burned 2,000 calories doing what you love.
And then there is the timelessness of it all. The agelessness. The lovely feeling of being out on your bike and seeing families riding together. Fathers teaching their small daughters to pedal solo. Old men, still out cycling together at the weekend, the way they’ve been doing for 50 years. Riding out with a cycling club whose members span generations, your cohorts on your Sunday morning ride ranging from 16 to 70. What a wonderful, inclusive activity cycling is. And, no matter how much lighter bottle cages may get or how much more sophisticated GPS devices and power meters become, the knowledge that really, very little has changed in the world of cycling.
After we completed our first century last year, the Prudential RideLondon event, my dad sent me his cycling medals. He earned them on the tough hills of Lancashire with the Clitheroe Clarion Cycling Club in the 1960s. Of course, his steel-framed steed was heavier than my carbon bike. He didn’t have a Garmin to track his speed and elevation. He didn’t have a cadence tracker, and he didn’t have the moisture-wicking, advanced sports apparel that cyclists have in 2016. But he experienced everything we did: the excitement, the camaraderie, the exhaustion, the aches and pains, the exhilaration – and the deep, deep satisfaction of completing that 100 mile challenge under his own steam.
That’s what I like about road cycling.