As with most of my hobbies, I tend to fling myself into them wholeheartedly from the get go. I’m the guy who signs up to the forums, does copious research on the internet, takes notes as he goes, learns as much as he can as fast as possible, and then goes and buys the gear. The topic doesn’t really matter as long as it’s something I’m interested in; as a teenager a friend got me into fly fishing and so (as this pre-dates the internet) I got the books and magazines, talked to the owner of the tackle store, and got the best rod and reel I could afford, and enjoyed a couple of (mostly unsuccessful) years wading into the River Leven and casting away to my hearts content.
Looking back I know I spent a lot of my pocket money on that hobby, hundreds of pounds just to get all the things I thought I needed only to find out that I didn’t need them at all. Fishing can be a very expensive hobby (can’t they all) but the basic satisfaction of standing in the river, the quiet burbling of the water as it flowed around me, and the simple setup I started with remains a fond memory.
I’ve dabbled with other hobbies, been through the DSLR camera stage, with multiple lens and filters and goodness knows what else, and today I solely use my iPhone because the best camera you have is the one you have with you.
More recently my hobbies have had a more serious bent and have largely been based around my fitness. Driven by my advancing years and expanding waistline, not to mention a much keener sense of self that has developed over the past few years; I now have an established (almost) daily meditation practice, I’ve managed to get back to running again and, thanks to lockdown, I realised just how much I enjoy cycling. It’s something I’ve mentioned here before, the simple joy of freewheeling down a hill bringing that instant return to a truly child-like state (with all the OHMYGODWHATIFICRASH background noise of being adult, of course). And man, oh man, if ever there was a ‘hobby’ ripe for geeking out on, cycling might just be at the pinnacle.
Not being a millionaire, I’m a league away from the top of the range carbon road bikes (unless anyone has £10k to spare?) but with some research I found a ‘budget’ road bike with a good set of components, lots of great reviews from seasoned cyclists and trade websites, and so the geekery begins….
This can be as simple as looking at any accessories your bike came with – mine came with lights but they are more ‘to be seen’ than ‘to see with’ and so I’ve upgraded them. Same for the bell (although I went for style over substance and I’m already regretting that a little, a quiet bell isn’t much use), and I’ve already changed to clipless pedals over the standard flat pedals provided. With a dark blue bike with very subtle orange accents, I’ve also gotten two bright orange bottle cages, and two orange end caps (the bits at the end of the handlebars, oh yes, there is nothing you can’t customise on a bike!), just to make it look a bit smarter.
Then there are the practical things you’ll need, inner tubes should you get a puncture and a pump, or perhaps it’s time to look at CO2 canisters which are faster (a real consideration if you are fixing a puncture on a rainy day). You’ll need tyre levers too, and it’s probably wise to have a small multi-tool just in case something works its way loose. Ohh and where are you going to carry all this? Do I get a handlebar bag? Or perhaps an on-frame bag? Or one that mounts under the saddle? Or maybe a carrier that I can throw in one of the bottle cages for shorter rides??
What’s next? Ohh yes, clothes! Yup, I’ve joined the ranks of lycra wankers. Why? Because it’s the best thing to wear if you are on a bike for more than an hour, because you need padded shorts and something that won’t chafe. And yes cycling tops are specifically useful too because you can’t really have pockets in your shorts, so those pockets at the back of the top are super useful, holding a lightweight waterproof (hey, it’s Scotland, even on the sunniest days it still might rain an hour later), my phone, and a few snacks to keep me going.
Ohhh snacks, a banana is fine, but maybe it’s time to look into gels, and is that just water in your bottle or is it an electrolyte replacing, caffeinated combo to make sure you don’t run out of energy?
For the safety conscious among you, yes I wear a helmet, and the rest of my ensemble includes cycling gloves, and cycling shoes (that clip into the pedals), and glasses with interchangeable lens (including clear ones which stop your eyes drying out too much on dull windy days). And yes, all of these little things make a difference, I’ve got the research to prove it.
And so it goes.
Truth be told there isn’t really much I need to add and the only thing I’m considering next is a proper bike fitting – a couple of hours with an expert making sure my seat height, handlebar height and position are correct – and this is only because in September I’m tackling Etape Caledonia and will need to do a fair amount of training for that, so I’d rather not open myself up to niggles and injuries just because my seat isn’t quite at the right height.
After that, who knows? With bikes still being largely mechanical and easy to upgrade there are all sorts of things to consider. Do I want to upgrade the chainrings to something with a wider range? Will a new saddle make a difference to my comfort on the bike, would it help me go faster? I have not, yet, gotten a bicycle computer, nor have I added power meter pedals as that seems a little OTT, and anyway the next key component should really be the tyres, or maybe the entire wheels could be lighter and faster. There really are so many things to consider.
My geek is well and truly on, it’s true. The more I read the more I wonder if changing THAT thing will be worth it for me or whether it’s only really the pros that would even notice. There is an entire subset of cycling geeks obsessed with the weight of their bikes, with each single component examined for any potential gains that could be made. It’s the kind of thing the Sky/Ineos team do, look for the smallest gains everywhere and by the time you add them all up you’ve made a leap forward.
I’m not quite there yet, although this all does feel a little different to my past deep dives into various hobbies. At the simplest level I have a bike, I know how to ride it, and all I really need to do is get out on it for as often, and as far, as possible. Everything else really is just noise, something you realise when you are cycling and all you need to do is focus on the road ahead. To that end the instant enjoyment is what I think will make this a longer lasting hobby, and in time I may even start to consider myself a cyclist.
I know myself well enough that I will make little changes and tweaks to my bike over time but I’m doing my very best not to fall into a well known cycling equation that is (semi) jokingly used in every cycling forum I’ve looked at.
The correct number of bikes for you to own is n+1. N equates to the number of bikes you own, therefore you should always be looking to acquire your next pride and joy.
Given that my new bike is still less than a year old I think I’ve got a ways to go before any n+1 thoughts. Although I’m largely going to have to ignore the fact that my (to be) in-laws are all cycling enthusiasts and will very much be prime enablers of any future bike purchases.
For now I’m more than happy with the bike I have, the joy I have using it, and the eagerness to which I look forward to my next ride. That’s the key for me, get to a place where I’m happy and comfortable and I know this hobby will become more than that, if it hasn’t already. With warmer days approaching I know I’ll be itching to go out more and more often, and my bike is always waiting patiently to whizz me along on the next adventure.