What is the measure of a great bike ride?
For some, it’s hills. It’s metres of height gain, steepness of gradient, and likelihood of heart beating itself loose from your chest in mid-struggle.
I have friends who have no concept of a bike ride which involves even the shortest section of flat tarmac. They don’t understand the pleasure to be had from spinning the legs for the simple joy of it, or rattling along for mile after mile at twenty miles an hour. To these mountain goats a flat road is avoiding the issue. It’s taking the easy option.
Admittedly, these people tend to be Cumbrians. In Cumbria, geography and topography demand that tarmac slopes up, or down, and usually steeply. To them, a flat road is eyed with suspicion.
Others measure a bike ride in average speed, and are only truly happy when their post-ride data shows a streak of Strava PB’s dotted with the odd KOM. To them, a bike ride is training. The goal is to ride faster than last time. These cyclists are impressive in a mechanical and machine like way, but are barely aware of the world around them. They exist with noses hovering a few inches above their stem, their gaze flitting between the ten yards of tarmac directly ahead and the speedo on their GPS.
While the hill climbers are in direct opposition with themselves, the speed merchants see anything that might halt their mighty progress, and dent their averages, as a foe to overcome. We’re talking traffic lights, livestock, fellow cyclists, poor GPS reception, and inconsiderate friends who insist on coffee breaks.
Check their Strava feed and you will see bike rides with names like: “annoying headwind”, or “herd of cows slowed me down”, just to make sure we all understand the mitigating circumstances for their less than dazzling stats.
The final measure of a good bike ride is simple quality.
It’s the previously undiscovered back lane, the herd of geese honking out a rhythm overhead, the ducklings crossing the road, and the payoff of the tailwind after an hour spent riding into it. It’s the spontaneous mid-ride race with a boy on his big brother’s bike, the old blokes fishing sea bass, and the way the evening sun casts long shadows as you race the dropping temperature to get home.
If any given week consists of a big ride on a Sunday up big hills and steep tarmac, with a fast rolling forty miler on a Wednesday night, and a couple of hours of dappled country lanes and good company sandwiched somewhere between, I’m a happy man.
I don’t ask for much.