Dr Hutch ponders the only question that truly matters: why do you ride a bike?


In my years as a bike racer, I received a lot of advice about training. I ignored almost all of it. I console myself with the knowledge that I must have ignored just as much bad advice as good advice, so I must have more or less broken even by the end.

The one bit of advice I followed was to start every ride with one question: “Why am I doing this?” On a cold, drizzly January ride it was often a question I asked anyway, usually about every 30 seconds. After all, the worst bike ride is better than the best day at work, but it might still face stiff competition from a day spent watching old movies and drinking Belgian beer.

But the “Why?” question matters. If you haven’t got a good answer, you should probably forget about training until you’ve thought of one. It can’t just be, “Because I’ll have fun.”

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We cyclists have higher purposes than that — we’re seeking self-improvement, overcoming through suffering, and that sort of noble stuff. We’re not just out there enjoying ourselves — if that was all it was, how could we justify the time, expense and family aggravation?

One acceptable answer to “Why?” might be, “It will improve my VO2max, by hitting efforts above second LTP power and recovering at FTP power minus 20 watts so that my blood lactate doesn’t drop below 4mmol/l.”

I say “might be” an acceptable answer, because of course no normal person has a clue what any of that means.

A more straightforward answer would be, “Because 50 miles at a good steady pace will improve my base fitness, and knock off at least some of the calories from last night’s pizza.” Or, “I’m going to do some sprint efforts because I really suck at sprinting, I only have 40 minutes spare, and I’m feeling really, really angry right now.”

I’d even be prepared to accept, “Because my coach told me to.” Part of the reason for having a coach is to outsource your thinking. As long as you know that somewhere out there has a good reason, you don’t need to actually know what it is.

None of this is very complicated. But rather too often the best I could manage was something like, “Because I wrote this session in a training plan two months ago, and despite being so tired I that I couldn’t get out of bed till midday, as God is my witness, I’ll finish it.” Or, “Dunno, really. I’ve got an hour till it’s dinner and I’ve got to do something.”

In either case, I’d have been better not bothering, and returning to the fray the following day, or the one after, refreshed and able to put in some quality training.

You can usefully take things a step further, and ask a second “Why?” Why is it actually so important to you to, for example, increase your VO2max?

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“Because I’d like to win the club ‘10’ champs.” Or even, “So I can nab Bernard’s solitary Strava KoM off him.” Your motivation has to come from somewhere.

But I caution you, two “whys” along this road is sufficient. Never ask yourself the third one, about why you want to achieve whatever it is you’re dreaming of.

The answer will always boil down to, “Because my life is empty of meaning, and I want to give myself some sense of purpose by pursuing a hollow achievement that I only want because others want it too and if I can get to it first it will make me feel better and them feel worse.”

To be fair, that’s more or less the human condition. But you don’t want to spell it out to yourself. It takes all the fun right out of a ride.