‘Cycling: it’s not about the numbers’

Expert opinion: Jon Day is a lecturer in English at King’s College London and author of Cyclogeography: Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier. Here he discusses what cycling means to him

I’ve always cycled, but have never been much of a competitive cyclist. For years I worked as a bicycle courier in London, a job that I loved for the fact that it allowed me to ride my bike every day and ride it to exhaustion.

At the end of my time on the road, I slept more deeply and with more satisfaction than I ever had before, and was fitter than I ever will be again.

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I miss that fitness now that I’ve returned to being a lowly cycle commuter, but have so far resisted the call of serious training.

This is in part because I worry about what I would lose were I to become a fully signed-up member of the racing classes.

Friends tell me breathlessly of their intense training regimes, of the passionate intensity of riding L’Etape du Tour, and the sociability of club rides, but I like cycling for the solitude it affords — the thinking time — so have never joined a club.

Agonising over the data of my body – measuring my power output and geekily comparing gear ratios and energy bars — leaves me cold.

More expert opinion

One of the great joys of cycling is the perspective it gives you on the landscapes you travel through, either urban or rural.

By bike you feel the inclines and gradients of the land you cover. The bike provides a moving view of the world that is both more intimate than that from the car, and more cinematically sweeping than that offered by walking.

Obsessing over training, concentrating not on the world at large but on your body — on your best times, or your longest distances ridden — seems to me to be an impoverishment.

>>> Should you always ride with data?

The idea of locking myself away in a room over the winter and riding rollers fills me with profound existential dread. What pleasure can there be in such activities?

Constantly measuring yourself against yourself or, with Strava, against other anonymous riders seems to miss what is the true joy of cycling: the joys of encountering the world, and of getting somewhere.