One of the joys of cycling is the intimate relationship it gives you with the seasons.
Others may be stuck indoors, hermetically sealed off from the vicissitudes of nature. We are out there, in the world. We can see the hedgerows growing; can tell you what crop is in what field.
Early summer is heralded, round my way at least, by a distinctive sound: “I just can’t bloody do it any more. I just can’t. I’ve done all the usual training, and I’m just so slow. I mean, mate, you’re pretty rubbish these days, but I’m even worse. Christ, what’s the bloody point?”
Every year, my friend Bernard comes face-to-face with the harsh disconnect between the legs he’s got and the legs he thinks he deserves.
This year, as we rode together through a local village, he upped the ante: “For all the pleasure I’m getting from it, I might as well give up,” he said, morosely.
It was quite a thought. If Bernard gave up, I’d have to do these rides on my own. I’d be denied his piercing psychological analysis of my own inadequacies, not to mention his insights into training, racing, and politics.
It was like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds. “Yes,” I said. “You might as well.”
“I’m just not sure I can,” he said. I assured him that giving up was the one area of life that no one would ever best him at. No one, I told him, was as half-arsed as him. Not even me.
“I know, I know. But giving up would be such a hassle,” he told me. I realised that he was about to do something I’d previously have written off as impossible, even for him: he was going to quit at quitting.
“I’ve got all those bikes in the garage,” he said. “And if I gave up, I’d have to set up an Ebay account and sell them.”
“Or perhaps just return them to their rightful owners?” I suggested. He seemed not to hear.
“I’ve got a great big can of chain cleaner that is only half used.”
“And, I say again…”
“I’d have to buy a load of new clothes, because I’d lose my athletic figure,” he continued.
I must admit that it had not occurred to me that the figure he’s been modelling all these years might be his athletic one.
I could certainly sympathise with the idea that he might not want to exchange it for whatever the unathletic one might look like. I decided that, perhaps, I should try to be more supportive.
“If you give up cycling,” I said, “think of all the other things you’ll be able to do.”
“I know. I could watch films, listen to music, go to the pub, meet people, laugh at good jokes. I could go out to eat and stop worrying about what every little thing I eat is going to do to my fitness, I could perhaps finally get over this saddle sore I’ve had more or less constantly since 1998.
“Maybe I could get married and live happily in a cottage with roses around the door and learn to take pleasure in the simple things.”
“And you’d have lots of time for this personality transplant you seem to have planned.”
“You’d be surprised how chippy a saddle sore can make you.”
Bernard eventually conceded that all this was a fantasy. He’ll never give up. He doesn’t want a simple life, not really. He badly needs something to test him, to niggle and to irritate. And, just occasionally, to reward.
The rewards are as rare as I can make them, but occasionally something gets through the net to keep him hooked. And we all need something like that.
As he put it himself, “If I quit this, I’d only take up something else that I didn’t really like. At least I already own the kit to hate this.”
I decided to let that go.