Dr Hutch: Why go big when you could go home?
Don’t bother bragging about your big rides, size doesn’t impress the Doc so much as the wisdom to know when to quit
A few months ago, while I was hanging around at a bike race, a rider I didn’t know came over to say hello, and to brag a little. “I’ve ridden my bike every single day since 1 January 1991,” he told me. “I haven’t missed a day. Not one.” I told him that was very impressive. “Would you like to know my longest ride?” he asked.
“Actually, no, thank you,” I said. “But I’d very much like to hear about your shortest.” He looked confused. “I don’t know,” he said. “Probably about 20 miles?”
“Even when you were ill? Or injured?” We worked our way down to a day in the early 2010s when he was suffering from pneumonia, and his ride consisted of getting his wife to bring his bike to the bedroom so he could ride it the 10 feet from one side of the room to the other just to keep his streak going. I was impressed by his dedication if not necessarily by his wisdom. But that’s bike riders for you.
You can tell more about someone from their shortest rides than their longest. For instance, my friend Bernard records his shortest ride as 90 seconds. He headed out, decided he just didn’t have the enthusiasm, and went home. And let me say that while my friend has few characteristics that you’d want to emulate, you should want to emulate this one.
It’s a smart rider who recognises the futility of what they’re doing sooner rather than later. He was the opposite of the first guy – on this occasion I was impressed by Bernard’s wisdom rather than his dedication, and I’d rather be wise than dedicated any day.
Other very fine efforts from among my friends include one who crashed riding down his own gravel driveway and broke his collarbone, producing a ride that his GPS recorded as two seconds. That was the sort of luck he usually had. Another friend was completely in character when, 100 yards from home, he decided what he really needed to make training go with a zing was a new bike and went home to get online and start looking for one.
I’ve had several short rides in races, including crashing out in the neutralised zone (literally the only thing I have in common with Geraint Thomas), but in general, short races don’t offer much insight. For instance, I once ripped the
tread off my back tyre with a starting effort but, much though I might wish it was otherwise, that tells you a lot more about how the quality control department of that particular manufacturer approached a Friday afternoon than it tells you about me.
My best entry for ‘shortest ride’ is from a cold February day in 2014, when the plan called for a solo five-hour effort. Faced with something like that, it was necessary to have a second breakfast and another coffee. Also critical to check tyre pressures, at which point I also decided that some new bar tape would help the miles speed by. While I was doing that I moved the brake levers up a little, which meant finding the spirit level. And so on.
By the time I was ready there was about 20 minutes till sunset. I did 15 minutes. Or at least I did if I rounded up from 10.
Why bother, you ask? Because it was the third day of a three-day-on, one-day-off training cycle, so if I did the ride I got a day off, and if I didn’t I’d have to go back to the start of the cycle and do another three straight days.
I think that tells you almost everything you needed to know about my approach to bike riding. Procrastination followed by a half-assed ride followed by a lame excuse to spend a day sitting about doing nothing.
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Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. As a rider he won multiple national titles in both Britain and Ireland and competed at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. He was a three-time Brompton folding-bike World Champion, and once hit 73 mph riding down a hill in Wales. His Dr Hutch columns appears in every issue of Cycling Weekly magazine
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