Scottish cycling podcast 11: Motivation and why we cycle

I have been on a little hiatus with the podcast and it’s related to my cycling – I haven’t been riding much, other than the daily commute – and hence I haven’t been podcasting as much either.

With the podcast, I’m inspired when I’m at races or events, either because there are people to talk to and record interviews with, or because I get ideas. I haven’t been at many events so hence the lack of podcasting.

Have you ever lost your mojo on the bike? Have you ever lost your motivation for cycling, whether that’s training and racing, riding with your club or just riding your bike for leisure or pleasure?

When that happens, one way to get over it is to ‘just get back out there and ride’ – do do whatever you can, for as short a distance or at as slow a speed as is needed, just in order to get back out there.

So that’s what this podcast will be – a rough first draft – as a writer might call it – unedited and unpolished – just to get something out there. I’ll probably get a bit philosophical as I fly solo and explore the topic of motivation and cycling.

Listen below or on iTunes

In my last show I reviewed my new cyclocross race bike and with the season underway, my plan was to do a few Scottish cyclocross events.

I was suffering from a lack of mojo and hadn’t been training, but still thought that getting in amongst the racing would see my excitement come back. The SCX scene is so friendly and fun that you can compete whatever level you are at. That’s what I love about it, and I think mountain biking and  time trialling are the same. With road racing, if you are dropped, there’s always a sense of questioning whether you should be there in the first place – of whether you are ‘worth it’.

Don’t get me wrong, I did love road racing when I did it, but for me the main challenge, for about 3 years was getting fit enough just to hang in there. If you aren’t blessed with lots of talent, you do have to be pretty determined to keep training just to earn your place in the race. It was only in my next 2 years that I was able to take part in road races and crits, trying to make the move or the main split, doing a few attacks and actually being able to think tactically about when to ‘burn your matches’.

Then when I got the points needed for my category 3 license, all desire went – I knew I’d have to ride for longer to get to the next level and my time was lacking for that.

So that was where cyclocross came in.

Anyway, back to this year.

You remember that bike I was talking about? As featured in the last podcast, episode 10.

Well I had spent all my budget on the bike and a lack of spare wheels would end up being a problem.

In my first race this year, at Callendar Park, I got quite a good start, as I usually do, floating through a few gaps and getting past people whose nerves get the better of them. I feel like I usually make up 10 places at least off the start line, and this always really gets me fired up for the first half of the race. (Sometimes this comes back to bite me later on but never mind that) I was hoping that the actual start of this race would fire my motivation up for the rest of the season as a whole.

At about the fourth corner, you have a small hump and around a tree, with exposed roots and there are only one or two safe ways through it. In the bustle of riders at the start, you can’t choose your line and unfortunately I got a pinch flat on the rear wheel.

Race over after 2 minutes, and it’s looking like season over too – I just can’t summon up the will to get going again.

Normally I would just regroup and look to the next event, eager to get in to the season. so this lack of mojo led me to question things:

Why is it that I don’t seem to care any more?

The 3 main reasons I was giving myself were things like

– don’t have time, need to focus on my work and career

– don’t have time, need to give more time to my children

– can’t afford it, don’t want to get into debt to by cycling equipment

Now interestingly, all of these three things were things that I overcame when I was riding most weeks with my club and racing on the road.

I was settled in my work and put progression on the back burner while I pursued amateur sport. However, when times at the company got tough, I was in no position to up sticks and get anither job. When I wanted a move, it took over 2 years of looking before I got one.

Secondly I would balance training racing and home life, and thought I found the balance. I wrote blog posts about how you need to contribute properly at home, with chores and things and we had a humerous twitter hashtag for this. When the Big Ring Riding account, the velominati rules and the HTFU concept wee getting popular, we would tweet about #HHTFU. House husband the f up. The idea being that you had to work just as hard at home to “earn” your time on the bike. However looking back, there’s no doubt that I put strain on my relationship and did damage to it over this time.

Lastly the money thing. Cycling is a business- the tour is one big advertising cavalcade and even in the amateur ranks there are shop teams that bring awareness for the the small business owners that run them. It’s an expensive sport and the aspiration that the serious rider is sold, is one of keeping up with your clubmates, meeting fitness goals and race success. Now I never rode bling kit but I still ran up a few credit card bills that took quite a while to clear. This year I wanted to spend that money on learning new stuff for work, so my rule was to ride within my means as such and not rack up credit card debt on bike stuff. So when things break or wore out, as they can inevitably do, I wasn’t replacing and upgrading them at the drop of a hat.

The weird thing is, my view on cycling had changed. I was no longer desperate to be better or be faster. I though back to when I started road biking, in 2008…

Why do we do it in the first place?

In 2011 I interviewed Steve McCaw who set a UK veterans hour record at Meadowbank in 2011. It does to ask him why he’d put himself through that pain, but didn’t have the skills as an interviewer to get to the nub of things. He answered, something along the lines of “to understanding that you need to ask why we do sport at all”. It was one of my best pieces for The Drum Up but I didn’t go as deep s I would have liked.

Why I started road cycling in 2008 and why I started racing in 2009:

You could argue that I had become fascinated with the tour in summer 2007, after a couple of summer holidays in France. I had looked in the papers to find off season football news, but there is none in July. There was the scandal of Rasmussen and Vinokourov, blaring front page headlines.

But having had our first child in July 2008 it was an odd time to start a sport that demands a good number of hours of your time.

“it can be fitted in more easily than football”

“I can do it on my own, at whatever time is convenient” I said.

The real reason was that I wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of being a father and was looking for something to distract myself.

In autumn 2010, why did I volunteer for a one-to-one coaching programme in, when my wife was pregnant with our second child?

“It was a great chance to get free coaching”

“I was helping a dedicated club mate to get his Level 3 qualifications”

“It will help get to the next level”

“I’ll be able to make the most of limited time”

All of those things were true.

I was interested in trying structured training when many others preferred to grind out long hard miles. It did work, I eventually got some top 10s and my cat 3.

But really, it was madness – another big distraction.

My first race of the 2011 season was at Gifford, in early march that year.

Baby was born in 22 March – I might never have never lived it down -and my wife made it abundantly clear the risks I was taking to go off and race.

“If I just get it out of my system I’ll give up the racing and focus on family” – this much was true.

Although in 2014 and 15 I went over to cyclocross, unwilling to let the racing bug go entirely.

“It’s a shorter event, the training demands are lower.” True

“You spend less time away on race day.” Not really true when you factor in practice laps, warm up, post race banter and bike cleaning.

I’ve enjoyed cyclocross in as much as you can compete without as big a commitment.

But this year my priorities have shifted.

It has been a combination of work taking g priority, not being willing to spend the money and another important thing.

As my kids have got a bit older I have felt the need to be there for them for all sorts of little things. To give my love to them fully if you like. Something I was probably afraid of before. I just haven’t felt the urge to rush off and run from those fears (or, ride away from them).

So there you have it. Deep and philosophical for this show, I hope you haven’t run a mile.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – please add a comment!

  • nicknorco

    Our timelines in the sport are virtually identical. I find it a demanding activity in terms of time and money and I would say my dedication has levelled off. This is partly due to changes in life and partly due to having reached the limit of my abilities. My motivation to get out on the road has lessened as a result, especially when the weather turns. A few short years ago I would have been out in all weather but not now. I’ve done most of the events I wanted to do and people have moved in and out of my sphere. And how I want to spend my time overall has changed. What’s left is something to be pursued in moderation for fitness and fun, and more balance in my life. It took a while to get over giving myself a hard time about the change in motivation but I’m good with it now. And if I get inspired to do something more with it down the road, that’s good too.

  • Anthony Robson

    I may have an essay coming your way. Need to think about it a little more…

  • Christopher Philipson

    Sounds like its time to get a real bike – and try mountain biking again! 😉

  • Donald Auld

    I can understand why cycling has lost its interest to you what with the cost and time needed to compete at a level that you want to be at I cycled in a time when the cost in time and money was a lot less i.e. I was single and the grand tours from europe were not on the t.v and the bikes were at a price I could afford. I rode road races and time trial but used the time trials to get my fitness up before the road race season started in those days clubs would have mid week time trials usually 10 mile and could get a time for 6 pence. On a another note the why did I cycle I live in Canada now and was back in Scotland in October and drove to Ullapool to catch the ferry I told my wife that I stayed at the youth hostel there and she could not get that I rode my bike here. I think back about the miles we cycled in training in all kinds of weather and the club drum ups on the loch every sunday how can I put it it was the kind of friend ship that I have never felt since, a great time and glad I had it

  • Thanks for the comment Donald, and I’m glad you got some time to ride the bike back in ‘the motherland’ to relive the old memories.

    The friendships you make from riding the bike are strong – it’s the time spent cruising along to chat that makes it. Not to mention the fact you have a shared passion with the person next to you.

    What was the loch where you had your drum-up and what club were you in?

  • Haha, thanks brother – cyclocross is drawing me back, and if I stop racing, the CX bike might not cut it for exploring local trails. I won’t rule out a return to MTB!

  • Be delighted to publish anything you’d send my way Anth. Your work is always thoughtful and well-written.

  • Thanks for the comment Nick, and I’m glad what I wrote resonated with you. I know you had a nasty injury a few years back too and that will always dampen the flame of enthusiasm a bit. I don’t think I’ll ever abandon cycling – fitness, friendship and exploring are the main motivators for me now. The latter two were the reasons I took it up in the first place – to get to new parks or explore housing estates a bit further away, with my friends, as a kid.

  • Donald Auld

    Hi Owen it was Glasgow united and our spot was near Inverbeg,
    other clubs had their spots on the loch and on Sunday nights you could see their lights making their way down the lochside so we would join up and there could be as many as 60 riders coming into Balloch as we neared Dumbarton the call went out “send out your fastest” and the best sprinters from each club would fight it out to see won the sprint to the cyclist rest at Dumbuck All this happened a long time ago when there were less cars on the road and I think we had it good back then. We used to go to Rothesay easter and september weekends for 3 days of races lots of great memories about those times. I came from a cycling family my father raced on the track I think it was called westhorn park near Parkhead this was back in the 1930’s long before your time anyway I have these memories and feels good to share them with a fellow cyclist Donald

  • I’ve read about those inter-club habbles back into Glasgow elsewhere. Sounds great! And I can imagine the roads were much quieter and safer back then.