Bike riding is fun. You know that already. For some of us, racing bikes is just as fun as riding bikes. The rush of pinning on a number, sharing conspiratory glances with competitors on the start line, and drinking the best tasting beer at the end adds another level to why we’re in the cycling community. But then comes the urge. The urge to get faster. Somewhere in there, riding around mid pack fails to satisfy you. You want more. You think about that dreaded word “training”, and decide to stop waving at fellow riders travelling in the opposite direction. It’s a terrible spiral. For those of us who live in the cycling mecca of the Front Range, we’ve lost a lot of friends down such a tortuous pathway. At some point, when you’re hammering straight past another awesome photo opportunity while struggling to stay attached to your riding ‘buddies’, you realise something is wrong. Really wrong. But it’s OK. There’s a balance to be found. Training to become a cool person who takes photos and still wins races is a difficult balancing act, and it takes way more dedication than just chugging the occasional protein shake and weighing out your quinoa every morning.
I started riding bikes as a young ‘un on the beautiful hills of Exmoor, in southwest England. Take a look at some of Jered Gruber’s lovely images if you want to know what this magical place looks like. The raging storms that flow off the Atlantic Ocean and over the coast mean that anyone calling themselves a cyclist needs to be dedicated. Rule number one of getting faster and staying cool: just go ride your bike more. The best photos are taken when the rain is travelling sideways, directly towards your lens. The roads are empty, you can stop in the middle of the road and get your shot just right. But most importantly, you’re outside getting tougher and stronger while everyone else is safely attached to their heart rate monitors.
You know that road twisting up the other side of the canyon? You don’t know where it starts, and you’re pretty sure it dead ends 1000 feet up a cliffside next to a rundown trailer and some dead pickups. But it might not dead end. What if it doesn’t? Go find it. Find out if it’s the best set of switchbacks in the entire county. Getting lost is the easiest way to become faster on your bike. The wrong turn at mile 60 will almost certainly earn you another cookie when you eventually run into a gas station.
Then there’s the game of capturing a scene that no one else has. Cyclists explore a lot, the hidden gems become less hidden, and the once unique view across the rolling hills becomes the go-to photo to prove you were outside on any given day. Taking a unique photo is a worthy challenge for anyone seeking solitude and new turns. I now live in Boulder County, perhaps the centre of the camera adorned cyclist. Every ride I go on, I look for a new shot, and that often involves riding higher and longer than anyone else on a given day. Finding a new perspective on your home town is reward enough for spending an extra hour in the saddle.
Photography and fitness go hand in hand. Don’t get lulled into riding a boring group ride in the illusion it will make you faster or stronger. Your own motivation will push you to travel to the places you haven’t been yet. The best thing about this wanderlust-induced fitness? It’s self perpetuating. Every extra mile covered on a snowy day in february is an extra 10 miles riding in the summer. Think of what you can do with 10 more miles of adventuring when the days are long and the evening shadows are casting beautiful golden light across the hillsides. Use your fitness as you wish. A summer of adventuring can be channeled easily into an autumnal weekend of suffering around a cross course. Or save it all up for the three day adventure ride you have planned.
Like the biathletes who lay down their cross country skis and steady themselves for the rifle shot, there is a transcendence that comes with taking a deep breathe at the top of a climb, raising your camera and capturing everything you love about cycling in a single shot. Ride on, rider faster, and take better photos. Here’s to 2015.