Thursday, April 5, 2012

Arts & Crafts

People are often surprised to learn of my background outside of the cycling industry.  Tuba playing bicycle mechanic are not words that you would expect to hear grouped in the same article, let alone one after the other in the same sentence.  Most people find them incongruous.  The fact of the matter is, however, that they are incredibly related.  It may not seem like a cyclist and a musician can learn from one another, but I totally disagree. 

To absolutely understand this comparison, you need to understand exactly what goes into being a musician on a professional level.  Anyone you see on stage with a professional group has spent an obnoxious amount of time is a small white room, practicing scales, arpeggios, and every possible technique you can imagine.  The amount of time I’ve spent in these small prison cell-like rooms is staggering when I really think about it.  All of this time spent towards one simple goal: mastering the craft of playing an instrument.  Musicians work tirelessly everyday to become one with their instruments, so that when it comes time to perform, technique doesn’t hinder their ability to completely and perfectly express a musical idea. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? How many hours have you spent training, sweating on a trainer when you’d rather be doing something else?  Surely more than you would care to think about.  But here is the difference:  I find that more often than not, the motivating factors that keep these two groups working on their craft are not the same.  And not to make blanket generalizations about broad diverse groups of people (but to do exactly that), cyclists or maybe most athletes are very results orientated—race results, LT numbers, etc.—while musicians tend to be more motivated by less competitive motivations—perfection, other pretentious artsy concepts.   Aside:  I am well aware that this might sound really pretentious—but please bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

We, as cyclists, probably put too much emphasis on specific concrete results.  How many times have you heard about someone working towards an “A” race much of the season, only to have a disappointing result and declare the whole season a waste?  To be fair, setting specific goals is an extremely valuable tool for musicians and athletes alike, but our dependence on the validation that they offer us is usually unhealthy.  Try a more balanced approach.  Instead of thinking about achieving specific result orientated goals, think like a musician.  Try to master your craft.  Work on a daily basis to become a better cyclist—the results will follow. 

Just like the investment banker who sets the goal of making seven figures rather than becoming a better banker, the cyclists who focuses only on results will be left wanting when the time for personal fulfillment is nigh.  Empty goals equal empty souls. 

What are results anyway? What value do they have?  The only reason people want good results is that they are symbols of their ability as athletes.  They are ultimately meaningless.  In the grand scheme of life, winning the cat 4 crit at Lower Providence gets you nothing.  What it symbolizes, though, is that you are a good cyclist.  Better than your peers in fact—as evidenced by your beating them in some crit.  But winning is not the point. 

I think the reason that musicians, or maybe people in the arts more generally think this way, is that there really is no “winning” in the arts.  Well, maybe breaking even financially could be called winning.  The point being, though, that in a world filled with creative subjectivity, one of the only real benchmarks you can latch onto is your progress towards “your ideal sound” that exists somewhere in your head.  In our world of over analyzation, over wind tunnelyzation, and over carbonyzation maybe a little creative subjectivity is a good thing. 

Being a great cyclist is so much more than numbers and results, but we rarely give it that kind of credit.  Define clearly in your own mind what it is to be a truly great athlete and you will truly have a goal on which to hang your proverbial hat. 

Ride without your powermeter, simply concentrating on all the things you never think about when crushing an interval session.  Stay light on your bike, light on your pedals, and light on your concern about whether your heart rate is in your LT zone or sub-LT. 

Go to the shore and ride a beach cruiser with flat pedals, in jeans and a t-shirt.  Don’t worry about training in those wicked NJ crosswinds, just enjoy riding a bike.  We are constantly so wrapped up in our training schedule that we rarely stop to really consider what it is we are doing.  Riding your bike is fun. 

When I was younger, my entire day, outside of my time at school, would be spent out on my bike.  I had no care for how fast, how far, or what kind of wattage I was pushing—I rode just to ride.  I rode to explore new places and just become better at riding my bike.  That was it.  Be a better bike rider. 

Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that.  I would like to get back there—riding all day without really noticing anything but the road around me, the way it feels to be on a bike.  So for now, I don’t care about my LT.  I will race without a thought of where I would like to finish.  I will notice how beautiful the communities are wherever I am riding.  I will ride, not to win, but to be happy.  I want to just have some fun riding my bike, and you should too. 

Okay, I’m stepping down off of my soapbox. 

I want to devote a few lines to some general housekeeping things.  I wanted to take a second to follow up on some of our classics lead-out posts.  If you didn’t watch Flanders, shame on you, but if you did, you may have noticed that Boonen won his third Ronde aboard Zipp 303s—the wheels we featured in a review a couple weeks ago.  This is the third straight win for that wheelset.  They clearly mean business.  To get you psyched for Paris-Roubiax this weekend, I also wanted to post one of my all time favorite cycling movies,  A Sunday in Hell.  If you haven't seen this movie, make sure you watch it before sunday's race.

I also want to put a call out for questions to fill a regular Off the Rivet Q&A post.  Your questions can be anything from tech questions, to bike fitting, to culture questions, like when it is appropriate to wear your calve sleeves in public (which is rarely, by the way).  So submit your questions in the comment section below or send them to my email at  I’ll go through and pick the most intriguing questions (read: whichever ones I will sound the smartest answering) and answer them in a monthly blog post.  

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