The wages of suf­fer­ing

For a pro cy­clist, pain comes with a cer­tain amount of fi­nan­cial gain – but what about the rest of us? The Velom­i­nati’s Frank Strack has the an­swer

Cyclist - - The Rules -

Dear Frank

The Rules seem to sug­gest we should suf­fer on the bike be­cause that’s what the pros do. Then I read an in­ter­view re­cently with a pro who said he doesn’t un­der­stand any­one want­ing to suf­fer on a bike who wasn’t be­ing paid to do it. I couldn’t help think­ing he had a good point. Rob, Southamp­ton

Dear Rob

At­las shrugged, and the skies fell. For an eter­nity he held up the heav­ens un­wa­ver­ingly. But for this mo­ment of weak­ness, they top­pled ir­re­vo­ca­bly to the ground.

With­out strain­ing the metaphor too much, I’m talk­ing about ‘will’. The will holds court over all other qual­i­ties of the hu­man be­ing. Strength, fit­ness, knowl­edge, in­sight: they are all sub­ject to our de­sire to achieve them. When the mind is strong, the hu­man body can achieve the unimag­in­able. When the mind is weak, we are like leaves in the breeze.

I’m not a re­li­gious man, but it’s in­ter­est­ing that every re­li­gion I’m aware of speaks of suf­fer­ing as be­ing a cru­cial rite of life – it’s uni­ver­sally con­sid­ered the cleans­ing force through which we de­velop as hu­man be­ings. In other words, suf­fer­ing isn’t some­thing we do to em­u­late the pros, and it isn’t even some­thing we do as cy­clists. Suf­fer­ing is some­thing we do as peo­ple. It just so hap­pens that cy­cling is an ex­cel­lent tool to help us un­der­stand its value.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cy­clist and suf­fer­ing is a funny one. Ours is a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult sport. There’s some­thing about the ef­fi­ciency of the ma­chine to­gether with the sense we’re some­how sus­pended weight­less above the ground that makes it pos­si­ble to ex­haust our­selves more com­pre­hen­sively than in al­most any other pur­suit.

Our lives have be­come very easy. We don’t have to hunt food, which is good be­cause I have ab­so­lutely no idea how to trap and kill a gluten­free taco. We also don’t gen­er­ally need to be on the look­out for an­other an­i­mal try­ing to kill us as their own food, so long as you don’t con­sider dis­tracted mo­torists as preda­tors. Even farm­ing and con­struc­tion have be­come rel­a­tively easy if you con­sider the state of those in­dus­tries 50 years ago be­fore heavy equip­ment stepped in.

We don’t re­ally know what hard work looks like any­more, and this presents the per­fect op­por­tu­nity for me to pose my Cat The­ory.

It’s based on the fact that every cat I’ve ever seen is highly strung and gen­er­ally acts like ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing shad­ows and dust, are out to kill it. This is be­cause cats are de­rived from li­ons and tigers and other badass an­i­mals that have a gen­uine need for a sur­vival in­stinct. Ex­cept cats now live in our homes, and their lives are de­void of any cred­i­ble threat. Ab­sent of that threat, their minds cre­ate pa­per drag­ons out of ev­ery­thing that moves to satisfy their ba­sic need to be on high alert at all times. In other words, their minds need a cer­tain level of stress in order to feel nor­mal.

Sim­i­larly, we as hu­mans have a ba­sic need to be in­tensely ac­tive. We were a hunt­ing and gath­er­ing peo­ple who roamed about look­ing for food and try­ing to in­vent new ways to stay alive. Even­tu­ally we grew tired of walk­ing all the time and set­tled down and be­gan to grow our own food, toil­ing in the fields in­stead of gath­er­ing.

That’s the gist of our evo­lu­tion, and if you keep fol­low­ing along the line, we’re now sit­ting at com­puter screens, typ­ing for sur­vival in­stead of chas­ing af­ter wild jack­a­lope.

Cy­cling al­lows us to suf­fer, so we may be­come once again more closely con­nected to our an­ces­tors. We use cy­cling to re­dis­cover the psy­cho­log­i­cal re­birth that cleans­ing our mus­cles with lac­tic acid af­fords.

I can un­der­stand why a pro­fes­sional cy­clist might not be so en­am­oured with suf­fer­ing. They did it for a liv­ing and I’m sure it be­comes tire­some just as any job might. Jac­ques An­quetil hated the suf­fer­ing that cy­cling brought him – for him it was purely a means to an end.

But for the rest of us, for me at least, cy­cling al­lows us to be wor­thy of our suf­fer­ing, to re­turn to our roots as hu­man be­ings.

Frank Strack is the co-cre­ator and cu­ra­tor of The Rules, and a high priest of the Velom­i­nati (for il­lu­mi­na­tion, see velom­i­nati. com). He is also co-au­thor of The Hard­men: Le­gends Of The Cy­cling Gods (£12.99, Pro­file Books)

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