I have been asked recently whether as a cyclist, I am disillusioned with respect to the current climate surrounding drug taking in cycling and whether this has had a detrimental effect in drawing more of the community into the sport. I have also been asked whether I enjoy my work with cyclists considering the duplicitous nature of some of the ‘Heroes’. In my role as a practitioner I often encounter members of the public who feel that this is going to close what has been a phenomenal chapter in the expansion of cycling into the mainstream of Australia’s sporting consciousness. I have decided to write a small discussion from the point of view of a cyclist, but also as a member of the growing number of Australians who are aligning themselves within the cycling industry and ultimately into all that this culture encompasses.
I returned to cycling around 6 years ago after a long absence. After working for a few years in the Sports Medicine field in New Zealand and spending most of my spare time skiing, I was coerced back into riding by a colleague when I returned to Australia. As most cyclists can attest, the initiation period was brutal and my fitness was sorely lacking. My motivation for increasing my fitness and condition was focused largely on enabling me to keep up with my peers. As time progressed, my enthusiasm for cycling increased as my knowledge of the intricacies and culture expanded.
Around this time, Australian cycling was returning to the back pages of the sporting news. A legion of Aussies were putting in incredible results around the world and motivating the next wave of talented prospects do the same. Whilst staying up late to watch the antics of ‘our boys’ overseas was eminently enjoyable, the desire to emulate these professionals never proved to be a motivating factor within my cycling. Ultimately the joy derived from watching the Pros in action was essentially an empathetic understanding (partially) of the suffering and effort required to perform on that level. However, I derive the same joy from watching the local grade racers punish themselves around a tight criterion track. Essentially we all suffer the same. We enjoy it, discuss it in detail, then go out and repeat it.
Now that many of our heroes have proven to be imperfect, this does not change the basis for my attraction to cycling. While I love watching the colour and pageantry of international racing and will always cheer home the Aussies, I don’t visualise myself as these icons when out on my bike. My motivation, as has been since I returned to the fold, has always been my cycling peers. I want to be able to keep up with my buddies, dish out some punishment of my own occasionally and then dissect the ride over numerous coffees. If anything, the ongoing saga regarding drug taking in cycling provides excellent material for discussion over my third or fourth coffee.
Recently it seems more and more Australians are getting into cycling. While many know a little about the culture, most are joining the ranks of the sweaty lyrca clad masses through the pressure and insistence of their friends and colleagues. Once they taste the lifestyle, health benefits and competitiveness of group riding, most are hooked. Recent online platforms such as Garminconnect and Strava provide further motivation and a social media experience most male cyclists would otherwise avoid.
These motivating tools override the disappointment related to high profile doping indiscretions Where some sports require cult figures and heroes to motivate and maintain the interest, cycling is essentially its own motivator. Many sports require us to be largely spectators taking vicarious enjoyment from pursuits we are highly unlikely to ever engage in whereas cycling gets us involved directly many times a week. Cycling isn’t just about the big tours, it’s essentially an ongoing mass participation event. It’s a contemporary fight club of sorts, where we can test our physical limits, experience pain, challenge ourselves and each other and yet provide a genuine social bonding experience as well.
This bodes well for cycling as the sheer inertia of the movement will attract more and more keen and able participants into the sport. Hopefully this will lead to a greater appreciation of the sport, the lifestyle and health benefits provided and begin to shift the paradigm with how we see road use and the role of cycling in the future. While I don’t expect a European change in the short term, we are already seeing gentle adaptation of amenities, roads and facilities to cope with this shift. Once participants start to spread around a larger and more diverse cross section of the community, inclusivity and tolerance will follow.
For these reasons and more I will continue to work and immerse myself in the culture of cycling. Cobra9 has now been in operation for over four years and each week I feel lucky to be involved within the cycling world. I don’t look to the stars of the sport to provide motivation and basis for the direction my life and work has taken, I look to the wheel directly in front of me, the cyclists who contacts us full of enthusiasm for their sport wanting to get a few more Watts of power or make their riding that bit more comfortable. Cycling in Australia will continue to grow and I intend to stay involved as long as I can.