Not So Bad

VecchioJo goes on about suffering, again.

by VecchioJo   March 6, 2012  


Everybody needs to suffer, to make suffering easier.

When you’re pedaling along and your hands are so cold you can’t feel when you’re pulling the brakes on, and you can’t tell when you’ve changed gear, or even change gear. When you think you’re pedaling but it’s only by looking down at the revolving lumpen bricks of ice that you can tell.  When you’re bonking deeply, empty cold and sweaty shivering on a Summer’s day, no water in your bidon and no food in your pockets and only lustful thoughts of what might be in the fridge at home to spur you forwards for the next hour. When all you can see is the back wheel in front of you, stuck there sucking up the refreshing puddle spray not quietly waiting for the right time to jump but in the tunnel-vision of silent desperate fear of what would happen should the elastic snap. When the sleet is smashing sideways, finding the gaps in your clothing and ripping into any exposed flesh and you still have 25 headwind miles and two hills to go it helps to have an extensive back-catalogue of when things have been worse to encourage you to just keep pedaling. When lying down in a ditch and falling asleep seems a cosy option you keep going, because you have suffered more.

Everyone needs a Rolodex of bad experiences they can flick through to put their current misery into context and just carry on because it has been worse. It’s always been worse.

Is this as bad as that day in the Pyrenees, excitement about climbing in the snow quickly vanishing after the summit when snow-melt splashing up from the road numbed your toes, and then your feet, and then froze your calves, and when you started to loose feeling in your knees it got a little bit worrisome. Having to sit in a café warming up with hot chocolates just to make it the 15kms home. No? Shut up and keep pedaling then. Just keep pedaling.

Worse than that time you were descending an Alp, escaping from a sudden rainstorm out of a blue sky at the top, summer clothes and a lightweight rain-jacket not quite adequate, your entire body shivering so hard it was transferring a dangerous speed-wobble through to your bike, but you knew that if you could just make it to the warm valley bottom you’d be fine. No? Man the fuck up and keep going.

Is it as bad as that time, after a long day in the saddle you were bonking your tits off on the last switchback climb of the day, in the rain, when you had to stop on one corner to neck an energy gel only to have to stop at the very next hairpin a few hundred metres further on to devour your final last gasp emergency French supermarket cereal bar. Is it worse than that, winching up a never-ending col in the stair-rod rain hollow to the core? No. Stop bloody whining then and just keep pedaling.

Once in a while, just once a while, a ride insidiously works its place onto the list of those you’ll look back on and ask “Is the misery and pain I am going through now as bad as that ride back then?” And you’ll reply to the feeble voices with a stoic “No” and you’ll carry on, just like you had to do that miserable day.

Suffering is easy.

14 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

'Bonking your tits off' eh? Lyrical as ever Smile

Martin Thomas's picture

posted by Martin Thomas [624 posts]
6th March 2012 - 23:14


I constantly see the word 'lose' spelled as 'loose' and I wonder if it's bad spellcheck or if it's just British English spelling differences. Any thoughts? The passage in this particular article is in paragraph 4: "...when you started to loose feeling in your knees...". Thanks

Pepita rides again!

posted by pepita1 [193 posts]
7th March 2012 - 10:18


It's bad spelling. Just like when you loose color(!) in your skin whilst riding your aluminum(!) bike. Devil

posted by mbrads72 [158 posts]
7th March 2012 - 10:22


lovely, a litany of suffering does help, plus a bit of Joe Simpson like grit.
next hairpin, can you make it to 10mph, no stopping, keep pedalling

Cannondale CAAD10, Condor Terra-X and an orange Brompton.
Ride for East London Velo

zzgavin's picture

posted by zzgavin [208 posts]
7th March 2012 - 11:35


how did you know i think about the contents of my fridge to get me through a tough ride - spooky Surprise

posted by matt637 [52 posts]
7th March 2012 - 13:53


Wish I'd read this before last Sunday! Big Grin

Things got easier when I smiled, even though the hailstone was stinging my face, and my hands/feet were so numb that when I tried to switch chainrings, I got my middle finger jammed between the gear and brake levers, and had to wrestle it free on a descent! Smile

To paraphrase Fat Face clothing, rather a bad day on the bike than a good day at the office.

EDIT: I also told myself to #5, many times.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3723 posts]
7th March 2012 - 17:38


How did you know I'd descended Tourmalet in the freezing fog in shorts and a short sleeve?! Never been as scared on a bike in my life, the shiver-induced speed-wobble is intense!

posted by mb429 [76 posts]
7th March 2012 - 20:19


Deep in a bonk all I can fantasise about is the heavy duty contents of a plate in front of me. Contents of the fridge is too theoretical, too distant, as there's more time and work to be done to convert the frigid contents into hot bacon, eggs, chips, anything else which will sizzle in grease. And three mugs of tea obviously. Right there, in glorious steaming technicolour, right in front of my eyes. Since mobile phones were invented, of course, if your fingers are still functioning you can ring home and offer money, and beg, anyone who's there to have it on the table when you fall through the door. What follows is one of the most blissful experiences offered by cycling.

posted by bikeylikey [194 posts]
7th March 2012 - 20:32


The panicked look on my girlfriend's face....."What's wrong?! What's wrong?! Are you hurt? Did you crash?"

Me, pale-skinned and slurring, collapsing onto the sofa..."No, I ran out of energy about 15 miles ago. Give me food!"

Plain Face

posted by wheelist [5 posts]
7th March 2012 - 21:37

1 Like

I don't think you can call yourself a bike rider until you have descended the Tourmalet in shorts and SS Jersey. It has its own climate. Like the day we left Argeles and it was 32 degrees, climbed Le Tourmalet, -5 snow and endless windchill at the top. Descending with hands and whole body shaking so much that you couldn't hold the bike up. Yep, tick, absolutely, been there. I cried I was so frightened.

My mate, the massive man mountain Dane, Der Kaiser Claus was cowering in a shop at the first town on the descent, shaking and looking like he was going to cry. What a day. That was the day I decided cycling would be my life.

Great story Jo

posted by roadiesean [74 posts]
8th March 2012 - 10:24


Awesome! Great post mate!

posted by Wookster [59 posts]
11th March 2012 - 10:05


I had the bonk on a 30 mile off road in Perthshire in winter (Blair Atholl Death Run- it was christened after our first venture)
...fording rivers past our waists with bikes hoisted above our heads..or used as a prober/crutch to prevent us being washed away in it's fast, icy flow....

....all I can say is that sheep was never closer to being skinned alive and it's fleece being worn a la '1 Million Years BC' style
...and it's blood used as a tasty thirst quencher......I'll stop there...

..then we did it all again the next winter... Thinking Thinking Thinking


The _Kaner's picture

posted by The _Kaner [642 posts]
11th March 2012 - 12:42


My Pyrennean descent of near death was on the Col d'Aubisque & Soulor - it was the week before LeTour and there was diesel leaching from the newly-laid tarmac, the surface was awash and I was shivering so much and hands so cold I could barely hold the brakes - I had shiver-induced speed-wobble which was a big disconcerting around the cirque with the big drop on the left - I came up behind a camper going through one of the tunnels and just had to blast down the right side at about 60kph into oncoming traffic.
I'd lost the use of my hands down the Soulor, leaving any braking to the very last moments to just grab and scrub-off speed and hopefully stay upright. It was the same point a couple of days later, in similar conditions during the LeTour that Brad McGee did a "Hoogerland" on the barbed-wire fence.

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [433 posts]
14th March 2012 - 22:17


brilliant piece of writing, sums up alot about why i cycle

ciaran335's picture

posted by ciaran335 [5 posts]
17th October 2013 - 13:19