I’m just back from a bike ride. I say ride but it was more of a slow death. We all have them, right? Those days when, however far you’re heading or however much you tell yourself things will improve, they just don’t. The Rapha Cycling Club slogan - glory through suffering - famously lauds this fact. But sometimes Ex Duris Gloria just doesn’t apply.
To understand the pain at the finish it is necessary to go back to the start. This day of inglorious suffering was my fault entirely. While trying to find a coffee shop on Google Maps in my home city of Manchester, my eye was caught by the name of a suburb I’d never heard of. Bradford.
My interest was immediately piqued because a good friend – also called Tom – lives in Bradford. Proper Bradford. The one people – in the UK anyway – have heard of. The one in Yorkshire, just west of Leeds. And with that, a message was sent and a plan was hatched for an entirely pointless point-to-point, A-B ride, from B-B. Bradford, Manchester to Bradford, Bradford.
Tom is a self-confessed yes-man. Not in a pushover sort of way but more a Short Walk in the Hindu Kush sort of way.
The exchange went something like this:
Me: “Fancy riding Bradford-Bradford in March?”
Tom: “Of course, Tom.”
Suggesting anything outdoors whether on two feet or two wheels, if Tom’s free, he’s in.
- Partly because he’s an outdoors photographer and writer who counts such things as work.
- Partly because he believes in the power of saying yes.
- Partly because he’s super fit and can handle just about anything on two wheels or two feet.
This list is both a gift and a curse.
Points 1 and 2 are joyous. We unequivocally all need friends like this.
Point 3? More nuanced.
On good days, on good legs, a super fit friend is a motivator-deluxe.
On the bad days when you barely lay eyes on their face for hours on end they become part super-domestique, part super-tormentor.
When all you see is their calves, pedal stroke technique and bib short derriere logos, the super-fit friend is a more complex relationship.
You love them for their endless capacity to take the wind and hand you sweets, yet there’s a part of you that loathes how easy they make it look.
The cycle becomes a cycle.
You try stopping for a bag of chips. The salty goodness helps but the pause is only a stay of execution. Soon you’re going up again. The canal paths have made way for chunky bridleways and singletrack. It’s beautiful and there should be glory in this suffering. But alas, not today.
In the end, this love-hate meeting of mates comes to an end.
After seven hours of riding across the Pennines, linguistically we were back to where we started.
Physically? We were diametrically opposed.
One of us looking like he’d ridden nowhere.
The other like he had nothing else to draw on. No reserves left.
And with that, our shared story of glory in suffering splutters over its finish line.
The same names but in a completely different place.