How do we measure these things? Who gets to decide how these things are measured? If we are observing a pair of imaginary hamsters running on hamster wheels, how can we judge which hamster is better, faster, stronger? Is the hamster who moves the wheel fastest the fastest hamster? Or is the hamster who stays on the wheel the longest actually faster in the long run?
What if we measured in terms of destination? The slow hamster that pedaled all the way to the moon was faster to the moon than the lazy hamster who quit, right?
I've noticed while climbing hills lately, (check out my new club the felony flats hill killerz), that some riders go much faster down the hills than up, and vice versa. Which counts as faster?
What about e-bikes? Are they faster in the way that counts on two wheels? They often pass me but I can sometimes beat them, does that mean I'm fast?
How about cheetahs? You can be the fastest cyclist in the world and still get caught.
When females of the human species are referred to as the weaker sex, who is doing the talking? Is proclaiming superior strength an indication of weakness in itself? Where does mental fortitude fit into the picture of strength and how much mental fortitude does it take to exist on a planet where half of your species is allegedly superior to yours?
Why aren't women allowed to compete in the Tour de France? Normalizing exclusion of half of the population from top level bike races may have led to the alleged poorer performance that is used as an argument from continuing to bar women from competing in this and other grand tours. I was debating this on facebook recently, and a (male) friend tried flattered me while claiming men are stronger:
"You are one of the toughest people I have ever met, on the bicycle, male or female. But men, just by nature of being male, have an advantage."Men do not have a "natural" advantage, they have a "cultural" advantage. When women are systematically excluded, they don't exceed their male peers.
Puzzling over these questions, along with coming to terms with my aging body and potentially declining performance, I've been mesmerized by social media posts from riders kicking ass in every segment of the sport. Man, does it make me jealous. I don't covet my neighbor's possessions, I covet their fitness. I've come to realize, I don't even really covet their fitness, I covet their speed.
Measuring bike speed by comparing ourselves to other riders is a perfect metaphor for life. Competing at life and comparing yourself to others won't make you happier, faster, or better, it'll just make you feel jealous.
In my own quest to be happy (I mean fast), I've learned a few strategies. One is to roll out with the leaders, at the start of the ride and after every regroup, always ready to saddle up quickly. Averaging 22mph is great, but if you take 10 minutes to put your helmet and gloves on, you're getting dropped. Information (about speed) is power. It's easy to go one mile or two miles per hour faster than your current speed, but it's harder to accomplish that if you don't know your current speed.
I am not alone in my struggle to understand speed. My friend Jan, who first encouraged me to lead rides, shared her story with me.
Jan's Story - Speed, Like Everything, is Relative
When once you were perceived as fast by your friends, they may continue to consider you fast, even though you’ve slowed down. Before my husband Bob's crash*, I was fast. After the crash, I still biked, but I was paralyzed with fear at every intersection. I dropped my speed because I simply couldn't think or read situations without difficulty.
After getting over that initial fear of being hit, the bike became my safe place to be alone as I commuted back and forth to the hospital. I needed that time, and found myself slowing even more to extend the solitude. A year later, when Bob finally came home from the hospital, I stopped biking and became his full-time caregiver. After five years, Bob got a toe-hold on life beyond severe depression and grief at losing himself and his ability to walk. He started biking on a loaner trike. We rode very gently a few days a week in nice weather. I was grateful that we could ride together again. It was good for us.
We needed cruiser rides in our bike club: shorter, slower, flatter rides that Bob could enjoy. I started a casual ride series and our friends were very supportive and came out to ride with us. Meanwhile, although a caregiver life isn’t full of free hours, I began to ride occasionally with some of the moderate riders while Bob stayed home. He was doing better.
My friend Britt and I had been teammates on Race Across Oregon several years before Bob’s collision. She was still riding steadily, and of all my friends, she had the hardest time realizing that I wasn't choosing my new slow pace and inability to climb a hill like in the good old days. Britt and others just saw was that I biked a lot, as I was developing a commuter life-style. If you've been walking daily for several years, that’s great, but you aren’t ready to run a marathon. That's where I am now.
Many of my friends have quit riding. I’m grateful for the wonderful new friends I’ve made, but miss the old ones because we shared years of experiences that will always bond us together. I'm biking again, getting stronger, and even a little bit…faster.
*Bob sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2007 when he was hit by a car in a Marine Drive crosswalk.
Out in the real world, the world of co-ed bike racing and endurance events, I've been inspired bythe victories and stories of Lael Wilcox', who set a Tour Divide record and won a TransAm (yes, a mere girl beat ALL the boys!). There are lots of other stories of females exceeding when we're given the chance to. My hope and wish and dream is that future generations can get a chance to be inspired by women athletes, and by women participating in grand tours like the Tour de France.
In the meanwhile, I'm going to ride as fast as I can.