Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes
It’s natural for us humans to emulate those we look up to. In fact, it’s part of how we learn. As a kid, I’d watch surf videos and daydream about what it would be like to be as good as the dudes in the movies, traveling the world in search of waves. It’s also natural for us humans to compare ourselves to one another through competitions of one sort or another and eventually my friends and I started taking part in local surf competitions.
Now, I was never a very good surfer and I was consistently outmatched in competitions, my dream of being a jet-setting surf ambassador dying a little with each loss. Still, the combination of emulation through watching and expansion through competing made me better. Not much better, but when you start at the bottom, there is only one way to go.
I’d like to say I grew out of this watching and emulating as I got older, but I didn’t. Now, instead of surf videos, it’s the mountain bike downhill world championships and now, like then, I try to channel the pros on screen when I’m riding (emphasis on the word try). This applies to road rides as well. Pondering what it must feel like to ride in the peloton during the Tour de France, or one of the brutal, cobble-strewn Spring Classics. Maybe even stand up and try to “crush” some of the rolling hills in my suburban Pennsylvania town. Legs burning, heart blowing up; this is what the pros must feel like topping out on Alpe d’Huez! Perhaps it’s delusional, but I love a good daydream.
Eventually, a friend talked me into doing a mountain bike race, promising donuts if I showed up, a good incentive for anyone with my physique. It was a small local deal with a total attendance of about 200 people. It was fun and challenging and I failed miserably, just as I had done at the surf competitions all those years ago.
Yet, while I was pedaling hard enough to coax the Bavarian Creme I’d eaten pre-race to make its way to the back of my throat, I was channeling riders whom I’d seen on television. I was Steve Peat, or Lance Armstrong, or whoever, pushing myself beyond the normal, trying, in my own limited way, to be better.
The main take away was this: I could ride trails I was familiar with in about half the time that I’d normally ride them and could clear obstacles I normally had a hard time negotiating because I was doing them at speeds I never would have thought to explore on a casual ride. The experience of racing expanded the horizons of my thinking about riding bikes and made me slightly better for the effort.
As a parent I’ve tried to instill this lesson in my kids, encouraging them to compete in the things they’re interested in, whether it’s the school art competition or a kids mountain bike race. Simply putting yourself out there and testing yourself can expand your own self-image and prompt you to greater things. It’s not about winning, it’s about doing.Tweet Print