It’s every rider’s little dirty secret. I’m sure it’s the same theory for all activities, but for cycling deep in the back of every cyclist’s mind they secretly like to think themselves as being ‘hardmen’. Some just think it, others are quite overt about it but either way it lingers there, simmering under the surface.
I’ve been lucky to know some real hardmen (to be clear, by ‘hardmen’ I do not mean pros who race – they are a different breed entirely). They put me into perspective at that point when it was easy to think that because I was riding a lot – and I do mean a lot – I was…. well, you know, I wasn’t. The guys I knew, and later I came to understand as hardmen, were the nicest guys going. Unassuming. They had their really nice bikes and kit but understood the concept that expensive ‘combat gear’ should only come out when there’s real combat to be done. So of course, when you went riding with them they systematically pulled you apart on their second or third tier bikes. And after they pulled your legs off (because you were foolish enough to try and ‘take’ them on ‘that’ 5km climb), they would smile, buy the six pack, quietly teach you how and why you did it all wrong, then ask you to come riding again.
So to me, for everyone out there that rides a bike, 98% really live in what I call the ‘Schlumpf’.
What’s the Schlumpf I hear you ask? You live in the Schlumpf if…
a. You have a full time job
b. You are in a relationship
c. You have one or more kids
d. You have ‘other’ interests
e. All of the above
And of course there are symptoms of the Schlumpf that are common to all, regardless of how far or often you ride. Some of these include:
– Catching the head cold going around and not getting back on the bike for days or weeks
– Catching the all new strain of whatever it is from the resident young one(s)
– Being too tired from work to bother getting up in the morning
– Drinking that bit too much wine the night before to bother getting up and going riding
– Realising that getting up when it’s dark and 5ºC (or less) to go riding is a bit nuts
– Having to travel for work
– Having to work… period
There are a lot more of course but these are the main ones that come to mind; and almost everyone suffers from these symptoms in one way or another.
There are very few people I have known that have the relentless dedication to begin to even knock on the door to the world of hardmen. It’s not through lack of trying – it’s just that, for most people, ‘things’ (I refer you to the lists above) happen to get in the way of all the hard work they put in. You need to have a sharp edge to be able to knock at the door. Some do knock. Some even make the first steps past that threshold. Most, ultimately, end up being ushered back out as those ’things’ get in the way again and blunt that sharp edge.
And then there’s the offset. From everything I have seen, the world of the hardman is an austere, Spartan place. Not a life of thrill or lux. Not a lot of much, other than endless, relentless riding. It’s a never ending push to keep the edge honed and to live the life required to keep it razor sharp, all the time, is not one a lot of others out there understand. To be honest, it’s also not a world I think I’d want to live in.
Another word for the Schlumpf could be ‘life’. We all have one and it could be argued that to exit the Schlumpf to pursue being a true hardman one has to give it up, or at very least a good deal of it. And therein lies the ultimate decision.
So, the next time you are grinding up that hill, working at reeling in those riders in the distance and thinking you’re being a bit of a hardman doing it, ask yourself what you did last week or even last night. If you let your hair hang down once, slept past the alarm or stayed up to watch that movie on the tube, then your living the Schlumpf life. There’s nothing at all wrong with it, in fact some might say it’s the best of both worlds – but accept the fact, young Jedi, hard you are not.
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