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Do you ever feel like you’ve been doing something for so long that you should know what you’re doing, but still don’t?
I feel like that. A lot. Especially when it comes to cycling. I think they call it imposter syndrome, but it’s bananas uncomfortable.
I learned to ride my bike as a kid, but didn’t really “cycle” until I signed up for my first Super Sprint triathlon in 2008. I didn’t have a bike at the time, so I borrowed one. Thankfully, it was a short bike course (10km/6.2mi), because if it was any longer, I don’t know if I could have finished. I was in shape – that wasn’t the problem. I wasn’t in cycle-shape. I didn’t get on a bike again until I moved to Ohio in 2012, where I finally bought my own bike (shout out to the Ohio City Bike Co-op – if you have a co-op near you, you should definitely check it out). I bought it used, named it Sport, and fell in love. With Sport, that is, not with actually riding.
At the time, I coached, volunteered, and worked for Team In Training, where I met who I thought were some pretty hardcore cyclists. These guys and gals would ride up to 100mi at a time, and sometimes 200mi over 2 days. This blew my mind. I started going on a few rides with them, completed a 78mi ride through the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, various triathlons (up to a half Ironman distance), and now have two different bikes and cycle at least twice a week.
But I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. I still feel like a newbie. I wonder if this is normal?! I try to learn. I watch videos, listen to podcasts, read articles, posts, blogs, books…. And yeah, I definitely feel like I am more experienced than I was in 2008 on a borrowed bike, searching desperately for the finish line after 6 miles, but I still get nervous. Nervous to ride outside. Nervous to use my bike that has clip in pedals. Nervous to plan routes. Nervous to be around cars on the road. Nervous to change a tire. Sometimes nervous to air up my tires. You may be reading this and think I’m just a nervous person, but anyone that knows me will tell you that I’m actually not at all. I’m almost overly confident. Why is cycling so freaking different then? And, more importantly, what am I doing to tackle this imposter syndrome?
Well, I’m riding my bike, of course. I don’t think you just get over that feeling. There are always people that are better than you, that know more than you, and that care about things that you frankly don’t. I’ve noticed that a lot of cyclists and triathletes love to get into the nitty-gritty details of what gear they have, and I just don’t care about that. Most of my gear is used, not new or top-of-the-line, and most I genuinely don’t know what brand/type it is.
There are a couple of exceptions, because sometimes you do need to know. Like the size of your tire/tube. I’ve walked into a bike shop, asked for a new tube because mine blew, and was laughed at when I couldn’t tell them what size. If you are going to have to regularly replace it, you should know know it. Otherwise, you can decide to geek out as much (or as little) as you’d like. If you want to seem like you care to know, keep a list in your phone of your brands/sizes/etc. so you can pipe into conversations, or, maybe more applicably, tell the awesome people at your bike shop what you need/like/don’t like.
Next, I’ve utilized the people at bike shops. The first time I went into a shop, I told them honestly that I was a total newbie, was looking to complete a triathlon, with goals of becoming an every-day, year-round outdoor cyclist, and asked what pieces of gear they they thought were absolutely essential in my position. She recommended a trainer, shoe covers, good socks, a basic bike multi-tool, and lights for my bike. If you go this route, I recommend having a budget, and sticking to it. I ended up rating the recommendations in my own head from most-essential at the moment to less-essential for the time and only starting out with lights, good socks, and the tool (since I was riding outdoors 100% of the time at the moment), and then went back for an inexpensive trainer and shoe covers when the weather started to cool down.
In that same vein, I took my TT bike in to get a bike fitting this year. This was after, of course, I researched what a TT bike was. I do feel like that was a huge step – having a bike that fits correctly definitely makes the ride that much easier and comfortable. So that is one less thing to worry about while riding, and cuts down on the “is this supposed to feel like this?” questions.
Finally, I’ve set goals. I put aerobars on my bike a couple of years ago, but never used them (you know, nervous). So over the course of the winter, while I’ve been training on my trainer, I set time limits within my training sessions to stay in the aerobars. A lot of cycling isn’t comfortable because we aren’t used to being in the position for as long as is necessary. Build up to it. I want to be able to be comfortable in the aerobars when the weather breaks and I start riding outside. Because my next goal is tackling my fear of the clip-in pedals. I plan to use a closed, straight, level cycle path that isn’t too far from my house for my first few outdoor rides to gain the confidence before moving to the road, which is where I prefer to ride.
Practice may not always make perfect, but it does make permanent. I think part of the insecurity lies in the fact that there are so many things that go into cycling, especially long-distance cycling. Bike maintenance, tools, route planning, gear and other variables can give me that “analysis paralysis,” but sometimes, when I just do it, the weather is beautiful and the route is scenic, and I love to be on the bike. But shhhhh… don’t tell anyone. Because then they might ask me a question I can’t answer. I just hope that if I can keep on keeping on, I’ll at least feel more confident with every day that passes.