You do it to yourself, just you - what’s the point of cycling up and down hills?

September 15, 2016

Normal people use bikes as a means of transport, a convenient way of getting from A to B. Bikes are a fantastic form of transport, especially in big cities - fast, free, environmentally friendly, good for your health (most of the time). But some of us ride for the sake of riding, getting on a bike and going out for a ride in a big circle, perhaps even going out of our way to find hills to climb. What’s the point? Why do we put ourselves through it?

Sometimes on a ride you’ll feel like you’re in a world of pain and misery, wishing you knew a shortcut home, or cursing yourself for thinking that planning a route with this many hills was a good idea. Like an alcoholic saying this will be their last drink, you might think about giving up and finding another pastime. But you keep going. You keep turning the pedals, in spite of your body telling you that you don’t need to be doing this.

Some hills, like Butt’s Brow, are purely for masochists: steep and winding dead end roads, without even that much of a view at the top. After you’ve slogged your guts out getting up there, your only options are to go back down the way you came up, or to have a rest and then ride back down. How can that be fun?

But then there are roads like the one from Beachy Head to Birling Gap, glorious swooping descents with beautiful views, where you can pick up a bit of speed, and restore your faith and hope. And there’s a café at the bottom where you can look out to sea with a piece of cake, refill your bottle, and get yourself ready for the next hill.

I can’t claim to be a hardcore cyclist, unlike some people I know, but I do like getting out on my bike. I do a bit of running as well, and have been wondering about the difference between cycling and running. Do they attract a different kind of person? What goes on in the mind of a cyclist, and how does it differ from the mind of a runner?

Cycling, at least for me, generally involves more intense suffering, sweat stinging your eyes as you convince your legs to keep pumping to get you up the last few hundred yards of a climb. On the other hand, you also get a chance to have a bit of a rest when you’re rolling down the hill with the wind in your face.

By comparison, running is just unrelenting - you have to keep going, putting one foot in front of the other for as long as it takes. For a long time, I didn’t really see the point of running. It seemed boring - you couldn’t go far enough to see anything or get out into the countryside. More recently the penny has dropped for me with running.

Both activities require mental strength as much as they do physical strength - at an amateur level, the most important skill seems to be the ability to persuade yourself not to stop.

There’s a beautiful simplicity to running. While getting into cycling often involves spending silly amounts of money on beautifully-engineered objects, you’d have to try quite hard to spend lots of money on running gear. Sure, you might be suckered by some pseudo-science about wicking materials, but what do you actually need, or want, beyond a shirt, shorts, and a pair of good shoes?

Perhaps the most important difference between cycling and running is about refuelling. I’ve never heard of anybody taking a break in the middle of a run for coffee and cake, and for that reason I’ll probably always be more of a cyclist than a runner.