Bike riding is a beautiful metaphor for life. You don’t have to be a bike rider to appreciate this concept, although it helps to be passionate about something and be able to see how it applies to your life. If you look hard enough you will notice people all over the world explaining life through the things they love.
A few years ago I was in a contemporary art museum in Vienna and saw an exhibition dedicated to the chair as a metaphor for the human body. With its legs, back and seat the artist easily transposed human character traits to a common household furnishing. When I look at chairs now I can also imagine what their personality may be.
Bikes too have personality but it’s not so much the form of the bike that I see as a metaphor for life but the combination or transformation that happens when a person mounts a bike and they operate as one unit, that’s where the metaphor kicks in. Sure the physical aspects draw a comparison- a seat, a frame and sometimes a mind of their own; but it’s the crucial wheels that allow you to roll through the bumps, enjoy the smooth, and get you in and out of the corners that life throws at you.
On a bike you learn how to take corners fairly early on in your career. There’s two simple reasons for this, firstly when you’re just riding along in the bunch and you keep sliding out in the turns you tend to not get invited along on bunch rides anymore; and secondly if you don’t learn how to corner in races you quickly get spat out the back and totally exhausted from having to chase to get back onto the pack after the dreaded elastic band effect. As the name implies when a pack of riders head into a corner they bunch up and then stretch out again like an elastic band. The first few riders who have smashed through the corner as quickly as possible sprint away as the other riders bunch up into the turn. You learn to corner fast or that elastic band eventually snaps and you end up watching the sprint finish from the crowd.
One of the best cornering “coaches” I had was Karen Bliss. Karen was a world class American racer who could corner fearlessly no matter what the conditions. Rain, shine, wind, concrete or bitumen that woman cornered as if her tyres were glued to the road. It didn’t matter if there were five or fifty riders beside her, when Karen entered a corner she was out of it as smoothly as if she was careening around the smooth banking on the velodrome. This in itself is ironic because one of the few times I saw Karen crash was on the velodrome when we were at the World Titles in Japan, where she crashed in the turn.
While negotiating the banking on the track was my forte, negotiating every other corner was Karen’s. I’m not sure whether it was because at one time we raced on the same team, or that we were very good friends, or maybe just her sense of self-preservation, but one day Karen took me aside and gave me two crucial tips on cornering:
1. Never touch your brakes in a corner; and
2. Find a good wheel and follow it through the turn- don’t lose that wheel.
In life, cornering coaches are harder to find. Sometimes when you least expect it you find yourself in a corner, or having to cut corners or maybe just trying to figure out how to turn the corner. As I get older and I hear talk of life corners it’s all too often in reference to disease or illness. In this past week I managed to come down with the flu. Being a self confessed germaphobe I rarely give myself the opportunity to get sick and so it was a fairly new experience to be flat on my back in a feverish sweat wondering how such small trackie lungs could possibly manufacture so much gooey stuff. I slept a lot and did a lot of positive visualization and I thought a lot about cornering. Getting through a sickness is like getting through that corner and so I adapted Karen’s advice. When you find yourself headed straight into that sickness corner:
1. Don’t stop there dwelling on how sick you feel; and
2. Find a positive “wheel” to follow out into wellness, a thought that gives you happy energy.
My positive wheel had a toned warrior princess unleashing some serious whoop-ass on phlegm monsters and here I am a week later ready to climb back on my bike. I’ve turned the corner and am still in the lead pack ready to win another day. So even when the corner feels like it will never end, know that it will and you will get through it as long as you don’t stop and you follow that wheel.
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