The partner of somebody involved in training & racing can sometimes feel like they’re playing second fiddle to a hobby and is often referred to as a ‘cycling widow’. It can be an occasional tricky situation, but managed correctly, it doesn’t have to be stressful, you’ve just got to see it from the other persons viewpoint sometimes, that means both of you! But often its a perception issue, your partners friends say that their fat, lazy, slob of a husband is always there, but that can mean they’re on the couch watching kickball, eating wotsits & drinking lager, while you are on your bike, keeping yourself in tip-top physical condition to make sure you’re there when you’re really needed.
Obviously, this is written from a slightly biased perspective, I’m a cyclist, as I cyclist I have also obviously attempted to encourage my partner to embrace cycling, it’s culture, it’s nuances, riding a bike for fun in all weathers, visiting ‘le Tour’ while on holiday, riding road bikes overseas in the sunshine, attempting a challenging bike touring holiday together. It’s all been done, as I expect most of you have tried, to lesser & greater success, my attempts have been relatively successful, there’s quite an in-depth knowledge of pro cycle racing imbedded in my partner now, her short-lived ‘club cycling’ enthusiasm drifted into club runs, perhaps the group we went out with were slightly lacking in skills and it didn’t quite feel safe enough, so todays rides are generally with me or occasionally solo rides very locally, i.e. local enough to walk home if there’s one of those punctures, a mechanical problem or a sudden change in weather.
I’ve been around cyclists all my adult life, so I’m very familiar with hearing many of the various problems couples usually experience when there’s cycling involved, not necessarily from my own partner. I imagine it’s quite different to the type of anti-social problems that a wife would experience with a football enthusiast, so many of these are probably unique to cycling.
- “There’s bikes everywhere!” This problem multiplies if you live in a flat or a house with little or no storage, but it’s going to happen every now and again, even if you have plenty of room and there’s a complaint about not being able to put the car in the garage (who puts cars in garages these days?). New partners probably don’t understand that you can’t just ride all year on one bike, partners who’ve known you for a while are starting to understand that you need a road bike, a training bike, a winter bike, a mountain bike, a cyclo-cross bike, a track bike, a time trial bike, a touring bike, commuting bike, plus spares, so you need to either invest in a smart storage solution or try to find bikes that will do a variety of jobs. For example, many modern ‘cross bikes come with a variety of bosses, so you can fit a rack, mudguards etc, and turn it into a multi use bike, but you’ll have to tell your partner that this will involve you spending more time dismantling & assembling bikes, so it’s a trade-off between cash & time spent on cycling.
- “That bike cost how much?” A bike isn’t just a means of transport, it’s a thing of beauty, it’s a machine that’s not just functional, it has to ‘look right’ too. It has to look balanced and elegant when it’s just sitting there going nowhere, it’s more than a bike, it also transforms you into that fast, elegant & balanced athlete that you imagine you are when you step over that frame, it’s part of you. This kind of feeling doesn’t come with a pound shop budget, unless you already are that classy über talented cyclist that we all dream to be, then you can step over a Halfords special and look cool, most of us mortals need all the help we can get, that usually involves carbon frames, deep section wheels & a Campagnolo or other high-end groupset. So this may come to a small fortune, but lets face it, let your partner know they are maybe quite lucky you didn’t take up motor racing or spend the same amount of money for golf kit, although I’m sure golfers don’t have problems with partners.
- “You out on that bike…. again?” Yes, you are, you’ve been doing this long before you met your partner in most cases, if not, and you’re a recent convert, then your partner has probably seen a massive difference in your physique, you’ll not have to convince anybody that it’s a good idea to do some more exercise. But don’t just leave and turn up at a random time in the future, you’ve got a pretty good idea of when you’ll be back, pass on that information, if you’re held up, text. You’ll find that a simple transfer in information can make all the difference and reduce stress for both of you in the future. If you’ve arranged to take the kids somewhere, make sure you’re back for that, some things are more important than cycling.
- “You hate those meetings, why are you going?” Sometimes meetings related to cycling are a minor pitfall in your enjoyment of the sport, the more involved you get, the more likely you are to be ‘invited’ (forced) into going to something that could have been sorted by an email. The thing about cycling meetings, is that unless you’re well above personable age and don’t ride a bike anymore, you’re not going to enjoy it. They are often the older gents only remaining connection to cycling, so are hugely valued by them, but to those of a more modern era, or who have experienced computers in the workplace, you’ll find that they are unnecessary complication and hark back to the bad old days when the only means of formal communication was a letter. So don’t necessarily set out to avoid them, do your bit, but you can sort things out with the other ‘young upstarts’ before you go and get things agreed quicker, this will help speed up your trip back home. Try not to moan too much when you get home and it’ll not appear like the waste of time you think it is.
- “It’s too dark/wet/icy to go out on your bike!” This is an attempt to create a safety issue regarding your cycling, but the opposing risks of heart disease, beer bellies, and premature ageing, mean that there’s a much bigger risk in not cycling. Lets face it, we live in Scotland, if we waited until it was daylight, it wasn’t raining, or the temperature had risen a little, do you think you’d ever go out? This isn’t really a valid argument for our country. So weigh up the health advantages of cycling, against the perceived risk factors, which are actually incredibly low in real terms, if the worst comes to the worst, get attached to that turbo trainer, if nothing else, it’ll make you more likely to choose cycling outside in future.
What if you didn’t cycle?
It really is a case of looking at the advantages & disadvantages of cycling, I’ll just run through a few.
In most cases it’s beneficial to both partners to have (at least) one who cycles. In most cases it’s the male who cycles, as cycling is still heavily weighted towards being a male sport. On average women live longer than men, so living a healthy active lifestyle involving a bike is going to even that up, you’re probably going to have more time together as a result, it’s up to yourselves to decide whether or not that’s a good thing.
An active parent provides a good role model to offspring. We see on telly programmes that the fat parents they like to show, often have fat children, who live sedentary lives and eat almost nothing but chicken/horse nuggets & chips, along with a diet soda, often while multi tasking, playing on a games console, or watching other fat role models on the telly. It’s a vicious circle, the rising obesity levels along with the projected obesity levels are quite shocking. You can easily teach your offspring that a sedentary lifestyle isn’t the one for them, if they see a parent actively involved in an athletic ability, they are more likely to get involved in an athletic ability.
Diet, where do we start, if one partner cycles, both partners have a healthy diet, in much the same way as if one partner diets, both partners have a restricted calorie intake (but we increase ours don’t we, we cycle for gods sake). As above, your whole family gets something from this, when you’re you read labels more & as long as it doesn’t become obsessive you eat less salt, sugar and other things that should be restricted for a healthy lifestyle. You learn to cook properly, you eat more vegetables, you drink less as you’ve got to be out the door early on Sunday morning. The need to cycle means you need a better & healthy diet.
Cycling forces non-mechanical individuals to become proficient in basic skills that they had no aptitude for previously. Imagine the scene, you’re out on a group ride, it’s raining and almost sub-zero, the new rider out with you punctures, you all wait and you want this fixed as soon as possible so you can get back on your way at the time you said you’d be home. It quickly becomes apparent that this new rider hasn’t even got the basic skills to take off his rear wheel, let along replace a tube efficiently. The group gets more and more annoyed, the new rider is suitably embarrassed and eventually allows the large-handed group hardman to do the job and get everybody moving. In 99% of cases, the new rider is so suitably embarrassed by this episode, that he goes away and doesn’t come back out until he can do the job himself in what he’s consider a reasonable time. This skill gives them more confidence and they start working on their own bike, changing parts & cables etc. But the initial prompt for these new skills was public embarrassment, there’s a lot to be said for what public embarrassment can do to change an individuals behaviour. This new-found skillset also leads to other enhanced skills, a greater confidence in how things work, which transfers itself across to ‘jobs around the house‘, so from a humbling experience out on the road, becomes an aptitude for DIY, it’s a well-known benefit of having a cycling partner.
Knowing people! There’s not many other sports that have such a wide variety of people involved in them, with cycling it’s going to be difficult to find somebody there who doesn’t either have a skill, or know somebody who has & can recommend them. Be it a bike friendly holiday venue, plasterer, car mechanic, electrician, plumber, welder, graphic designer, roofer, builder, medical advice, tree surgeon, etc, I’ve met all these highly skilled people in cycling clubs and that has benefitted myself & others around me. It’s also a case of you helping others with your skills & knowledge, the transfer of information, advice & access to talented people is huge in cycling. When I asked my wife what she thought about the best things about having a cycling husband, she said, “you’ve not got a big fat arse & you know all these people who can do all sorts of stuff”. Cycling expands your horizons beyond your comfort zone and allows you to meet some incredible people, just ask the guy you don’t know that well riding next to you on a group ride a few questions, I assure you you’ll be amazed!
Cycling is normal
Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, cycling is normal,with the recent successes of British cyclist, everybody’s hero Chris Hoy, the vast numbers of people taking up cycling, it’s almost at a point where it’s acceptable. This has other results, everybody ends up knowing somebody who rides a bike as it rises in popularity, so they tend to take a greater regard of cyclist while they’re driving their cars, in case it’s their pal they’re acting dangerously towards. As cycling increases, so does cycling awareness, facilities for cycling, bike paths, etc. So get your partner involved, start out on traffic free cycle routes, there’s probably a Sustrans route near you. You can all enjoy cycling, just don’t keep it closed off from those around you and encourage everybody to have a go. The down sides are minimal, but there are many hugely positive aspects to it, so balance your life and keep riding your bike, it benefits everybody.