“When did you first realise you weren’t a beginner anymore?”
It’s a question I posed to my coworkers at Bicycling, many of whom have been riding and racing for multiple decades, at elite levels, across staggering distances, possibly uphill both ways in the snow. – By Caitlin Giddings
I expected my inbox to be flooded with inspiring anecdotes; tales of triumph and woe; or at the very least, smug hot takes on when it’s OK to start caring about insider stuff like VO2 Max.
But such was not the case. “Oh, I still feel like a beginner almost every day,” was the almost universal, almost completely BS response.
While I admired the humility, based on how many times my colleagues have teased me about my sock height alone, I knew all that self-effacement was completely false. So I pushed back, and eventually they coughed up a few earnest responses.
In many ways, they’re right—it’s great to never lose that wide-eyed rookie sense of discovery and fun. But it’s also pretty cool to see those little glimpses of progress along the way.
If you’re anything like us, here’s how you might have guessed you were starting to get a handle on this whole bicycle-riding thing, no matter how much chain grease might be stamped across your calves.
- You feel truly comfortable riding in a group, and instinctively start to know what to do when adapting to a new one.
- You can grab for a water bottle without consciously thinking about which hand to use.
- You’re able to ride at the front of a pack to control the pace and shepherd other riders.
- You’ve become aware of the gearing you are in without looking.
- You notice yourself shifting to a tougher gear right before standing out of saddle to keep the same pace and avoid slipping back.
- You’ve gotten enough bad mistakes out of the way that you’re actually starting to learn from them.
- When you’re at a traffic light, clipping in or out no longer causes a panic attack.
- You no longer feel you have to hammer to prove yourself when it’s your turn at the front of the pack.
- You can change your own flat, even if it remains your least favorite aspect of cycling.
- You’ve stopped being that person who always has to borrow a mini-pump and spare tube in the middle of the ride.
- You can go to a shop and explain what’s wrong with your bike in real words and not just by making the noise it makes when you stand up.
- You’ve started handling basic bike maintenance at home.
- People start coming to you for advice. You take someone to the bike shop to get their first bike. Your friends start asking you what bike to buy for themselves or their kids.
- You’ve gone from riding in shorts and not caring, to obsessing over how you look in spandex, and back to not caring what you wear for a ride.
- You still get “Cat 5 tattoos” from your chain, but you’ve stopped minding because it probably just means you have big, rad, muscular calves.
- You’ve finally got a handle on that mountain-biking loop with all the log-overs and rock gardens that used to terrify you.
- You found yourself riding smarter, not just stronger, in races—and using strategy instead of brute strength.
- You mastered packing your jersey pockets for rides of any duration or difficulty.
- Layering for a ride in inclement weather became automatic at some point.
- You made it farther and farther up that long, steep climb that used to seem impossible.
- You manage to ride home safely from the store with a case of beer balanced on your handlebars.
- Your heart rate goes up when you see someone hating on cyclists on social media.
- You blow your first snot rocket without hitting yourself or anyone else with friendly fire.