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What you’re doing, it’s not suffering

We drag ourselves up and down hills for a few hours, half a day, nudge into the night, emerge out the other side. We ride from one side of the map to the other, wiggle across the country, span a continent, circumnavigate the world. Up to and beyond where vegetation can’t survive, through deserts, tilt at mountains in the rain, we get lost in the lanes and maybe get a bit cold, our water-bottle’s gone slushy look. And we take pictures to show the world how hard it is and how it was a massive struggle of both mental and physical fortitude and there’s a gritty determined face in black and white there and we tell stories full of bluster and heroic pomposity and every time we retell the tale in the warmth of the pub the account gets exaggerated just that little bit more. The hill gets higher, the rain gets harder, the cold stings an inch closer to the bone, there’s an untimely puncture that lathers on another viscous layer of misery that may have been lifted from another tale and merged in the fudge of memory.

Well done us. Well done for enduring the hardship and the struggle. Kudos. Unfortunately none of this is hard. None of this is actually a struggle, not one single grimace into the wind, it’s just mucking about and showing off. Strut and swagger in a comfortable world, a little piece of hollow chest thumping that occupies a few hours in our safe and easy and mundane lives. You smashed it. Hear the ‘Boom’ echo emptily round the valley. Maybe there is a positive to be found in that at least we’re outside doing something, and digging deeper maybe playing to a tiny nugget inside some of us that’s hard-wired to step up to the edge of the comfort zone and annoying what we find with a stick for a few minutes. Then maybe it’s just to secure the validation and adoration of our peers and grasp the air for some long lost attention; look at me, I did A Thing. Lie back on the couch, make yourself comfortable and tell me about your relationship with your father.

That two or three hours a week that you’re pedaling uphill into a bit of drizzle isn’t hard, that little adventure you have at the weekend before you load your five thousand pound bike into the back of the Audi with the heated seats and driving home to your hot bath in a warm house to a lovely supper prepared by your doting partner that you wash down with a couple of artisan beers before settling to fall asleep in front of Netflix isn’t a struggle.

The cycling lexicon seems to have become infected with the canker of suffering. It’s almost become a religion to some. Ex Duris Gloria steers a little too close to Arbeit Macht Frei for comfort, and also too close to Godwin's Law to continue this analogy. We pedal the local loop and the globe in search of self-inflicted anguish, or just stay at home in the garage, sorry, Pain Cave, and inhale it through TV screens and displays on the bars, and then download it to other screens so everyone can see our sufferface. Look at me, sweaty, look how I have Put Myself Through It.

This cult of Suffering has to stop. The word has become diluted and is now almost meaningless. We’ve already lost Epic - once something reserved for crossing polar landmasses on foot because there was no alternative it’s now used to describe home insurance, and a 60 mile bike ride. None of what you do is suffering. It is the tedious rhetoric of a mediocre pastime.

All of this is self-imposed self-controlled hardship. We can start and stop this any time we like, unclip, have a cup of tea. Sometimes we even pay to do this. None of this is hard. There is a planned beginning and end to these voluntary sticky situations, no matter how horrible it gets there is always a finish, a way out. A bit of unpleasantness for a short while. Not hard. What is hard is dealing with adversity we have no control over.

Let’s start with an easily relatable example, something we’ve all been touched by somehow or other - ill health. Let’s just pluck Cancer out of the air as an example, that's hard, we’ll agree there’s a bit of suffering in there yeah? You might have had the misfortune to see or even experience that pain. Cancer can’t be made all better by a nice hot bath and a roast diner at the end of the day, that thing that makes the strenuous effort of your bike ride worthwhile, your suffering earned that. You can’t rub gravy on a tumor. Cancer keeps on going regardless, it doesn’t just hurt a little bit the next day to remind you it was there. It doesn’t always get better. The suffering often strives towards a conclusion.

How about filling your water-bottle, sorry, bidon, with dirty muddy stinking diseased water that might give you a runny bottom or even kill you? Water that’s a ten mile bike ride away. That would certainly ramp up the suffering on your ride wouldn’t it? Lots of people have to do that every day just to get by. Every day.

Just making it to the end of the day basically alive, that's what’s hard. An awful lot of people have to cope with that and they’re not on instagram showing their strained faces. They’re not socially linking and comparing their suffering to friends to see who won at today. #malaria. They are getting up and doing it the next day though, and the next day, and the next day with no end in sight, no recovery days. That's a real struggle. Riding a bike isn’t a hardship so let’s stop with the narrative of torment that’s telling us that it is.

Imagine coming back from a nice cycle to find your house burned down, your children killed and wife violated, and not by people from the rival cycle club, that’s what suffering is, the sort of thing that would suddenly make your ride really hard, and not because the bath’s broken.

If your bike ride started when you had to leave your town because it’s been bombed to shit and you may have lost some of your family in the rubble and you have to pedal through several countries to escape until you can ride no further to knock on the border of a country that doesn’t want you, then that would be considered a tough ride. That would be suffering, real deep down life suffering, a little different and worthy of the word to gritty and unshaven lifestyle suffering.

This so called suffering is entirely of our own volition, we can stop doing this any time we like, we can avoid the hills, we can not go race, we can go the flat and easy way. We can stay comfortably home. Some people don’t have the luxury of deciding whether to suffer or not, it is our privilege.

If we had real hardships, proper life-changing adversities thrust upon us; death, disease, illness, poverty, oppression, tyranny, victimisation, any of the vague horrors that canter randomly across the world, hardships that the victims have no say over, the sort of thing that would really piss on your weekend, would we like a sticker about it? How about a nattily designed t-shirt? Nicely done limited art print? Probably not.

Enough of this ritualised and revered hurt by choice, the ego-massage oil of faux hardship, enough of this Rule 5 posturing and preening rubbish. It is just riding a bicycle. When you have to deal with real suffering all day, every day, you don’t get a t-shirt. Until then STFU. Shut The Fuck Up.

 

Maybe there should be a t-shirt.

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

75 comments

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6F2 [13 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Looking for an audience to share a perceived pain via an online platform is common to both the author and the riders in question. 

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davel [2722 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
unconstituted wrote:

sincere post would have been on why people engage in the cult of suffering. There was a curious point made to me by an older rider recently that the stronger riders have the worse problems off the bike. 

An interesting topic. In the case of the bloke in my club that I mentioned a couple of posts back, I suspect it's that he needs the rides, the club, the structure, the Sunday mornings. It's his church.

In the case of others I can think of, it's the other way round. There are instances of resources being devoted to the bike that should be being spent on families. I think I might be seeing one or two divorces brewing in slo-mo, and one divorcee will happily admit that he chose the bike over his ex-wife.

These are club riders, regional TTists and CXers, 3rd/4th cat racers: nothing particularly serious.

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Sniffer [664 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
davel wrote:
Sniffer wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:
Sniffer wrote:

Jo, I like your writing.

I know it is not an internet thing, but sometimes I wish people would say nothing if they don't have something pleasant to say.

I'm of course now wondering if you're referring to some of the comments here or the article...

I was referring to the comments.  Sometimes I like a blog, sometimes I don't.  When I don't I just generally fail to get to the end and read something else.  Which seems a more balanced response than some around here.

Maybe if I found it offensive I would take a different view, but I didn't in this case.  Maybe others do. 

Shit I am doing balance again.  I'll never get the hang of the forum comments thing.

I hope Jo carries on with this stuff. I disagree with or don't get a lot of it, but it's thought- and debate-provoking.

When a contributor posts something apparently (and I may have misunderstood) railing against general fakeness, the rules, 'suffering' etc, and it contains flammables like 'whatever you're doing, it isn't suffering' and 'STFU', there are going to be some strong reactions. It's surely predictable that people will
1 disagree;
2 think he's a hypocrite for posting at least twice about merely signing up for the TCR and then having a pop at the 'look at me/touristy' nature of cycling;
3 have had enough of his internal, existential ramblings;
4 don't understand that 'it's Jo, it's what he does' or that it's tongue-in-cheek, because we don't know him;
5 all of the above and others.

I'm in camps 1 and 2. I might be 4, but I wouldn't know. But I like the perspective and debate it gets going.

Would you sooner have it provoke merely gentle clapping?

No, gentle clapping wouldn't do it for me.

I am genuinely surprised that this piece did provoke such strong reactions though.  That it might generate some debate is good, but many of the comments are hardly 'debate'.

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fukawitribe [2837 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes
Sniffer wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:
Sniffer wrote:

Jo, I like your writing.

I know it is not an internet thing, but sometimes I wish people would say nothing if they don't have something pleasant to say.

I'm of course now wondering if you're referring to some of the comments here or the article...

I was referring to the comments.  Sometimes I like a blog, sometimes I don't.  When I don't I just generally fail to get to the end and read something else.  Which seems a more balanced response than some around here.

Maybe if I found it offensive I would take a different view, but I didn't in this case.  Maybe others do. 

Shit I am doing balance again.  I'll never get the hang of the forum comments thing.

Understand completely, not always the popular option is it ?  1

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fukawitribe [2837 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes
Sniffer wrote:
davel wrote:
Sniffer wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:
Sniffer wrote:

Jo, I like your writing.

I know it is not an internet thing, but sometimes I wish people would say nothing if they don't have something pleasant to say.

I'm of course now wondering if you're referring to some of the comments here or the article...

I was referring to the comments.  Sometimes I like a blog, sometimes I don't.  When I don't I just generally fail to get to the end and read something else.  Which seems a more balanced response than some around here.

Maybe if I found it offensive I would take a different view, but I didn't in this case.  Maybe others do. 

Shit I am doing balance again.  I'll never get the hang of the forum comments thing.

I hope Jo carries on with this stuff. I disagree with or don't get a lot of it, but it's thought- and debate-provoking.

When a contributor posts something apparently (and I may have misunderstood) railing against general fakeness, the rules, 'suffering' etc, and it contains flammables like 'whatever you're doing, it isn't suffering' and 'STFU', there are going to be some strong reactions. It's surely predictable that people will
1 disagree;
2 think he's a hypocrite for posting at least twice about merely signing up for the TCR and then having a pop at the 'look at me/touristy' nature of cycling;
3 have had enough of his internal, existential ramblings;
4 don't understand that 'it's Jo, it's what he does' or that it's tongue-in-cheek, because we don't know him;
5 all of the above and others.

I'm in camps 1 and 2. I might be 4, but I wouldn't know. But I like the perspective and debate it gets going.

Would you sooner have it provoke merely gentle clapping?

No, gentle clapping wouldn't do it for me.

I am genuinely surprised that this piece did provoke such strong reactions though.  That it might generate some debate is good, but many of the comments are hardly 'debate'.

For me, it wasn't the debate that rankled - completely the opposite, getting a perspective on what we think of as hard is a great subject to bring up or discuss and I believe this could have been a hard-hitting, thought-provoking, even black article that made people take time to consider that with a positive outcome. I usually like VecchioJos articles and writing and think this could have been one of the more meaningful ones.

However, for me, it was a sham, a straw-man, a conceit about a word which was made more unpleasant by it's dictatorial manner -  "you can not say you can suffer on a bike, nor say in any way it's hard".. what rot. "Shut. The. Fuck. Up." .. great intro for a debate..

 

I'd say unconstituted summed things up nicely - an article about perspective that almost entirely lacks it. He seems to have taken a word, contorted it to his want, and then lambasted those that might use it where it doesn't fit into his particular, extreme and hugely singular interpretation of it. As davel said, "nobody's claimed it's that binary" - except Jo. Opportunity missed IMO. Y (everyones) MMV of course.

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Photopositive [1 post] 2 years ago
2 likes

Question: Why do you ride your bicycle? 
Answer: "Because it's fun" or "because I enjoy it."

"Fun" or "enjoyment" do not equal suffering. On any level. Ever. 

It's really not a tough concept now is it? Although the comments might lead you to think otherwise. 
 

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fukawitribe [2837 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes
Photopositive wrote:

Question: Why do you ride your bicycle? 
Answer: "Because it's fun" or "because I enjoy it."

"Fun" or "enjoyment" do not equal suffering. On any level. Ever. 

It's really not a tough concept now is it? Although the comments might lead you to think otherwise. 
 

 

Thank you for telling me why I ride my bike and how to view suffering, I was under the impression there were other reasons but hey..

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davel [2722 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes
Photopositive wrote:

Question: Why do you ride your bicycle? 
Answer: "Because it's fun" or "because I enjoy it."

"Fun" or "enjoyment" do not equal suffering. On any level. Ever. 

It's really not a tough concept now is it? Although the comments might lead you to think otherwise. 
 

If that is all he's saying, why did he use a lot more words?

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cordal [7 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

I like it,  nothing wrong with putting things into perspective every now and then.  This doesn't apply to the internet though, I reserve the right to kick off on that

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Yorkshire wallet [2428 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Suffering is thoroughly subjective. One man's suffering is another man's pushing on a bit.

The best bit about cycling for me is fact that if I push on a bit (and maybe suffer?), a couple of hours later I realise I've not actually thought about much, which is good.

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peted76 [1502 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

I tend to agree with Jo however the article has an air of high snobiority which lets it down.

We're not all Sun or Daily Mail readers (well not since they got rid of page three anyway!). And we're not all liberals either and nor should we be. (I used to think I was a proud liberal, but now according to the general media, I'm slightly right of Gengis Khan.) We're not all easily influenced. We are not all 'untouched by other peoples suffering in life' in the manner assumed in the article. 

 

Everyone I think probably knows someone who likes to boast a little too much about how much they 'suffered' on a bike ride.. You can view the 'bad' in those people, the self gratificatuon in the boast and the lack of perspective, OR you view the good in the conversation and the person, I seem to see the good in most people no matter how much of an ankles* they can be.  I think it's cute and is to be applauded anyone pushing themselves to their physical or mental limits should be applauded. 

 

I personally don't like the word 'suffer' for the same reason's as Jo's mentioned it's a word which lacks perspective in the cycling world. I'm being led a little with the next statement, but shouldn't we direct our vitrol toward Rapha for the word 'suffering' seeping into the cycling psyche.. (I own some rapha and I don't care..) I certainly don't suffer when I'm at 110% MAX HR, is it suffering on a climb when your legs are like jelly and you're so light headed you fall over or faint, is it suffering when your guts spew the contents of your insides out - No I don't think so. I do it all for my own personal satisfaction and gratification.  It is not suffering, it is pushing my personal limits for a short moment in time.

 

 

*lower than a cnut

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Simon E [3795 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

It prompted me to stop and think. That's not a bad thing IMHO. I might even read it again.

Strange that some people react very negatively, taking something personally that wasn't even aimed at them. What's so bothersome about it?

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StraelGuy [1703 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

I alaso tend to agree with Jo's point. His main point is that although you may just have done a 300 mile sportive in the frozen rain and burned every molecule of glucose out of your body in the process, you did the sportive VOLUNTARILY. If on other hand, your house has just been blown up by your own government killing half of your children and you now have no food and nowhere to live, THAT is suffering. 

 

To a large extent, whatever you do on your bike is your choice, kind of a 'first world problem' if you will. We should all be a bit more realistic about the privileged lives we live compared to an awful lot of the people we share this planet with.

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jonathanfmcgarry [62 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

Agony and suffering are indeed much overused terms. Most of us do neither as part of recreation. I suspect that the piece was penned in the vain hope that it may encourage a degree of perspective the author thought to be lacking in the way some choose describe their experiences. I thought I suffered when crashing, I thought I was in agony when pushing myself to exhaustion then I saw two loved ones die slowly, horribly and with a dignity that shamed the way I'd bandied such terms about in the past. We may push ourselves but most of us are very fortunate in that we do not suffer and we are not in agony.

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QED [11 posts] 2 years ago
6 likes

No one thinks they are suffering on a bike the same way a child suffers from malaria. Is the word over used? Yes it is. Are people talking about bike rides, not famine? Yes they are.

See, also the informal logical fallacy of relative privation (appeal to a worse problem). Just because much greater evils occur in the world doesn't mean you can't complain (boast) about your difficulties. If that were the case none of us could complain about anything while 5,000 children under the age of 5 die every single day from preventable causes (WHO statistcs)

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davel [2722 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes
guyrwood wrote:

I alaso tend to agree with Jo's point. His main point is that although you may just have done a 300 mile sportive in the frozen rain and burned every molecule of glucose out of your body in the process, you did the sportive VOLUNTARILY. If on other hand, your house has just been blown up by your own government killing half of your children and you now have no food and nowhere to live, THAT is suffering. 

 

To a large extent, whatever you do on your bike is your choice, kind of a 'first world problem' if you will. We should all be a bit more realistic about the privileged lives we live compared to an awful lot of the people we share this planet with.

Well, of course.

I might say that a climb was 'hard'. I don't then say 'but not as hard as some kids in Aleppo have it'. FFS, I really, really don't have to. It isn't needed.

Some riders moaning on about suffering can be tiresome, but people moaning on about riders whining about suffering is a whole new level of STFU.

 

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DaSy [872 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

"Suffering is the emotion, the negative affect associated with feeling pain"

It is not a fixed data point; unless you reach this reference amount of pain, which was caused by an outside agency, then you have not earned the right to call it suffering.

Suffering comes in all shapes-and-sizes; no-one is saying riding up Ventoux in the freezing cold is the worst suffering ever experienced on Planet Earth, but it is still suffering to a degree.

 

 

 

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Duncann [1486 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes
peted76 wrote:

I tend to agree with Jo however the article has an air of high snobiority which lets it down.

We're not all Sun or Daily Mail readers (well not since they got rid of page three anyway!). And we're not all liberals either and nor should we be. (I used to think I was a proud liberal, but now according to the general media, I'm slightly right of Gengis Khan.) We're not all easily influenced. We are not all 'untouched by other peoples suffering in life' in the manner assumed in the article. 

Everyone I think probably knows someone who likes to boast a little too much about how much they 'suffered' on a bike ride.. You can view the 'bad' in those people, the self gratificatuon in the boast and the lack of perspective, OR you view the good in the conversation and the person, I seem to see the good in most people no matter how much of an ankles* they can be.  I think it's cute and is to be applauded anyone pushing themselves to their physical or mental limits should be applauded. 

I personally don't like the word 'suffer' for the same reason's as Jo's mentioned it's a word which lacks perspective in the cycling world. I'm being led a little with the next statement, but shouldn't we direct our vitrol toward Rapha for the word 'suffering' seeping into the cycling psyche.. (I own some rapha and I don't care..) I certainly don't suffer when I'm at 110% MAX HR, is it suffering on a climb when your legs are like jelly and you're so light headed you fall over or faint, is it suffering when your guts spew the contents of your insides out - No I don't think so. I do it all for my own personal satisfaction and gratification.  It is not suffering, it is pushing my personal limits for a short moment in time.

*lower than a cnut

I thought about bringing up Rapha - and not in the sense you mean! My impression of their marketing is that they're trying to convince prospective customers that they are engaging in an epic, noble struggle - something that appeals to men (mostly?) who probably quite like the idea but aren't really called upon to do in reality. Magazine writers ham it up because "how they had a jolly nice time riding a very expensive bicycle that someone lent them for a few days, possibly in a warm and beautiful location" isn't very compelling reading.

And most of us are probably a bit guilty of exaggerating our usually modest exertions when we want to impress. Blokes (mostly) bragging isn't a new thing.

Maybe road cycling attracts this sort of description because it's an endure-ance sport (where skill and inspiration are less obviously required than in, say, football?) But there's not really much suffering involved - you wouldn't do it if there was. Running might be harder.

The most suffering I've ever done is probably bonking 30 miles from home, riding into a headwind when I've not prepared for the rain or cold. And there's nothing epic or noble about that - I just look and feel pathetic!

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surly_by_name [570 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

UCI made a similar point recently.

 

 

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nextSibling [6 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

Obviously touched a nerve with some people. That's what good writing does.

Keep at it - much more interesting than yet another routine review of a mid-range road bike.

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fukawitribe [2837 posts] 2 years ago
8 likes
nextSibling wrote:

Obviously touched a nerve with some people. That's what good writing does.

Alas that's also what bad writing can do as well, it's not a validator either way..

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nextSibling [6 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes
fukawitribe wrote:
nextSibling wrote:

Obviously touched a nerve with some people. That's what good writing does.

Alas that's also what bad writing can do as well, it's not a validator either way..

Bad writing is much easier to ignore.

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tritecommentbot [2266 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes
nextSibling wrote:

Obviously touched a nerve with some people. That's what good writing does.

Keep at it - much more interesting than yet another routine review of a mid-range road bike.

 

Trump for the Nobel in lit then?

 

The things people come out with.. honestly.

 

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tritecommentbot [2266 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes
nextSibling wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:
nextSibling wrote:

Obviously touched a nerve with some people. That's what good writing does.

Alas that's also what bad writing can do as well, it's not a validator either way..

Bad writing is much easier to ignore.

 

Good writing is much easier to ignore. 

Bad writing is frustrating as it's full of holes and it prompts you to comment. Which is actually something certain sites manipulate to great effect.

Bit bizarre you making this comment given the age of viral and fake news which is terribly written stuff yet shared relentlessly. Especially post-Trump election. 

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tritecommentbot [2266 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

Anyway, enough from me. For real this time. But if any of you do enjoy your suffering then there's a Zwift ride on the 3rd Dec for charity. 

https://twitter.com/thejensie/status/801055216854437888

 

 

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notfastenough [3734 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

I'm browsing on a phone so haven't had much luck finding it, but didn't Jo write this before, invoking comparisons with the real suffering of fallen soldiers (hence November, poppies etc) in the mud of the somme? Might have been focused on CX, hence the mud.

Ultimately, I think he's just railing at middle-classes discovering cycling. Audis, heated seats, 5k bikes, smartphone apps. He may as well be decrying overuse of the words 'awesome', 'legend', 'hero', etc. it's just progressiveness and popular culture derided by someone having a grump. 

It's entirely possible to voluntarily suffer beyond your limits and still maintain a sense of perspective to the genuine hardships suffered by others. 

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fukawitribe [2837 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
notfastenough wrote:

I'm browsing on a phone so haven't had much luck finding it, but didn't Jo write this before, invoking comparisons with the real suffering of fallen soldiers (hence November, poppies etc) in the mud of the somme? Might have been focused on CX, hence the mud.

 

There was a cracking piece he did mumble years ago about Flanders (?), I think. Similar focus on getting things into perspective and degrees of suffering but otherwise everything this piece wasn't (in a good way - IMO). Trying to change the meaning of a word wasn't necessary then, can't see it being necessary now. I'll have a proper search when I get back in.

 

notfastenough wrote:

Ultimately, I think he's just railing at middle-classes discovering cycling. Audis, heated seats, 5k bikes, smartphone apps. He may as well be decrying overuse of the words 'awesome', 'legend', 'hero', etc. it's just progressiveness and popular culture derided by someone having a grump. 

It's entirely possible to voluntarily suffer beyond your limits and still maintain a sense of perspective to the genuine hardships suffered by others. 

This.

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fukawitribe [2837 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

'Ere we go

http://road.cc/content/feature/123206-fools-suffer-gladly

Bloody brilliant, what a difference...

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hydrophil [21 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Great piece of writing whatever anyone says to the contrary, it is after all just about riding bikes and we all need to get some perspective on our so called achievements 

love it!

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elevenvelo [5 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Read the article several times. Read through all the comments.

All I can think (and I can apply this to myself), 'first world problems, eh'.

Ride your bike, have fun and if you're not having fun, go do something else where you can.

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