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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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Jimmy Ray Will [1029 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

This piece actually angered me...

I am perfectly aware of how privileged I am to be able to choose to suffer on a bike.

Let's face it, we ride for the fun of it first and foremost, and for many that fun at least partially comes from challenging ourselves and overcoming that challenge. I'm fine with that, I'm fine with people being proud of that.

What I'm not fine is having someone else implying that my time would be better spent helping those truly suffering.

Which is the only conclusion from the sentiment of this article.

It angers me as I'm sure the author has no intention of packing the bike in to go and help those really suffering

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davel [2722 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

I think you're crediting it with more direction than it actually had.

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Comrade [221 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

This  makes me realise that there is a degree of comparison to the perception of suffering. And I am thankful for it. Enjoy the ride, enjoy the run, because I can. Not fast, not quick, no gadgets, just the joy of doing it....for me! Now I'll stfu. 

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rmerTre4566 [1 post] 2 years ago
3 likes

I agree.

 

To the extent I registered to post.

 

The cult of 'suffering' is based on exclusion, tribalism and delusion. A reflection of all the rest of the nonsense that we create just to justify to ourselves why what we do is worth it.

I've been here before with other sports, the 'us versus them' language, rules and theme of pushing yourself and taking risks, a futile attempt to prove something to yourself or your peers. Knowing someone who'd pushed it so far they ran out of skill/luck and drinking to their memory for a few years, till you all moved on and forgot. It seemed important then, it seems meaningless now.

   Maybe I'm too old for this shit, maybe I'm too self-aware, maybe I'm not man enough to 'suffer'. But I don't need to tell strangers how special I am, how strong, fit and macho I am. I don't need to hide behind an illusion that I'm a 'hardman' because I'm not and I'm fine with that.

   I ride because I like it, I can get up a hill quicker if I keep trying. You know what I can't do? I can never fix my regrets, I can never achieve all my dreams and I'm going to die and no amount of suffering will prevent or change that. I ride because compared to life it's easy. We all have demons, I think I conquered mine, but maybe I just fought them to a standstill, maybe I'm just hiding from them. It's selfish but strangers bragging about 'suffering' hits a nerve and makes me want to scream about what I'm dealing with, still like I said I'm aware enough to realise where those thoughts come from, just enough empathy to guess what prompts these protestations of suffering.

This is not true of everyone, maybe it's not true of the majority but the cult of 'suffering' is true of cyclists that I have met, you want to push yourself to exhaustion? Great go ahead, but keep it to yourself.

Take my opinion for what it's worth, which is nothing, or everything. Because like suffering it's all a matter of perspective.

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elevenvelo [5 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
TreeFarmer wrote:

The cult of 'suffering' is based on exclusion, tribalism and delusion. A reflection of all the rest of the nonsense that we create just to justify to ourselves why what we do is worth it....

 

This has become one of those "do I, don't I ?" forum posts for me. While some of the earlier comments quite rightly show Jo's contradiction, saying one thing in past articles, then the opposite in this, the crux of what he says is true.

Treefarmer though has hit it on the head from my point of view. Where we are, 'tribalism',  as he succinctly puts it, sums up a lot of what I see going on. It's a big picture and honestly, I increasingly dislike what I see as the now 'visible face' of cycling locally. You don't see the guys out just riding their bikes, because that's what they do and always have done, you see the tribes, probably the same ones who post endless Instagram pics of they and their crew 'suffering' on the weekend.

This is all new too. It never was like this, people just rode their bike and it may or may not have hurt a little or a great deal. You ribbed the mates you rode with and moved on; you didn't 'glorify' it to the greater community to try and show what a faux hardman you are.

Perhaps the cult of 'sufferring' is, for some, a form of narcissism...?

I wrote  piece similar to this some time back that might be worth sharing; and no, no attempt to pull traffic, just a point of view I think may be pertinent to the conversation: http://www.eleven.cc/bike-snobs/

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davel [2722 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

So at least have the insight/balls to say that what he is pissed off with are all the brash, instagrammy noobs who think it's the new golf and drive flash cars. He pretty much did that earlier this year http://road.cc/content/blog/177597-i-hate-you-all

But then you're back to the contradictions and hypocrisy.

Can you really have a go at the banal or touristic nature of it all when a significant chunk of your life will be devoted to riding across Europe 'in an event' next year? Maybe that earns you that right?

Should you really be having a pop at it being popular when (presumably) you're paid from the ad revenue which is generated from the clicks to this site? Or is this all clickbait?

Can you look down on the instagram noobs when you blog about your 'suffering' in a 600km out-and-back with a mate?

For what my opinion's worth, in the almost 15 years I've been in clubs, and before that with mates, it's always been about tough routes and seeking out climbs. Back then, there was the supermario effect, or Il Pirata, or Lance. Then Facebook, the Olympics, tour de Yorkshire and The Rules happened. I'm not aware of any more bragging or 'suffering' now than there ever was... Just more people doing it and more vehicles to do it via - and more companies happy to tap into that (and pay bike sites ad revenue).

Some noobs will be brash. Some of them can afford bikes they'll never do justice to. Some of them will be convinced they put cycling on the map in 2012. So what? That's the way of the world, and we were all noobs once, in one form or another.

Seems to me that Jo's fighting his own battle with authenticity via his blog, and that doesn't feel too authentic to me... Which actually makes it smack just a bit of jealousy and elitism.

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DaSy [872 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

I agree with Davel, there is a real feel of elitism to the piece. More people on bikes is great; if they want to describe their endeavours as "suffering", why not?

I got over all the new-comers invading my play-pen many years ago. I used to think I was special because I belonged to a small, covert band-of-brothers, who knew how to ride a paceline or bit-and-bit etc. We didn't boast about it because, unlike today, there wasn't any forum to do it on. I would certainly seize any opportunity on the next ride to show-off if I was quicker up a hill etc, banter has always been part of cycling in my world.

The internet and social media give people a platform to describe their experience in only a few words, so let's not get too het up on which words they use. Ultimately, making it a less elitist and more inclusive environment encourages more cyclists and as the genie is out of the bottle and everyone knows about the joys of the bike, let's reap the benefits of more cyclists on the road making us all a bit safer. 

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psling [296 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

I enjoy reading the random thoughts of people written down in a blog, especially when those thoughts are 'of the moment' like a lot of Jo's are, it gives them a certain validity. Don't always agree with those thoughts, don't always understand even (didn't always understand Mint Sauce either!). My thoughts, emotions, opinions are not consistent; they can change by the minute, never mind the day, week or year so contradiction can be an everyday occurrence. Keep putting it down on virtual paper Jo, this particular scribbling has certainly poked the nest.

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Duncann [1486 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Arriving just in time to stoke things up again... 

www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/1901/why-we-like-suffering

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

Arriving just in time to stoke things up again... 

www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/1901/why-we-like-suffering

oooh, you. By one of the velominati, no less.

See Jo's next blog: that's your fault, that is.

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700c [1267 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

Agree with a lot of the criticism here.

Davel, in particular put it well.

I think what has annoyed people is coming onto a website they like, being told 'shut the fuck up, what you do is not suffering'.

He has a point in here (first world problems. I get it). But, for me, it was lost by the deliberately antagonistic, arrogant and presumptive way he made it.

Should have left it with the Flanders article - that was some perspective and I enjoyed that. As 'Unconstituted' wrote, the author has let himself down here.

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Colin Peyresourde [1843 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

This is far from Jo's best piece. It's quite preachy and narrow.

when I ride I usually make myself suffer, I don't pretend it's cancer or anything else. I sometimes work myself so hard that my vision narrows, my senses blur and I am riding myself into a self-induced black-out, or I come back wasted that I can barely haul myself anywhere without pain or without catabolising myself. It usually makes me feel great because that's how our bodies respond - pain signals cause endorphin releases. I like cycling. I know it is an escape. Not by someone that gets paid to write. I just don't need to be told to STFU. 

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HulaBoy [35 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Good article. 

The thing is, everything is relative. 
It's difficult to relate own experience to others personal struggles based on the huge amount of factors dividing people, situations, lives... 
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that cycling is fun. 
But I always say this; non of us are professionals. 
We don't get paid for this. 
We do this as we enjoy it. 
Struggling a bit is part of getting better and getting better makes it more enjoyable... 
So I'm that sense I can only really relate my own experience to myself. 
Of course there's harder things in life. 
But those things are different things. 
I almost get the sense that this writer has written this in the very way that he's perpetuating his mirth at 'chest beating' and is full of angst that he is desperate to convey in a similar fashion to those of us who wish to convey the great ride we have just had and how it was tough etc... 
Perhaps he should ride his bike to enjoy it. 
Perhaps he should write his column as if he enjoys it too and STFU...  Ha ha! 

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Andybris [10 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Great article Jo. 

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Andybris [10 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Great article Jo. 

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