Knowing Our Limits
It was about a month ago that it first happened, this role reversal of sorts. It was a beautiful autumn day and I was cycling with my husband down a winding descent. Not too steep, not too tight, the kind - I thought - where I can pick up speed with a calm confidence, especially if I know the road. It was a crisp sunny morning, with golden foliage scattered over the road and glistening after the rain.
I was riding slightly ahead. And on approaching a bend, bordered by a stone wall, I could suddenly hear behind me: "Slooow!"
Snapping out of my half-daydream, I scanned for whatever obstacle he must have noticed, but saw none. So I proceeded around the bend. A few seconds later he caught up with me. "Oh my god. Are you okay? Did you not hear me shouting?"
"Yes, sorry. What was that all about?"
"What was that all about! Are you joking? You can't corner on a wet road at that speed."
"What do you mean I can't? I just did."
"Yes, I know you did! Did you not feel your traction going? I nearly lost my front wheel there."
"Traction going? Nope. How would that even feel?"
At this stage I can practically see his mental struggle to take a deep breath and keep calm, and suddenly it dawns on me: He is actually worried about me; he thinks I did something dangerous on the bike! In all our time cycling together, this has never, ever happened before, and the novelty of the situation prevents me from taking it seriously.
I laugh. I tell him that if there is one thing I do know about bike handling, it's how to ride on wet roads, snowy roads, slippery roads. How else would I have survived winters in New England?
"Yes. But you never used to descend this quickly even in the driest weather. I spent all summer encouraging you, so now I feel responsible."
Later we have a talk about cornering and road conditions and I promise to be more careful.
Then two weeks later it happens again.
It is clear now there is a discrepancy. He thinks I am being reckless, or - worse - am unable to tell safe road conditions from dangerous ones. Whereas I think I am being careful, that I judge the road conditions to be safe for the speed I am doing (and doesn't the fact that I do make it around the bend, prove my judgment to be sound?).
Of course when a loved one is genuinely worried about us, it's not about debating a point. It is not up for debate.
But the situation did get me thinking. How do we determine what is safe for us?...
I can think of several ways.
The most obvious one is fear. We talk about being fearless, as if that's a desirable characteristic to aim for. But fear has an evolutionary purpose. It serves a protective function, our body's way of alerting us to an activity it deems dangerous. The overly-cautious among us perhaps give into it more than necessary. The reckless ones ignore it entirely. The lucky ones develop an instinct for when to listen and when to ignore.
There is also the trial and error method. We can start by pushing the boundaries a little. And if that proves okay, we can push them some more. Then some more. Ideally, we would do this until we have a close call (and hopefully not an actual crash or injury), which is how we come to know exactly where the danger zone lies.
An alternative method - useful for those whose fear gauge is broken, or who are not the experimenting type - would be to follow the logic-based route: to rely on laws of physics, and on the rules taught to us by more experienced riders. When our instincts are lacking, or letting us down, it's a good method. But to use it in leu of what our own intuition is telling us can be a struggle.
The cold season is upon us, providing plenty of opportunities for caution.
How do you know your limits on the bike? And has this changed as you gain in experience?