Till Death (Or The KOM) Do Us Part
Love is a beautiful thing. So is cycling. But what happens when you try to mix the two – even more beauty? Well, not exactly.
My first recollection of riding with Josh was on a hard group ride; the bunch surged up a hill and then I saw this guy, this total dingle, wildly cut a line across the front of the peloton. “Who the hell is that sketchball,” I wondered irritably.
He’s my husband now.
They say most relationship conflicts involve money, sex, or division of household labor. But for cyclists, there’s a fourth thorny issue that might trump them all: riding. Find me a couple including at least one cyclist where riding or bikes never come up in a heated moment and I will find you a snowman in the Sahara.
Maybe your partner doesn’t ride and doesn’t understand why you spend so much on bike stuff. “Our budget does not care about the N+1 rule,” your bike-less husband might protest at the sight of your new gravel rig. Or “I can’t join you on the century tomorrow because my girlfriend feels neglected,” your buddy might explain. I can’t count how many times a friend has bailed on a ride to make a ‘curfew’ set by a partner waiting at home.
I always feel smug and above those conflicts – my husband believes in N+3 and only cares about hurrying home when he’s out of water – but this gloating is undeserved. We pluck from a lively rotation of debates which plague cycling couples, those pairs who are lucky/unlucky enough to pedal together. We both live for riding and each want to be the best in our own ways. This leads to a lot of head-butting: who did what on the ride, who took more pulls, who chopped whom, who is half-wheeling, who attacked at the point where the other was suffering, and so on. Josh excels at short hard efforts and punchy hills; I prefer painful steady efforts and flat sprints. I adhere to a strict training plan; Josh is a professional group rider. He’s never met a pee stop he didn’t love; I hate stops and will hold it until I’m weeping. Our best moments on the bike rarely align, which means somebody is celebrating great legs while the other is lamenting a missed move or a failed effort.
And this doesn’t even include the challenges we faced riding when I was pregnant. We both got a beautiful daughter out of that phase, but only one of us struggled to keep pedaling while her body weight and FTP converged. If there was a jersey for Most Melodramatic Rider, I earned it for nine straight months. Short of gestating the baby himself, Josh did everything possible to be a supportive cycling partner, but I was inconsolable and bitter about watching my figure and fitness slip away. I was terrified about never catching up to him again and the fear made me a monster.
Other cycling couples I know bicker about ride pace, plans, duration, and frequency of stops. How hard to go and how to do workouts together becomes primal and personal when two riders with different fitness levels and goals try to mash together a plan that fits both. Somebody wants to go harder. Somebody needs an extra pee break. Many have opted to kiss goodbye at the start of rides with a plan to reconvene at the end instead of trying to cope with the rage of bleeding out of your eyeballs mid-workout only to look over and see your partner nose breathing.
As for couples that ride tandems, I’m in awe. Well done, my friends, because most days I’d prefer to push my beloved off and schlep the whole rig alone rather than try to sync up enough to pilot together. I’ve jokingly mentioned to Josh we’d be an unstoppable pair on a tandem and he laughs politely, knowing it’s unlikely we’d both survive the experience.
Is there a way to ride bikes and live happily ever after? I think so; it comes down to communication. You have to be honest about what you want and need, realistic about what you can fairly expect, and generous to the other person. Nobody gets to win all the time. Don’t blow your ride curfew, don’t attack your partner when they’re suffering, don’t forget to celebrate each other’s good rides. In short, be who you hope your partner will be in return. Cycling is supposed to create joy, so either share that together out on the ride or bring it home to the person waiting there.
While I’ve yet to master the art of being a mature and loving cycling wife, I’m at least here trying. Today marks our three-year wedding anniversary and while I give Josh an endlessly hard time about rides, I also can’t imagine my life without him. He is a built-in training partner, the guy who introduced me to Eliel kits, the person who comes back to find me when I’ve flatted, the one who can push me to ride harder each day (even if it’s because I’m trying to drop him), and one of the strongest, most impressive riders I’ve ever met. There is nothing more satisfying than alternating punches on hard group rides with him and then pedaling home to drink coffee, play with our kid, and plan the next smashfest. A lifetime of those happy rides will be a life very well spent, even if Josh wins all the hills.
Happy Anniversary, Josh! I got us a tandem.