An interesting conversation ensued between a friend and I a couple weeks ago as we were in the car driving home from a ride. I mentioned how I was glad she was willing to ride with me again — at times in the past she said that she felt too out of shape to do so. We laughed, and she said something about feeling intimidated because of all the longer rides that I do. I explained that yes, I do long rides, but I am not an overly fast rider — in fact, I was having a hard time keeping up with her on our 1.5-hour rip around some local trails. My strength is in endurance, in holding a steady moderate pace for many hours at a time. And I love long rides, so I do them.
This got me thinking about the expectations that others have of us and the expectations that we place on ourselves, sometimes as a result of how we think we appear to the outside world.
When I first started riding, there were zero expectations. Of course I wasn’t going to be very good. No one expected me to be. I didn’t expect myself to be. I fell in love with riding bikes, and I did it a lot. I got better. Still, I didn’t feel like there was any assumption that I was of any particular level of skill or speed.
Then, I started writing about bikes, working for bike publications first as a freelancer and then full-time with Dirt Rag for a couple years. I started going to product launches and media events, mingling with others who were writing about the world of bikes, most of whom had been in the scene much longer than I had. I went from random chick who rides to someone who is supposed to know what they are talking about when it comes to riding. And as an extension of that, someone who is a strong and skilled rider. I worked for a mountain bike magazine, so I had to be a super amazing mountain biker, right? I suddenly felt like there were expectations to be met, and that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I didn’t meet them.
The truth is, I had nothing to worry about. I am a strong and skilled rider. I know this. And really, as long as I’m having fun, what does it matter? But it’s hard to not get stuck in your head when you’re having an off day, or when you’re pushing as hard as you can and everyone is still leaving you in the dust. Though I don’t work for a bike publication full time anymore, I still feel like I have to live up to expectations, most of which now are self-created. I like to share my experiences on this blog and on Instagram, and I try to be as honest as possible in what I tell the world, but I know inevitably I’m creating a persona that may not be the full picture. Everyone creates an image of everyone else based on what they know about the person. Based on the bits and pieces that people know about me, what is my image? Considering that 90% of my posts are about riding bikes, I know a big part of that image is as an avid cyclist, one that is probably expected to be pretty fast considering how much I ride.
When I ride with new people and I’m having an off day or I’m just not able to keep up, I’ve found myself worrying that I’m not meeting the expectation that I am a strong rider, like perhaps people expect me to be better based on how much I ride or that fact that I do a lot of longer days in the saddle or go out in tough conditions. I worry that if I don’t meet those expectations, people will think I’m a poser or won’t invite me on the next ass-kicker ride because they think I can’t handle it. For the record, this has never happened (that I know of).
I find myself trying to alleviate any expectations with statements like I feel like crap today, I’m going to be really slow or you go first, I had a hard ride yesterday. Lots of times when I say these things they’re true — at least maybe not feeling my best or going for a hard ride the day before — but it’s interesting that so often I feel the need to express these thoughts before we even start to ride, as to erase any obligations and preemptively excuse myself if I can’t keep up with the rest of the group. The truth is, nobody I ride with would care or think twice about it if I was having an off day — it happens to everyone.
What’s the point of all this? I hope a realization of this psychological phenomenon will lead to a greater awareness of my thoughts and behavior, and eventually a letting go of expectations of myself and others. And to those of you who might be intimidated by me — don’t be. I’m just a very flawed human who likes to ride bikes a lot because it makes me feel okay with myself and the world.