Pinning on a number

1. How do you pin on your number? Are you insouciant, with the minimal four pins, one on each corner, lower right on the jersey? Or perhaps you are more careful, with the economical five pins? Or are you fastidious with the six pins to ensure no possibility of it detaching and flapping in the wind? Or maybe you’re the individualist, pinning your number at a rakish angle across your back, making it nearly impossible for the race organizers to read it, but demonstrating your disdain of conformity?

Are you careful about how you pin it? Maybe it goes like this: first pin on the top left, into the seam of the right side of the left pocket; second pin in the next seam; then the third pin in the corner of the right pocket. Repeat along the bottom. Why so careful?

Pinning on a number feels like an important ritual; it feels like it must be done carefully, properly. It is partly out of respect to the organizers, volunteers all, to make their job easier. But it also seems like even taking part in an industrial park mid-week crit is part of something larger; we like to invest it with additional meaning.

2. We love our cycling and we often enjoy our racing, small scale as it might be. We might ensure our bikes are extra clean, we have our best kit, and that we’re prepared with a bag full of supplies and extra clothing. There may be other rituals – a special bag for shoes or helmet, a special order for packing everything, a special plan to ensure glasses are not left behind.

Racing can be stressful. We are often riding with strangers, unsure of their ability at speed, and sometimes uncertain of our own abilities when the going gets tough. We are not professionals, so we have an extra fear of crashing and having to limp home to our families. We supposedly are doing this for fun.

Racing is stimulating, but it is not always fun. It is a rewarding challenge. But you have to be in to win; you have to push yourself to make it seem all worth it. If you simply want to lurk down the back, you’ll spend your time chasing wheels and not feeling part of the action. This is not fun, it’s just a workout. Sprinting for a prime, chancing one’s legs with a breakaway, chasing down the escapees, or even contending for the final sprint – this is the point of turning up. This is what makes it worthwhile.

3. Your author has been struggling with enthusiasm for competitive events this year. The local crit series moved closer and at a manageable time, seeming to offer ample opportunities for high-intensity training or even a little stretching of the legs in a sprint. But initial races didn’t seem all that fun – an unfamiliar course, race rustiness, and then other riders managing unexpected crashes all conspired to dilute the experience. A $5 sprint suddenly didn’t seem to be worth effort. What should have been an interlude from work and family became more like a chore rather than a homage to the pinning on of a race number. So when the hour of the start time was brought forward, making it impossible for your author to get to the line on time it was more of a relief than disappointment. ‘Race to train’ is one mantra, but maybe it’s better simply to train instead.

Hill climb events are approaching, however, and your author will be attempting to best some of his personal records. Short, high-intensity climbs have been mastered but the longer, steady efforts are still proving elusive. A glance back over times from previous years, done on different bikes with different gears and under varying conditions reveals only one correlation – performance is directly related to the volume of riding. Long climbs are a function of strength and endurance and the latter appears to be lacking. Race day will perhaps shake out some further conclusions.

It has been a satisfying summer season of riding so far, but some niggling pains and injuries have been lurking since the spring, leading to frustration. Train hard, they say, and rest harder – but sometimes work and family obligations can make the latter difficult. One should not complain; indeed, one should be grateful for all that one has, and to be fit and able to enjoy the pleasure that is bike riding – whether recreation or racing. But pushing yourself that little bit more, raging against the slow dilution of one’s capabilities, can he exhausting work – physically and mentally.

Rituals like pinning on a number, or the other rituals we have with our bikes and our riding, add meaning and purpose to our endeavours. Otherwise, our insignificant attempts to scrape seconds off our race times or to crack the top 100 on Strava evaporate into futility. Rituals give a comforting illusion of action. And without action we have only contemplation. As the author Joseph Conrad wrote: “Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.”

Needless to say, Monsieur Stephen's power figure is a long way north of your author's.

The Mt. Seymour hill climb. Needless to say, Monsieur Stephens’s power figure is a long way north of your author’s.