Sometimes on the bike it's just the thrum of the pedals. Just like at work, I have this ability to zone out all the other stuff around me if I don't want to hear it. But equally I can be completely present in my surroundings and choose to hear the sound of car tyres, engines, brakes, people walking and talking on the phone, and in central Manchester the occasional screech of a seagull. I can choose to hear the flapping of my rucksack straps and the wind roar past my ears, but equally I can choose not to.
Last night I did a Watt Bike class. In a moment of insane enthusiasm I booked up for the intermediate level despite having not been on a Watt Bike for at least 18 months. OK, perhaps over two years. Or maybe longer. Still, optimism could be my middle name, eh?
The class was made up of fit looking blokes, mostly over 40 wearing club jerseys over their plain black shorts. I had no idea the velominati rules applied to a Watt Bike Class. It's slightly crazy isn't it, I mean on a static bike with a bottle cage for just one hour and somewhere to hang your towel what do you need three handy back pockets for? I was neatly turned out in a plain black light technical fabric t-shirt which fitted kind of gently and demurely over a pair of black 3/4 length bib shorts. Very tidy and not at all showy. It's a funny thing, because you are kind of on your own on a bike with a computer screen and numbers. You ride the numbers. Nobody else around you has anything to do with you. It is still, however, disquieting to recognise around you a past Olympic Team Pursuit Medallist and a friend you follow as he knocks off Strava KOM after KOM. You worry about the company you keep.
It's easy to focus on those who are "better" than you isn't it. But there was also a mum and her daughter, there was the guy behind me puffing like the fabled dragon who lived by the sea, and a suffering dude in baggies positioned just in front of me, for my reassurance I fancy. But all these folk faded into the background as the instructor started his instruction. And that's the thing, I didn't zone out because I've paid for this music & words thing. I zoned in.
Oh my, the numbers. Different instructors do it different ways. There's music to help with your cadence, there are gears you get advised on which to use and when for various efforts, but above all there's a hypnotising small screen in front of your face with numbers. I note that my left leg puts in a bit more work than my right. I notice that when I'm out of saddle my legs don't even pretend that they are doing any work on the downstroke. I notice that I have a natural tendency to amble at 60rpm, but when the instructor says to up it to something sustainable I discover 75rpm is within my capabilities. I note when he says fast flat between 90rpm and 120rpm just to hover above 90 feels like a flat out sprint to me, so that when he says to sprint it's horrendous trying to just lift to above 100. I notice that towards the end of the class when we do ten second sprint, ten second recovery the sprint seems to last twice as long as the recovery which there isn't enough of, but also that when I realise the end is approaching I suddenly do have the ability to lift my cadence over the magic 120. Hmm.
I have never sweated so much on a bike.
I thought I was going to puke. But I didn't.
I am surprised I can walk without pain today.