Singletrack Magazine Issue 117: Joe Parkin

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Less Measuring, More Doing

Joe Parkin has the secret of getting fit and he’s willing to share it with you. Spoiler alert: it involves riding your bike.

Adults are idiots. Seriously. We go to amazing lengths to take the fun out of everything we do. We have cultivated in ourselves an incredible, insatiable need to quantify and qualify everything. We are increasingly unable to do stuff just for the sake of doing stuff. 

Think about the average bike ride for a minute… It’s not enough just to ride a bike – you have to define the ride (road, gravel, mountain), and then you have to choose the various subcategories that might apply to each. If it’s a mountain bike ride, you have to categorise the wheel and tyre size, whether you’re riding a hardtail or full suspension bike, whether you’re riding cross-country or trail or enduro or freeride or downhill or if you’re bikepacking. And while you’re actually riding, you have to record everything and post it somewhere and analyse it to death.

Think about the average mountain-bike-related Instagram post, for example – there’s the requisite, epic landscape photo with a bike to let everyone know that you didn’t simply steal the shot from a photo-stock agency; you mention or tag some famous rider or bike company; you caption the photo with some sort of insider jargon or cryptic mention of some top-secret trail. You post it and then you come back to see the results. The ‘likes’ become your measurement of how good the ride was. 

Outside feedback becomes so important that you start strategically planning when you post your photo. You need to be reassured that the ride you did really was as good as you thought it was when you snapped the photo. If you don’t get the feedback you’re looking for you look for a different ride, a different photo angle, better light, whatever… And what you originally intended to be a fun way to ‘share’ your ride with your friends quickly becomes a job unto itself. 

Why did we start riding bikes in the first place? So that other people could tell us when we had a good ride?

Over the Christmas and New Year holidays, my wife, six-year-old son and I went skiing in the Colorado Rockies. Several times during our time on the snow my wife remarked about how good a skier our son is, wondering how he was able to figure everything out so quickly. Here again is a classic example of how we adults have lost our way. 

Kids learn things faster because they are more often just willing to try. But stand in a group of adults watching kids do just about anything physical and you’ll hear the tired old refrain: “They can do that because they don’t know how much it hurts.” If this were really the case – if adults didn’t do stuff because they knew how much it hurt – then no one would experience a real hangover more than one time in his or her life. 

Kids also learn things faster than adults because they are not busy quantifying and qualifying everything. My son doesn’t finish a day of skiing by counting the number of beginner, intermediate or advanced runs he did. He doesn’t upload his vertical descent data from his watch to a cloud database somewhere and compare his day to that of other six year olds. He doesn’t worry what he looks like or how much progress he made since yesterday. Nope, he knows that he either had fun or that he didn’t have fun. It’s as simple as that.

I was recently reminded of a bit of advice I once gave a bike-racer friend. I told him that the best way to get to real racing weight and fitness was to get up in the morning, eat a bagel, ride all day, come home and drink a pint of Guinness or two, go to bed early, and repeat the process again each day until he shed the desired amount of pounds. 

It was a long time ago, back when measuring output in watts was something only a handful of top athletes did and only a handful of sports scientists actually really understood. But, still, there were coaches and training programmes and heart-rate watches that were readily available. My advice was old-school wisdom, even then. But that doesn’t make it inherently wrong. 

My guess is that no one reading this magazine started riding bicycles to spend less time doing it. I’d bet that when you got the bug to start riding, you wanted to ride as much as humanly possible. I know I did. 

Life puts ever more obstacles on the never-ending ribbon of singletrack we imagined when we first started riding. So why do we continue to add more? It’s because we’re adults, and we’re idiots. 

You want to get fitter faster? You want to be a better rider? You want to have more fun on your bike? 

Put down the phone. Close the spreadsheet. Stop analysing. Ride twice and measure once. Better yet, stop measuring altogether. 

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