Rite of passage

Be warned, it's an expensive pastime they said. I chuckled and took another look at my 350 euro Fort in the back of the van. Screaming-white logos, eye-straining blue frame, a well worn groupset of the lower Shimano echelons and vintage clothes lines, as they tend to call external cable routing over here.

The only decent thing on it was the Fizik saddle, albeit a bit roughed around the edges by the 17-year old kid that owned it before me and rode it up the Southern hills until his hormones directed him towards other interests. As, he figured, the average 17-year old girl does not care about watts or climb gradients, let alone the ones pursuing them: skinny boys in silly suits pushing up a neighborhood hill - not much has changed in adult life, come to think of it.

But it shone like a diamond in my subjective view. Times had been tough and after six months on a rusty MTB, being able to buy this road bike was a dream come true. And all I would ever need. Or so I thought.

With a road bike came cleats, and the cycling shoes attached to it. I still chuckled: internet is a goldmine when it comes to hunting down barely used January purchases from well intending folks who after a few months of cold and wet struggles finally give up on their newfound dream: maybe, in the end, cycling wasn't about heroic wins on sun-drenched mountain passes, with passionate crowds cheering you on while the letters of your chalked name on tarmac disappear underneath your bronzed concrete legs.

With kilometers came wear. Salted roads, mud, those first epic long distance rides: it all added to the further deterioration of that already worn secondhand love. 'Your group set needs a replacement', I was told. 'Spacers! - what are you, a Sunday cake cyclist? External cabling, I mean, really?' My grin stuck firmly to my face though: doing 5000 km over that first year on a 350 euro bike seemed just another sport to me. Who needs gram-hunting and high-end brands. Hadn't I proven to be able to keep up with the fast boys anyway?

But it wasn't just about the bike - as I learned along the way. Stuffing your bananas in that three pocket cycling jersey had its advantages over a belly bulge that pressed your legs with every pedal stroke. And why not get two jerseys instead of one while you're at it (as the other color is nice too, right?). A bib might feel like wearing a baby's nappy the first time around, but being able to sit out the hours on that office chair after the weekend does make it look way more attractive.

Winter cycling brought up a whole other range of Need-Now products: a winter jacket to hold off the wet and cold conditions without drenching you in sweat that turns ice after your hard-earned coffee break. Gloves that still let you operate your iPhone - we all know it didn't happen otherwise. Overshoes. How did I ever manage without overshoes?

And this was even before I was inducted into the mystic rites of unwritten cyclist rules. Rules you could never - oh no! - speak of other than in a hushed voice, but if not complied with, will relentlessly set you apart from the pack as a newbie. Perfect sock length, sunglasses that go over helmet straps; I bet most readers will be able to insert one here without even thinking twice.

After that initial stage, the sky seemed the limit. A home trainer to get stronger. Trips abroad - worth spending most of my money on. A brand new steel frame Lester that is versatile and sturdy enough to accompany me to destinations I haven't even heard of yet. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Is it all really essential to get out and enjoy a ride? No. Of course not. And I'm still no gram-hunter, my socks aren't always the right length and I still enjoy riding my (although revised) first road bike. But I have gone through quite a rite of passage since I started cycling 2.5 years ago. And I wholeheartedly admit to buying more jerseys than I really need. I do still have those first Sidi's. Worn to the bone after the 20.000 km I clocked so far. But unlike that first bike, they will be replaced soon by a new pair on that ever-growing wish list. Not because owning stuff became more important than the freedom of those two wheels. But cycling came to grow on me in more than one way. It also triggered the need to explore my limits, mentally and physically. And for that, that first blue love just does not suffice.

It's an expensive pastime they said, and they were right. But it does depend on what you measure it against. The countless hours of limitless daydreaming, solving problems, breathing fresh air, pushing boundaries, having laughs - and yes: pain, cursing and some crying too - are priceless. Expensive? Value for money if there ever was any.