The Purity of Pain

“Cycling isn’t a game, it is a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying, and it requires great sacrifices. One plays football, or tennis, or basketball. One does not play cycling.” – Jean de Gribaldy, Professional cyclist, Directeur Sportif and mentor to Sean Kelly’




Cycling is a sport of many levels but all share the same common purpose.

The beginner wishes to be able to cycle 50k

The Sportive rider wants to be able to ride 160k

The A4 wants to be an A1

The A1 wants to be a Pro

The Pro wants to be Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan wants to be happy, and he is.

So cycling is about finding that place within that allows you to be happy.

How do all of the above cyclists find that place? The answer is, through the purity of pain.




To improve as a cyclist, no matter what level you are at, there is a requirement that you feel pain. This is because you have to stretch your limits. You have to go beyond what you previously thought was possible and you have to discover for yourself that this is indeed possible. There are no shortcuts.

The good news is that this comes naturally to most.

Every cyclist at some stage finds themselves ‘digging in’ on a climb, even when alone. They naturally want to push themselves harder, they want to go deeper, they want to be better, and on a bike this is possible.

Part of the reason for this is because the deeper you go the less distractions there are and the more focussed you become.

Approaching a climb, you may be aware of that call you are waiting for on the mobile. You may be thinking of that email that came in just as you were climbing on to the bike and what actions need to be taken. You may be considering how many ‘likes’ your recent facebook post has received. You may be thinking about 1001 other things apart from where you are and what you are doing.

Then, as the gradient increases the mental chatter subsides. You are physically going deeper and having to concentrate on what you are actually doing. If the phone rings you will still answer but the 1001 things in your head are heading for just 10 and then less again.

5 minutes into the climb and you are pushing hard. Now the only things that you are concentrating on are your breathing, your cadence, how long you can keep that gear turning before you need to shift down. You are feeling a lot of pain, but it is a good pain. You are entirely immersed in precisely where you are at that exact moment in time. You are giving it 100% of your attention and focus, and that is precisely why you are able to push yourself beyond what was your previous upper limit. There are no longer any distractions. Your mind is concentrating on just one thing. This is the purity of pain, a purity that is becoming lost in todays multi tasking, multi attention grabbing handheld device, multi commitment world that we live in. 

One person, one bicycle, one climb, one place in time. That single mindedness is what allows you to improve. Whether you are aiming for your first 50k or first victory in the Tour of Flanders, focusing solely on what you are doing at that moment in time is what is needed. Then when you get to the top of the climb, having pushed beyond another self imposed limit there is an uncommon happiness and satisfaction that few who have not stretched themselves will ever get to experience.




Another form of pain or discomfort that cyclists experience is the pounding and bone shaking of narrow wheels on badly surfaced roads. Nowhere is this more evident than on the cobbles of Paris Roubaix. These ‘roads’ are the reference point for anyone who has ever complained about the poor surface of their local roads. On the cobbles you are forced into another form of single mindedness. You must concentrate on propelling your bike as quickly as possible over surfaces that were never designed to come into contact with each other. You slide back slightly in the saddle to keep your weight over the rear of the bike and allow the front to ‘float’. You change into a bigger gear that allows for a slightly lower cadence and which, as you push down on the pedals occasionally lifts you slightly from the saddle, thus giving a brief respite from the pounding madness.

Just like climbing there is a satisfaction derived from completing a cobbled sector that can be a reference point for life off the bike. Badly surfaced or hilly roads are like life itself. When the road gets bumpy and the surface seems harsh, just sit back in the saddle, put it in a big gear, focus solely on what you are doing at that moment in time and drive on forward as hard as you can.










3 thoughts on “The Purity of Pain

  • April 8, 2016 at 11:26 am

    That’s says it all Barry, great article.

  • May 28, 2016 at 3:58 am

    “You have to go beyond what you previously thought was ‘impossible’ “, but i must say this absolutely great…
    …finding happy through the purity of pain… *noted

  • January 26, 2017 at 7:59 am

    A true reflection Barry! Great article!


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