The Quest for Epic

6 Apr

Recently I have spent a good amount of time on Ridewithgps.com planning my next long ride. I came up with a couple good ones and showed one to some of the people in the shop. “Whoa… that’s epic.”, I heard from several people. After the second time hearing it I knew it could wait no longer. I must address “The Epic”.

I have noticed that lately the word “epic” is used frequently to describe cycling. “Epic” gets thrown around all the time these days. I have heard it used to describe bike rides ranging from mountain bike rides to road training camp, to morning bike path commutes (yes really).

"and then.... I had to ride my bike through a creek!"

Perhaps, we use it to try and relay the events of our ride to our audience in an impressive manner. Maybe we do it to fill the void of explanation that exists between what we feel and experience on the bike and our ability to use the English language to convey these sensations to others.

I feel like the majority of the people out there are using it just as a catch all phrase to describe why they enjoy riding.  We have a great sport, but it may not be epic very often. I like a good big ring tale as much as the next guy, but I think that the word “epic” can rarely be used to paint an adequate picture of most of our rides.  As the usage in our sport’s culture spirals out of control I come to wonder what it really means.

This is what I came up with from dictionary.com:

1.noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style: Homer’s Iliad is an epic poem.
2.resembling or suggesting such poetry: an epic novel on the founding of the country. (OK so some might argue that riding is poetry in motion.)
3.heroic; majestic; impressively great: the epic events of the war. (most of the time when I am riding I should probably be doing something else like mowing the yard and taking care of other business. Therefore, not heroic nor majestic)

4.of unusually great size or extent: a crime wave of epic proportions.

(Of all the definitions very few can be linked to our sport very often. So, Why the excessive use of the word as an adjective for our rides?)

I guess I have the fine gentlemen at Rapha to blame for this. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Rapha site and visit it daily. If anyone gets to use the word in reference to cycling, it should be them. Rapha has managed to bring visual poetry to the pages of the internet with their majestic photography, extended rides, and well written narratives. These are, however, a far cry from what we hear normally in the shop as riders relate to us how “epically” cold it was on their ride, how they rode an “epic” dirt section, etc.

I will admit that there have been some instances in my cycling life that I would categorize as “epic”. These times are generally the result of little to no planning, unforeseen environmental obstacles, poor time management, or bad advice. These days are some of my more memorable moments on the bike, both good and bad. These rides influenced by some catalyst will always be a part of my cycling life, but I’m not sure I want to relive them.  I have also noticed that the trend toward longer distance events like the grand fondos and sportives seems to be drawing on the allure of the “epic”. Sure they are long rides and they are undoubtedly tough, but I wonder how “epic” an organized ride can be.

Sometimes there is only you and your shadow to appreciate the "EPIC"

In the quest for epic it seems that we push ourselves to ride ridiculously hard and long all the time through less than ideal conditions. Epic is not just a “Ridiculous exercise in sadomasochism”; it happens only rarely in regards to cycling, but when it does it is truly amazing.

I don’t mean to sound like a know it all. In the end it is all subjective, but I resolve to monitor my use of the word. If I do an extremely long ride in adverse conditions pitted against the world and the gods then I might just use the term; but only if I write a long narrative poem about it first.

Who knows perhaps there is some possibility that the long ride I am palnning could turn epic somewhere along the way. Check out the route and see if you want to ride along with us.

THE ROUTE

Thanks for reading, and feel free to send me your “epic” stories. I would love to read them.

Branton

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3 Responses to “The Quest for Epic”

  1. Alan April 6, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    When I first road in the rain, I thought that was epic. My first century felt epic. 9000ft of climbing at the 2010 King Ridge Gean Fondo was my new epic ride. A six hour mountainbike excursion on a sheep path in New Zealand turned epic when I got lost.

    Yes, I believe it is overused, but also it is an evolving term. As I seek out newer and harder adventures, I will come to see them as epic in stature. At the time the above experiences were over the top for me. Maybe someday I will experience a ride that will thrill me again to the point of calling it epic.

    • highrollercyclery April 7, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      Right on Alan. That is a great way to look at it.

  2. Jim May 23, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    Years ago, on a long tour of my own (Seattle to San Francisco, via Crater Lake and the Columbia Gorge) I met a fellow who seemed an unlikely cyclo tourist. We shared lunch outside a country store/post office in the Cascades. He was an Asian fellow, I think Taiwanese. His English was poor and it was hard to understand all the details. He apparently was a foreign student who had chosen to spend his summer bicycling around the country to see America and meet the people. Every once in a while he would run out of money. Then he would look for work for a few days or weeks until he could afford to move on. At one point, he opened his trailer to fetch something, and I saw that he was carrying almost no clothing or camping equipment. But he had what must have been hundreds of rolls of 35mm film. He smiled sheepishly and said “I take lots of pictures.” Oh, and he also mentioned that he had never been bike touring before. I gather his previous bikeing was all town and campus commuting. I imagine that his ride was, truly, epic.

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