YOU ARE A REAL CYCLIST
CYCLING WEEKLY|April 29, 2021
In a sport hung up on rules and details, it’s easy to feel you’re falling short of the mark and failing to fit in. Dr Josephine Perry goes to work on impostor syndrome
Dr Josephine Perry

We tend to think of cycling as brilliantly accessible. It takes us on adventures, provides the backbone of our social life and, if you commute by bike, saves thousands on motoring expenses. But cycling is not always as accessible as we like to think, and newcomers often feel shut out. From the obscure ‘rules’ that we only know exist when we’re mocked for having broken them, to the ‘secret squirrel’ developments in technology, to the multitude of acronyms and arcane language combining French, Italian and English words referencing a history that it takes years to learn. Hardly surprisingly, then, that none of us is immune from occasionally feeling like an outsider.

This has an impact, often a very painful one, which as a sports psychologist I encounter regularly in the people who call me for support. Typically they tell me they love cycling and believe they are competent riders, before adding a caveat: “But I’m not a real cyclist”. This inability to regard oneself as a ‘real cyclist’ is the result of impostor syndrome. By any objective measure, you’re a successful rider and part of the cycling community, but self-doubt persists and you constantly feel as though you’re about to be exposed as a fraud. If you feel this way, you are not alone – a meta-analysis involving 14,000 participants found as many as 82 per cent of cyclists have experienced these feelings.

“Impostor Syndrome can mean a rider under-performs and takes the safer option,” says Gary McKeegan, a physiologist and coach based in Northern Ireland. “They may avoid certain events or scenarios that they feel have the potential to expose them as impostors.” No one wins races sitting safely in the peloton – great riders need to be able to take risks. These riders also tend to attribute success to luck, and assume compliments they’re paid are mere politeness, while their achievements are chalked up as flukes. They feel constantly intimidated and insecure, in a permanent state of threat – and with such negative thoughts occupying their headspace, their riding is compromised and they’re liable to become mentally exhausted.

TAKE THE TEST

Do I have impostor syndrome?

How many of these do you identify with? If you answer yes to the majority of the statements below, you may be suffering from cycling impostor syndrome.

I rarely celebrate success because I don’t feel like I deserve it or have really earnt it.

I often use phrases like: ‘I just got lucky’ or ‘I only did well because no one decent showed up today.

I often bat away compliments. I often see myself just outside groups I am officially part of.

I’ll spend more time after a race or ride focusing on what went wrong rather than what went well.

Where does this impostor syndrome come from and how can we get a better handle on it? In this feature, I will examine four key causes and identify some tried and tested ways to boost cycling confidence so you can fully own your place in the sport.

Athletic identity

Our rational brain tells us that anyone who rides a bike is self-evidently a cyclist. But being an athlete is so wrapped up in our own narrative about what that identity means that we can find ourselves not living up to a projected standard. These thoughts may be rooted in childhood, for example memories of school days when we weren’t as sporty as our classmates; for others, the insecurity relates to owning a bike that doesn’t live up to our mental image of a ‘real cyclist’; while others feel that they aren’t fast enough, disqualifying themselves on fitness grounds.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM CYCLING WEEKLYView All

Would You Know What To Do? How To Be A Cycling First Responder

It’s every cyclist’s nightmare: someone in your group has crashed and it looks serious. How do you provide urgent, potentially life-saving assistance? Chris Marshall-Bell finds out

10 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

Tech editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan's Custom Werking Anormale

An Italian beauty continues to inspire and gets treated to a sweet new makeover

6 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

Time lord Ganna makes it two

While van Aert rues a Worlds double of his own

3 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

WOMAN OF THE HOUR

Next week British time triallist Joss Lowden will attempt to set a new women’s Hour record. Vern Pitt finds out how she’s been preparing for it

8 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

Covid cost rise puts Canyon-dhb-Sungod future in doubt

Team manager tells Vern Pitt additional funds are needed to keep the squad at its current level

4 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

Askey lays down Worlds marker in Derby dirt

Groupama-FDJ rider wins opening round of cyclo-cross National Trophy in style

3 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

Dr Hutch

The Doc pays homage to the unsung heroes of British racing who could have set the Worlds alight had they only been given the chance

3 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

RIDING BRITAIN'S STEEPEST HILL

Deep in the heart of Wales, climbing nut Simon Warren thinks he has discovered Britain’s steepest hill. This is the story off how he found it and just how painful it is to ride

9 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

Road World Championships 22 August, 1948

The breakaway of the pro race rides through the streets of Valkenburg. This appears to have been taken around the midpoint of the race when the break had grown to nine riders.

1 min read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021

Van Dijk makes spectacular return to rainbow glory

Lowden comes sixth on Worlds TT debut

3 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
September 23, 2021