May 25, 2012

The Benefits of Masochism. ~ Brandon Figliolino

Flickr: Clara S.

I’d just ridden past that day’s final checkpoint banner for the Colorado Newmont BIKE M.S. ride.

Cowbells were clanging and people were cheering on both sides of me, when a man around my age stuck his hand over the temporary fence. I gave him a high-five as he shouted with a grin, “Great ride, masochist!”

Masochist? Huh?

The word “masochist” generally has two accepted definitions. It can refer to someone who enjoys experiencing pain, and a masochist is also a man who feels sexual pleasure when a woman inflicts pain upon him (read Leopold von Sacher Masoch’s novel, Venus in Furs, if you’re interested in learning more—I don’t judge).

The man I spoke with was obviously referring to the former definition. In fact, I know it couldn’t have been the latter because I hate getting yelled at, and worse, spanked, and my bike isn’t female—or male for that matter.

Why was I called a masochist at a charitable cycling tour for the National M.S. Society?

While a huge majority of participants were riding sleek, nimble road bikes along the 150 mile jaunt from Westminster to Fort Collins, and back, I was riding a heavy, mountain bike with fat, knobby tires.

For those who don’t cycle often, riding a mountain bike long distances becomes uncomfortable, and because of its heavy frame and thick tires, it can be difficult to push up hills, especially ones that are steep. Put simply, riding a mountain bike that distance in 80 degree heat with little shade and flatlands is painful—masochistic. I loved it.

It was my first time participating in a bike tour of any kind. Prior to that, I would ride casually around town and bike paths. Short distances and gentle hills are a pleasure on a mountain bike. Being incredibly naïve, I thought it wouldn’t be much harder to ride in the BIKE M.S. with my stunning blue bike. I was wrong.

I’d pant and pant to the point I sounded orgasmic, crawling up hills while others rolled on by—many without breaking a sweat, contently conversing amongst one another. I barely had the strength to say, “On your left.”

Descending hills was fine, until the bike got too much speed. Then, the ride would become shaky, and I’d slow down to avoid losing control, which stole my momentum for upcoming hills. What kept me going were encouraging comments from passing cyclists, such as, “You’re doing great, especially on a mountain bike like that!” and “I could never ride that, but you’re doing really well!” Encouragement is a great way to boost one’s ego.

Using a mountain bike wasn’t my only masochistic trait. Being a novice, I didn’t know what clip-in (or clipless) pedals and cycling cleats were, or what they did to benefit riders. Turns out, they do a lot. They’re pedals that are specially designed with shoes that lock a cyclist in, which helps improve movement and momentum. I felt extremely un-cool in my tennis shoes, even though they were made by Nike.

Lastly, I carried way, way too much stuff with me in a large backpack. I retrofitted my school backpack into a hydration pack, and then dumped unbelievable amounts of crap into it, like a light jacket, a sweater, spare parts, food and an extra water bottle. It stuck to my back and only added to the weight I was pulling.

Brandon Figliolino

For those thinking of joining a bike tour, whether it is for pleasure or charity, I’ve got some suggestions for you to avoid becoming a “cycling masochist” like myself.

Ride a road bike or hybrid, if possible. They’re faster, lighter and more comfortable long distances. Take provisions, like a water bottle and hydration pack, but keep nonessentials, like sweaters, off your back. Most importantly, always wear a helmet (I learned to love my helmet after getting a concussion once) and always condition your body beforehand.

I trained for several months prior to the ride and I can’t even imagine going that distance without having trained beforehand. Or, if you’re like me (poor and brazen), feel free to ride your mountain bike and show off your unbelievable determination, strength and willpower. I’ll cheer you on!

I’ve been called a lot of names during my life. My high school buddies named me “Fig”, my grandparents call me “Mr. Professor” and my sister calls me her “Twin”. I’ve even been called some not-so-nice names (all of which are not justifiable, of course). But never have I expected to be called a masochist.

A year later, I understand why that’s a suitable name for me. I found ecstasy (the emotion, not illicit drugs) in challenging the limits of my body. I had a great ride and good conscience to show for my pain. You can call me “masochist”, “sexy”, “blanket” or whatever your heart desires, because in my eyes, I’m “Superman.”


Brandon Figliolino. Leg cramps, name-calling and sweat won’t stop Brandon from raising awareness and money for multiple sclerosis research. If you wish to sponsor him on his upcoming ride with BIKE M.S., please click here: http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Bike/COCBikeEvents?px=8027611&pg=personal&fr_id=17994.


Editor: Ryan Pinkard

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