I hope you like reading about Steve Tilford and the things he said, wrote, and did. Since his death I can’t stop thinking about him, which is weird because I only met him twice. The more I read, combing through his War and Peace of-a-blog, the more things stand out and make me think.

Steve wrote a lot about risk, indirectly and indirectly, something especially germane to cyclists in general and road cyclists in particular. Here’s one of his quotes:

We hate to admit it, but we don’t have control of our lives minute by minute. This is the way in bicycle racing. And in the way in life. The best way I know to do exceptional things in the sport, or in life, is to live a bit on the risky side. Get out of your comfort level. Raise your comfort level. In racing, hopefully, this will become your new base, your new comfort level, and this will allow you to progress in the sport. In life, it is a way to gain new experiences and to realize that the barriers that were holding you back were really not there at all.

Steve was superficially the archetypal big risk taker, or so it seems when you read through the things he experienced, tried, failed at, and conquered. But in the most basic way he wasn’t a big risk taker. He was a very careful guy. He did things after careful preparation, he never leaped blindly with no plan or idea or concern about the possible outcomes, and he always reevaluated and used what he learned to hone his approach the next time.

For him, risk wasn’t something to be avoided. It was something to be embraced, analyzed, and wary of, all at the same time.

Steve engaged in a hugely risky sport and survived it by constantly reducing risk. Checking equipment, evaluating the course, evaluating himself, evaluating the competition, taking calculated risks … all these things allowed him to thrive and survive.

What’s interesting is that Steve died not as the result of an incident on his bike, but while driving. In a way, this kind of makes sense. Driving is the riskiest thing any of us will ever do. No matter how good you are, how careful you are, or how experienced you are, Interstate travel over long distances carries with it so many risks that are so difficult to mitigate, especially when you do it for the millions of miles that Steve did. Crisscrossing the US in a van is so boring compared to bike racing, but it was ultimately the hazard that ended Steve’s life. Weather, night time, trucks, and so many other factors all came into play at just the wrong time.

If it had happened to someone else, Steve would never have concluded that we should stop driving, or that we should quit racing, or that we should quit taking risks.

Instead, he would have learned from it and not made the same mistake twice. He didn’t get a do-over. But we do.



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12 thoughts on “Risk”

  1. “this is the way in bicycle racing, and in the way in life” for me I find Steve’s words to be true. What I enjoy most about cycling is breaking through my barriers and transferring that momentum into life. Here’s to Steve’s words of inspiration that are still very much alive today.

  2. This was really good. A great blueprint for living so one never has to look back and say to yourself “I wish I had ….. Or, I should have”.

  3. I’m with you on the weird can’t stop thinking about him. I never met him and didn’t even know who he was (I came late to cycling) until I saw him race at my first cross nats in 2008. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t enter my thoughts and inspire me to break free of my self-imposed boundaries.

  4. We didn’t evolve to sit at a desk all day. We evolved into a reasonable capable animal that survived on it’s wits while being threatened daily in a hostile world.

    I like to commute the 20+ miles to work at least once a week and when I do I always feel great when I get there, the hormones that are released from dealing with minor but very real chance of getting hurt make me feel alive.

    I don’t consider myself a big risk taker, but I think the human animal has to do it in a physical way, to maintain a level of balance.

    1. Yes. And as one friend said, “My [bike] commute in LA is the best part of my day.”

      Not many motorists can say that …

  5. i dont think theres anything weird in thinking about this. We all just got a huge mortality notice from one of the most indestructible humans we could ever imagine. I mean he (they) drove right thru an eff-ing semi trailer at freeway speed and walked away!

    Theres only one person I can think of

    Can you imagine him telling THAT story!!! Only now he cant and it really really sucks and now everytime i get on the bike or in the car I think about things and I take a closer look around and enjoy this life while I got it and try not too think too much about what could happen
    I’m glad other people are thinking about this too, just shows how much ST influenced people and thats a legacy I think he’d appreciate

  6. Nice post. Lots of wisdom here. I found my way to this blog via Steve’s and now I’ll be coming here every day – no pressure!

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