Smart Money Tips

What I Learned from My Cycling Trip: Risk Tolerance During an Ascent

You frequently hear the word “risk” thrown around when it comes to your portfolio, but have you truly grappled with the thought that you could lose everything? It’s easy to say that you are willing to take risks when things are good, when you’re cycling on a smooth, flat, paved road. On my recent cycling trip, I came face-to-face with risk and the fear that resulted.


Every cyclist is familiar with the moments on a long climb when they have to focus solely on the few feet of pavement in front of them, those times when they could lose their nerve if they dare to look over the cliff’s edge beside them. My most recent experience with this kind of test was when I was three hours into arguably the toughest climb in Europe: The Valley of the Tears. My fellow cyclists and I had already climbed about 40 kilometers when the very narrow, one-lane road pitched up menacingly into an unending series of 20%+ inclines separated by blind switchbacks.

I swallowed hard to push down the fear I had building up in my throat, summoned all of the remaining strength I had in my screaming quads, and attacked. In order to avoid tipping over backward in a slow motion, uncontrollable wheelie back down the unforgiving incline, I stretched out as far forward as I could, laying my stomach on my handlebars and forcing my front wheel to stay in contact with the ground. The further I rose, the worse the road surface became, challenging me even further. I dodged deep potholes every few feet, and loose gravel caused my back wheel to slip, stealing my precious pedal power. Then, I rose above the treetops along the left side of the road that had thankfully blocked my view of the 4,000-foot drop to my left.  

The road narrowed further, and I was unwillingly forced out toward the precipice by a solid mountain rock wall that curved low and in toward my head. I was left with precious little room to ride as I fought up the mangled road surface. At that very instant, I realized I had, unwittingly, pushed myself beyond my personal risk limit. Fear overwhelmed me and my shoulders, legs, and hands started shaking uncontrollably. I knew I had to get off this road and this mountain now.


I’ve never left a ride unfinished, and in my mind, quitting was not a choice. Climbers are the toughest cyclists, willing to endure hours of grueling pain and fatigue while never expecting to reach their limits. Risk is an accepted aspect of the sport, and you prepare every way you can to minimize it. You build strength over long hours on the bike trainer, quietly sneak out before sunrise on weekends to get your training rides in before the traffic begins, and avoid desserts for months prior to big climbs, trying to avoid carrying even one extra ounce up the hills.

I thought I was prepared for the Valley of the Tears. I had conquered the worst climbs Austin has to offer, finished a mountain stage of the Tour de France, had excellent equipment, was hydrated, and had held back some energy in reserve that day. I knew that this hill was going to do its best to defeat me and throw every challenge at me that it could. If you ask for help from our support van among this group of elite cyclists, you had better have a bone sticking through your skin. Not only is it just not done, but it’s mortifying for an athlete of this level to throw in the towel. On these rides, our goal is to see if we’re the among the best climbers in the world. But on that hill, my fear of death fought and overcame my shame of arriving at the top of the climb inside the van, my bicycle sticking out of the top rack like a big blue last place trophy for all to silently ridicule.


I unclipped from my pedals midway through that climb. I had no choice. I had dangerously lost my ability to focus only on the road ahead of me. I had failed to anticipate my limit for risk, and now I was in a jam: 4,000 feet in the thin air, squeezed on a rough, narrow path, unable to safely descend or ascend. As I reflect on my predicament, I cannot help but draw parallels to the risk that accompanies financial portfolios.

I spend hours every week working with my clients, trying to determine how much risk they are willing to take with their hard-earned money in exchange for potentially higher investment returns. It can be hard to figure out your risk tolerance when you haven’t seen your portfolio fall 35% or more like many investments did in 2008. It’s my job to guide you toward a portfolio you can hold fast to when the road gets rough above the treetops and real, permanent loss is staring you in the face. My only goal is to help you discover your risk limits before you’re overcome with fear and dangerously stranded like I was in the Valley of the Tears, when you are too terrified to hold on, and cannot afford to sell and lock in your losses at likely the worst possible time. I’d love to chat with you, talk through your goals, and help you reach your dreams while working within your personal risk level. Click here to schedule a phone call.

About Richard

Richard Archer is a financial advisor and the President of Archer Investment Management with more than eighteen years of industry experience. Largely working with successful individuals and couples, he specializes in providing comprehensive investment guidance and personalized care and attention to each client. Along with holding a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a MBA, he is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certificant and a Chartered Financial Analyst®. He combines his advanced industry education and knowledge with his genuine care for people to provide clients with an exceptional experience. To learn more about Richard, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit