walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Why I Ride

Right now, I'm stuck at work, but there's not much going on. I would, of course, rather be riding my bike (or a horse, that would work, too!) — so I figured I would write a little about why I ride.

Every cyclist on earth who has a bike blog (and many before blogs even existed) has written this sort of essay at one point or another — it's like the "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" of bike writing. Most of them have probably done a far better job than I will.

That doesn't, however, mean I shouldn't write about it: in fact, I think everyone who loves something does well to reflect on the forces that drive that love — and that brings me to my first point.

I ride, first and foremost, because I love it. I love everything about it: everything about bikes, and everything about riding them. I love bikes the way obsessive little kids love super-heros, legos, dinosaurs.

I don't even really care what kind of bikes — just because I prefer to ride a slim steel thoroughbred with 700cs doesn't mean I can't appreciate your enormous aluminum shire of a machine with 26" knobbies. To the contrary: variety is the spice of bikes (or is that 'life?').

Okay, so maybe of late I don't love my spells of embarrassing gripshift-induced premature shifting, which always seem to happen in front of Real Cyclists (TM) in full kit. I could do without that. However, I can solve that problem by either becoming more competent at the gripshift helm or swapping out my gripshifters for ... well, just about anything else, really.

But everything else — absolutely everything — I love.

Even riding in traffic. There are few activities that will do more to boost your self-confidence than nimbly piloting a 20-odd pound gazelle amidst a herd of 2-ton behemoths.

Even tuning my bike and fixing flats and all that other mechanical stuff (even though, yes, I probably grumble while I'm doing it). Only another cyclist will understand how awesome I felt the first time I swapped out a blown tube on the road and got back underway, good as new (and now with a repurposed bike tube to use as a handy cargo strap :D).

Even the ongoing battle between the Sharks and the Jets ... err, the Roadies and the Freds ("When you're a Fred, you're a Fred all the way, from your first set of racks to your last dying day...") . And especially the riding and the tinkering and the bike blogs. Yes, I love it all.

If you had asked me, when I was little, which superpower I would most like to have, I would've told you I wanted to fly. The two 'hobbies' (read: obsessions) that have really endured, for me, are the two best ways I know how to feel like I'm flying. One is riding horses (especially over large, daunting obstacles). The other is riding bikes.

When you're sailing down a hill at 35 miles per hour, with the wind in your, er, helmet vents (I pretty much always wear a helmet, and really always when there's even the remotest chance going to be sailing downhill at 35 MPH — which, with me, is basically always, anyway), you might as well be flying. So what if your wheels are on the ground? (It's much more of a problem, after all, if they aren't.) For all intents and purposes, you don't really feel them (eXCePt DurINg POthoLE sEAsON).

You and your bike are one. You lean yourself and your machine into a turn, and the sensation must be very much like what the peregrine feels as he arcs through the air. At least, I hope it is. It is the feeling of pure, unadulterated bliss. It is freedom.

Which brings me to the second reason I ride.

People who don't ride often ask me how I can do it (I restrain my urge to say, "Well, I swing a leg over my bike, and..."). Don't I miss the 'freedom' of having a car? Doesn't it drive me crazy to 'have to' bike everywhere?

No. I don't miss anything, except when, on occasion, I'd like to go visit someone more than, say, 50 miles away without taking a week off. And considering that my family lives about 1,000 miles away, I'd rather fly to visit them anyway.

As for the 'freedom' of owning a car — I don't pay for insurance. I don't pay for gas. I don't need the chantings of some well-paid, esoteric auto-shaman. When my bike breaks, I can fix it myself (okay, mostly: I don't know how to weld, nor do I own the requisite equipment). I can buy the parts myself. I know exactly how much I'm going to spend, from the word, 'Go.'

True freedom, for me, is knowing that I can hop on a vehicle powered by my own body and go anywhere I want to go. Admittedly, I've chosen to live where most of the stuff I want to do is close by — but other people have chosen to drive cars instead.

I am never subject to fluctuations in gas prices. The Kentucky government levies no taxes on most of the fuel that powers my bike. I never have to wonder what's going to happen if my car breaks down.

True freedom is knowing that I'm hardy enough to hold up in a rainstorm; that I'm not afraid to ride my bike when it's 0F, snowing, and dark. True freedom is knowing that I can eat all the pizza I want after I get home from an epic 5-hour jaunt around the city.

I also ride bikes to get from point A to point B but, quite frankly, if that was all it was about, I probably wouldn't bother. How do I know? Because the people for whom biking is just another utilitarian chore — the ones who don't feel that supreme, driving joy when careering downhill or rolling sedately along the Riverwalk — quit.

The rest catch the bug and, like me, find themselves lying awake at night, thinking about riding, or about whether they should just bite the bullet and go for their first 200K brevet, or whether they should switch from platform to clipped or clipless.

Perhaps most importantly, I ride because it is when I'm riding that I feel the most alive. On a bike, I feel as damned nigh invincible as it is possible to feel without falling into the deep end of the Stupid pool (something I can do without any help from my bike, thanks).

I'll leave you with an anecdote.

I wasn't feeling well this morning. My asthma was acting up a little (possibly as result of yesterday's allergy shot -- we'll see how Wednesday's goes), I hadn't slept well (thanks, Bruce and FuzzBat o_o), and I was cranky. But the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and in every other way, shape, and form, it was a disgustingly Disney-esque morning.

So I took a couple hits from my rescue inhaler to clear the schmutz out of my lungs and make sure they stayed clear, suited up, and got on my bike.

By the time I made it 1/4 of a mile, I had forgotten I wasn't feeling well.

By the time I passed another cyclist, I was feeling good enough to smile and wave (I, who neither smile nor wave by nature).

By the time I made it to work, I was feeling fantastic — probably better than anyone else at the office (except maybe Jens, who also rides).

My lungs were working, my head was clear, I was no longer cranky. It is not an exaggeration to say that I arrived with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart (though, thankfully, this time I did not find myself singing out loud, which seems to creep people out a little, sometimes).

I was happy.

Riding my bike makes me happy.

And that's why I ride.

...Oh, and I did mention that it lets me eat all the pizza I want, right?

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