I am often asked why I ride a bicycle with such regularity. It’s a fair question since casual conversation usually migrates to the topic of what I do after work and on the weekends. Seeing that I am already
well into my fifties, I suspect people imagine I spend my free time sitting in a rocking chair, reading the few remaining printed newspapers in circulation between naps, medication, and grandchildren. They are often surprised to hear that this is not the case.
As a person who has always been interested in human reasoning, I am always intrigued by the multitude of notes and articles describing the reasons why people ride bicycles. Over and over these personal stories tell us how these beautiful contraptions have the ability to transport us to another dimension of our existence. For one, we regular humans who are not gifted by the skills of professional athleticism can rehearse and ride our imaginary races within our mundane recreational rides. But most of us get transported to our childhood days with our beloved metallic blue Raleigh single speed, roaming the neighborhood, always pushing the parental boundaries of distance and time.
In recent years, we have seen an explosion of articles referring to a resurgence of cycling in this country and abroad. These articles are not only about the health benefits and the environment. They portray cycling as an instrument by which a single individual can help to support biomedical research and other great societal endeavors at the personal, community, national, and international levels. This instrument is a commitment, which requires countless hours of training, and dedication, that yields millions of dollars annually. Many cyclists (including myself) relate to these topics, applaud the renewed interest and devour these stories as soon as they appear.
Now in my fifties, I realize how much, over the many years of my on again off again cycling, I have been taught by my eleven bikes. For one, my bicycles have taught me to be independent and at the same time to depend on my bicycles. In my youth my bike showed me my neighborhood and beyond which gave me a sense of rebellious independence, well before my ability to drive a car. My bicycles have been like an unconditional friend who makes sure I reach my destination, whether it is commuting to work or leisure rides in the afternoons and weekends. Like a loyal friend, if I nurture my bicycle our friendship will last for many years. Riding my bike has also taught me about safety and my limits as a rider. Like for any project at work, or at home, I have to be prepared with the right tools to tackle the job efficiently-whether on the road or the mountain. Every hill on the road is a challenge, like a project in the office. I need to calculate leg effort, maintain the pedaling cadence, and select the right gears. Just as if I were at work, where we plan every step towards finishing our daily tasks, I have to plan ahead by selecting the right clothing and enough sustenance to help me finish 20, 50 or 100 plus mile rides. In the work place there are always unexpected interruptions. On my bike, the road and the hills are my projects and tasks. Some of my less-favorite interruptions on the road are pot-holes and bad weather. I also cringe when I get a flat (or two) or a car gets too close and I end up crashing into the bushes to avoid a worse collision. All I can do is lick my bruises, check my bike and get back on.
Every cyclist has experienced total body pain after hours of continuous pedaling for endless miles. Your entire body aches, with the added delight of feeling as though your legs and hands are on fire. Numbness then sets in as you get closer to your destination and your mind starts to question your decisions. On a deeper level, this suffering has taught me to inject every ounce of mental focus and energy into my legs to complete the ride. This kind of suffering and endurance while cycling has prepared me well for the vicissitudes and unknowns of life and work. Life, like cycling, requires steady dedication, focus, and the determination to surpass hardships and suffering.
In my daydreams, I like to imagine my life as a long bike ride across unchartered territory with many hills and valleys and lots of unpredictable weather. Now being more than halfway done with this ride, I can say with certainty that at the end of every hill and my tribulations there is always a downhill that takes me back home.