You head out on your Surly Pacer as the dappled sunlight glints off its shiny steel frame. You leave a day of work and those cares behind you as you pedal. Your body, slightly stiff from a day of holding itself up in office chairs while you hunched over a keyboard, begins to feel both looser and alive as you pedal. It’s remarkable, you think, how your body remembers how to do this and how good it feels.
Maybe you are riding a Diamondback hardtail instead, and the sun isn’t so much your friend as the bumpy trail is, which you meet wheels down and biting into the dirt. You ride with a can’t-help-yourself grin as you go bounding into the woods. Work? A distant memory. Cares? What cares? You’re on your bike. You’re riding.
It doesn’t really matter what you ride or why. If you love to ride your bike, that’s what matters. Others can put meanings, boundaries, limits, structures or anything else they want to on it, but at its root, riding a bike is freedom. And freeing.
We are weighed down by imperatives. We must do this. We must do that. We must work. We must go to school. We must, we must, we must—we are full up on imperatives and obligations, from the time we’re a child all through adulthood. The imperatives never stop until we stop, until life stops.
Riding a bike can be strikingly similar when you’re both a kid and an adult. When we’re kids, a bike is a freeing thing. All of a sudden we’re mobile. We can go. It expands our horizons, if you’re even slightly adventurous, to what seems like anywhere.
At some point maybe you did this: you were used to riding around your neighborhood, safe in that familiar zone where you knew where everything was, then one day, without thinking about it, you just took off. It might have been a bit scary, but it also was exhilarating. Suddenly you could explore your world and new worlds in a new way. The bike beckons. It’s not an inanimate thing, instead it says, “Come ride me,” inviting anyone with the spirit to get on it and go. And who doesn’t have that?
As adults, most of us don’t keep that spirit alive very well, so those lucky enough to ride again have to re-discover that spirit somehow. It might even begin with an imperative. You have to do something to get fit. You have to lose weight. You have to exercise. Those imperatives aren’t great, but if they get you on the bike, so be it. Better if those imperatives fall away and are replaced by something else, something not nagging but instead drawing you along, pulling you in. All of a sudden, you look forward to riding. One day, you may become grateful for this.
Sometimes in the ridiculous translations of European pro racers, tv commentators will translate the rider as saying, “I had good sensations on the bike.” Nobody in the US talks that way. It sounds silly.
But think about that description for a second. Good sensations. Good feelings. What really gets us on the bike and keeps us going are good sensations. The pleasure of pedaling. The good feeling of propelling ourselves along somewhere. Unlike the rest of life, you don’t even have to have a destination. You can just go. Explore. Discover.
You are right if you are thinking you are close to childhood again.
This may take you to a place in your heart and mind where you dream and think about riding when you are not. When you can steal a moment from some other mundane thing and get on your bike and go. You may learn everything about bikes, take them apart, put them together again, think about their sweet geometry, their miraculous power. Or you may just appreciate the beauty of your ride.
You may ride far and often. You may ride fast. You may want to go faster, maybe like when you were a kid. This can lead to racing, and what some consider the ultimate sensation: speed. This sensation precedes the negative and grim descriptions that so many professional racers or even accomplished amateurs feel obligated to talk about: suffering. Is it really suffering? The hard efforts in training and racing on your favorite road bike or mountain bike, or just from riding hard are often physically satisfying, despite or because of their difficulty. This satisfaction is something well earned by any rider.
Is any athletic agony, bike riding included, really agony, compared to war, surgery, cancer, other illness, unremitting pain, physical and emotional in life? Or have the grim riders, the racers who are desperate to win—so desperate that they are always unhappy-- missed something, the joy of riding? The pure joy they may have first felt when they got on a bike.
The news here is you can race and still have that joy. Or you can just ride. But you can be happy. Why race if it makes you miserable? Why even ride? Life is full of unhappiness, why become unhappy about another thing?
The good thing is that you can recapture your happiness, your original joy of pedaling, exploring, discovering, with the wind in your hair and a smile on your face. Go ahead. Get on your bike and ride.
Passion and joy are just a pedal rev away.