At our core, we are believers. To be a cyclist is to know the way the world goes wrong. Flatted tires, lost skin, sudden showers, nervous groups, malicious drivers, there is an ever-growing list of risks you can claim as intimate. Each threat is a variable you plug into the risk calculus that might tick out, “Stay at home.”

It’s not as if we forget. But the doing gives us little time to think. At the top of a descent we might suggest to others or ourselves to be careful as we drop. But on descent we shift from awareness to is, evaluating only the line itself, not how things could go wrong. Little else can make us as nervous as thinking about a touch of wheels transforming the pack into yard sale. Funny how safety isn’t awareness of the thing itself, but rather awareness of the shifting electron cloud of wheels. It’s the is that is.

Of all the activities we regularly undertake, the one requiring the greatest physical skill is arguably pack riding. Race or not, 80 warm bodies occupying the same amount of space as a nightclub—only moving at 30 mph—takes trust to the point of absurd; to non-cyclists, we might as well profess a belief in the Great Pumpkin. We trust those around us to maintain their line, to accelerate on schedule, to brake no sooner or harder than utterly necessary. And given that unlike a freeway, anyone can show up for a ride without so much as a test, we’re putting our trust in the unproven in a way we wouldn’t accept among cars and drivers, even with the addition of airbags.

But no amount of awareness can prevent all accidents. Sooner or later we all go down. That’s not the mystery. This is: We persist. The recovery is ugly. From bandages to range of motion, it is work as true as the training itself. It lacks the cool of riding—no team gear, no screaming crowds, no finish line—which is why in its solitude, recovery is totally PRO.

Honestly, statistics are no match for the fear that moulders. Those spores can poison more than just one ride or one road. The saddle itself can become a minefield leading us to washouts, flats and T-bones that never materialize. To get back on the bike we must make a mental leap—everything will be fine.

Sooner or later we throw a leg back over the saddle. Maybe we ride alone at first. Maybe left turns feel trickier than right. Maybe we pick back roads for a week or two. But that timid heart gives way to our old self and we head back to the group. We continue to believe that the rides and races go well more often than not, that the good days outnumber and overwhelm the bad.

But our faith is greater than knowing most days turn out well. Faith is the knowledge that all of the days—good, bad and dripping—add up to something more, a meaning, one we’re left to make sense of on our own. That answer gives the sunniest days a luster, the darkest days warmth and our final days a reassurance that we played with all our heart.



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  2. Bikeboy

    What, you don’t believe in the Great Pumpkin?!?!

    “It’s the is that is” — great line, spot on, and captures the essential reason why we go out there and push ourselves again and again. Transcendence through the ride; seeking the is.

  3. JES

    How true is this?! I have been involved in three major crashes since 1986 primarily caused by too much trust in the person in front of me. I have broken four ribs, had my C3-C7 vertebrae fused as a result; my wife broke her pelvis and elbow in the 3rd one. We now stay further back and trust only those with whom we’ve ridden many miles! If you’re going to cycle, however, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. Hopefully my next one will involve a wheelchair rather than bike.

    1. Author

      Bikeboy: Thanks much.

      JES: We hope you’re past the injuries for the foreseeable future.

      Mark: Bingo. Not in spite of what might go wrong, but because riding is always right.

  4. Alex Torres

    So many times I have thought all of that. On and off the bike, most often off. Inescapable, and brilliantly put into words Padraig 😉 Thanks.

  5. Lachlan

    the “best” oart of this trust for me is that the whole ‘ride at the front to avoid the crashes’ thing is nonsense – the worst bike and body mangling crashes I’ve had have always been from being in the first 5 and the lead one or two guys somehow going down… there is no escape : o ) )

  6. Randomactsofcycling

    Great post Padraig. I too fear malicious drivers: both those in cars and those determined to spit me out the back!

  7. Bo

    While I like your message, I would also like to poke a little hole in what you have said. I did not need to take a performance test to get my driver’s license. The initiation period for learning to ride in a group was a more rigorous process than obtaining a driver’s license in high school.

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