The Distractions

After the first, second and third innings, as my son’s team finished batting and took the field, I had to remind him to go back from his position to get his glove off the bench. So eager was he to get out there and play, that the glove escaped his attention. The parents sitting near me all laughed. It was a knowing and empathetic laugh. There is a reason 7-year-olds don’t run the world. After the bottom of the fourth, he remembered finally.

When I was his age, I was the same, all want and no focus, turning cart wheels at second base, diving for balls not-yet-hit, writing my own legend in the soft gray matter of my frontal lobe, while all around me the real world blundered on mundanely.

At seven and eight and then nine-years-old, I rode a red BMX, heavy as New Hampshire granite, blue pads on top tube, stem and handlebar. I jumped it off stout pieces of ply-wood braced against piles of brick or cinder block, a long driveway/runway and the sharpest take off I could muster. Evel Knievel with skinned knees and no helmet, tearing through the woods and launching off every bump in the dirt or curb cut I could find. It was a different time.

Adolescence put paid to those notions. BMX stopped being cool. I began to worry about my shoes. I put time into sports more respected by the fairer lot, and as the girls paid me more attention, I clamored for more and more of that attention. The old BMX grew cobwebs in the shed, and then found a new boy to carry through the woods and off ill-conceived ramps.

That’s when my brother’s Panasonic Villager, long-abandoned and far too large, came out of retirement. My teen ardor gave that bike a purpose, a means to visit young ladies even further afield than my suburban youth had dared contemplate. And ungainly as it was, I rediscovered riding on that bike. For a spell, in afternoons after school, I would ride it slowly, in figure eights, around the driveway. I could spend hours that way, spinning ever more slowly, fumbling at the beginnings of a track stand when I had no idea that was even a thing. This was meditative time, just me, quiet on the bike, feeling its shifting gravity under me and dancing the awkward dance at the end of youth.

What ended my youth, ultimately, was drugs and alcohol. They dragged me forcibly out of childhood with its warm, dry shelter of oblivious dependence into a crueler place, where I began to have to solve serious problems for myself. Just functioning on a (somewhat) socially acceptable level, was hard work. It didn’t leave much time for aimless figure eights.

Eventually though, the bike came back, first as transportation, then as transformation. The thing is, I can’t be on a bike very long before it draws me back into all the things that are good about being free and on the move and under your own steam. The bike didn’t get me clean and sober. That would be too cute. But when I did finally get myself over the hump into sobriety, the bike was there to reshape my lifestyle and give me back some measure of health.

Suddenly, I was a cyclist. I rode to and from work. I bought a proper road bike and then a mountain bike. I bought shoes and pedals and kit. I woke up at the crack to hit the trails before work. I did long road rides with friends on weekends. People taught me how to ride in a group, how to climb more efficiently, how to sprint for town lines.

And then somehow work overtook it all. I had a sort of aimless career, by which I mean I didn’t care what I did that much. I chased money and promotions for no reason I could name. I’m not even sure I knew I was doing it, just swept up in the flow of moving on and getting more and doing more and having more, until the bikes started to go dusty again. By then, most of my riding buddies had moved away. The whole thing lost its inertia, became inert.

I have never considered myself a suit-guy, but there I was, in a suit. You can sit in a lot of meetings in a lot of starchy dress shirts, wondering to yourself how you got there. I did. Hell, I even ran a lot of those meetings. Before I decided it was time to run FROM those meetings.

I don’t know why I drift away from cycling periodically. I love riding, and I love the bike as a tool and as an object. I love what it does for me, and I believe in it as a lifestyle. I’m just easily distracted.

Parenthood finally put me back on the bike, again. This wasn’t the prosaic ride of father and son through neighborhood streets. That happened, but more importantly I understood that time for fitness was no longer available. If I continued to drive or take the train to work, I would forgo the one good opportunity (two actually) I had to exercise each day, the commute.

I love commuting by bike, the rhythm of it, in and out, back and forth, each trip pumping out the endorphins you need to deal with being at work, or returning home to wailing children. And then, of course, as I said, I can’t be on a bike very long before it draws me back in.

This cycling world is full of people who will tell you that they were born to ride, that it’s the most important thing in their life, and that it defines them as a person. I don’t know about all that. My experience has been uneven and non-linear, and I have learned better than to try to tell you much about my future.

I can say that the bike has always been there for me. Every time I wander off, I come back, and it’s there, and all the revelations that come along with riding come to me, and I dive back in, headfirst. And then I’m riding with friends and on my own, during the week and on weekends. Asphalt and gravel and dirt. In the rain and the cold. Sometimes, because I am who I am, even I forget my gloves.

Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.

 

 

18 comments

  1. Walt S

    Robot,

    Your love affair with the bike is really so powerful that it has been one of the constants in your life, with all its ups and downs. I sometimes question whether such a myopic point of view is healthy, but I am mostly powerless to temper it beyond a few half-hearted attempts. Most of the time I realize that my health depends on the bike and actually whether I take the time to ride, which depends on how healthy I am. It is obviously a circle of circumstances but is based on a simple truth. “I” is both you and I, as well as the millions who have experienced how the bicycle can transform lives.

    Some of the most spectacular experiences I have had have been riding a bike.

    Thank you for the solid writing. It has been a treat.

    Best to you,

    WS

  2. Chromatic Dramatic

    This is similar to how I would describe my life on a bike.

    As a kid growing up in a (big) country town, a bike was freedom, even from a very young age, and it certainly remained that way right through until I learnt to drive.

    Blah blah blah.

    Now I’m in the same position. A young family, so the times on my bike, for riding sake alone, are limited. Say 1 weekend a month for a decent outing. The rest is crammed between commutes from work to home. I’m lucky that I can sneak in some extra kms on the way in to work, to make those monthly rides more about fun, and less about suffering.

  3. Eric

    I’ve recently started to commute by bike 3 times per week. I was looking forward to it but now that I’m doing it, it’s not really fun. It’s like those dead miles at the beginning and end of a fun long ride that must be covered to get you to and from the roads that are wonderful and make up the good part of the ride. It’s the same route each time, I’m loaded down with a back pack containing needed items for work and the commute seems like I’m plow horse out there just ticking off the miles to get somewhere.

    I’m trying to get in a frame of mind that many seem to have when talking about commuting by bike but so far I haven’t found the fun in it. I appreciate the fitness I’m getting and the money it saves me but that just seems like a math problem solved. What am I missing?

    Rest of the article was good by the way. The one paragraph noting the joy in commuting really hit me over the head. I want that.


    1. Author
      Robot

      @Eric – Schlepping stuff back and forth all the time is pain. What I do is pack mule a bunch of stuff in on Monday, clothing, food, etc., then pack out on Friday. So three days I’m riding with no bag, and then I add in miles and do other stuff, explore new routes, get a little scenic. Good luck. These things work themselves out in time. Just keep riding.

  4. Rob

    Beautifully written! I go back and forth with cycling, too, and it seems like everyone else I ride with is in the “most important thing in my life” camp. Now I don’t feel alone… why is it so important that we’re not alone?

  5. andrew

    Eric:

    Try leaving a half hour earlier. Do hills. Take roads you’ve never taken. If you have any dirt/gravel near you, mix that in. If you feel safe doing it, listen to those loud tunes you aren’t allowed to listen to at home.

    Make your commute fun!!

    A

  6. Running Cyclist

    The writing on this site is an absolute pleasure. The comments are as well. Thanks to everyone for making this such a worthwhile place to spend time! I was fortunate to recognize early that the bike and the sport of cycling would always play an important role in my life. It even served as a career for a few years (race directing, not racing). For me (and likely many others), life us best when kept simple. While never easy to accomplish in our complex and frenetic world, the bike (and my running shoes) are the perfect vehicles for the simplicity I crave. I rarely go a day anymore without allowing myself this simple pleasure.


  7. Author
    Robot

    @Rob – Not to get all deep here in the comments, but I think we need to know we’re not alone because the world is enormous, and we are very small, and it’s terrifying if you think you’re all by yourself. Thanks for reading.

  8. Chromatic Dramatic

    @Eric… I echo what robot says…

    Try to haul in as much stuff as you can on the days you don’t ride (or the first day), and then enjoy the magic on the other days by exploring further.

    The past year I’ve been doing the exploring thing the past year, and the last two months making sure I had all the gear ready in advance of the first ride. Losing the backpack makes a massive difference.

  9. PeterLeach

    @robot “Sometimes, because I am who I am, even I forget my gloves.”
    ’tis always good to remind ourselves that we still make the little mistakes that we try to coach out of others :-)

  10. Pingback: Being Cyclists : Red Kite Prayer

  11. Patrick

    If there is one consistent aspect of my jobs during the past decade and change, it is that I made every effort to ride to work because it always helps me feel more positive about the day. Sometimes the rides were short, less than five miles, or long, up to 20 miles. The motivations were variable, saving fuel, getting to ride, or using the ride as training time when I didn’t have any other time to train.

    What strikes me now, living a moderate 17-miles away from work, is my state of mind after the ride in versus the drive. A few weeks back I read about driving to work on the e-way described as a gladiator contest; in SE Michigan, that is the perfect description for the driven commute. I will choose to ride any time. I’m fortunate to have a few options for the route, during each I try to visualize powering through the pave and narrow roads of the classics, or just use the time for thinking; the best, or maybe the safest routes, are on gravel. As an added bonus, I meet up with a fellow masters rider/racer who was hit while commuting and left to die in a ditch a couple years back. Thankfully I don’t have that shared experience, but anticipating spinning on the gravel country roads is the experience that helps get both of us through the day job.

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