Cycling

I’m just working backwards from this starting point, in the saddle, on the road, trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing, legs pumping, sweating. I leap out of the saddle three-quarters of the way up a climb to push a too big gear over the top, my chest heaving to catch up. And then free-wheeling down the backside, giving myself a few seconds before I stoke the big ring again.

These are the particulars though. There is more, right? Beneath that veneer of sweat? Beyond arriving at my destination? Why am I doing this? What is cycling?

In broadest strokes a cycle is just a rising and falling, a repetition, a thing that comes and goes, a pattern from which we might infer any number of meanings. To every thing, turn, turn, turn, and all that. We can settle into a cycle or be trapped in it, a meditative trance or a downward spiral.

Attach two wheels and find a way to power them. Harness your mind to the task of the rising and falling, of coming and going. Bury your needle in speed or comfort yourself with aimless meandering. Leave and come back. Create a journey where none existed before. Pour your soul into the effort.

In Stanislaw Lem’s ground-breaking 1968 novel His Master’s Voice a transmission is received from space, a clear, repeating pattern, a cycle. Scientists, mathematicians and philosophers are put on the job of understanding what it might mean. Various theories are developed. The transmission, inscrutable on its face, inspires fear, awe, creativity, doubt and curiosity. No one cracks the code despite millions of dollars being thrown at the problem, despite teams of multi-disciplinary experts working at it full tilt. The cycle goes on and on, and ends up saying more about the humans reacting to it than it yields in meaning about itself.

Let’s factor out the bike. I love the bike, and the bike is a hobby of its own, but the bike is not cycling. The bike is a tool with which to cycle, an instrument for absorbing effort and feeding back meaning.

The act of cycling is the act of simultaneously creating and trying to extract meaning from that creation, an overwhelmingly positive process. This is the emotional afterglow of a hard ride, sitting at the kitchen table, peeling off arm warmers, replaying the grinding climbs in your mind, the wicked descents. In this light, cycling is art, true art. Its simplicity belies its depth, ephemeral and vanishing, impressionistic.

Riding a bike is a mundane task. It is transport, and it is recreation. But the practicality of it, the very ordinariness of it, is its real genius. Cycling is a blank canvas, all potential ready to become kinetic.

For the most part, you don’t change cycling. You go round and round, and it changes you, the story written across your body in hardness or your mind in its suppleness. It is through riding that we create ourselves. We are the meaning. We are cycling.

Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.

 Photo: © Matt O’Keefe

 

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14 comments

  1. randomactsofcycling

    Robot, I love you. In a very manly kind of way.
    This post is the very reason I remain with cables and hope to never go electronic.

  2. jorgensen

    I found an interesting thing when riding over the same terrain with my son compared to riding solo. Scenery. It does help that not every ride is a training ride.

  3. Disch

    Brilliant writing. I’m always fascinated, usually in retrospect, to see how the way we bike matches the cycles we go through in our personal lives. Furious times at work, angst on the homefront turn into full-steam rides; peaceful emotional states lead to a wandering ride with the heartrate down.

    Great perspective. Thanks again for putting pen to paper for the benefit of all of us.

  4. sterlingbbiking

    WHEN I REALLY BEGAN CYCLING IN MY EARLY 30’S, LOOKING BACK ON IT ALL I CAN SAY IS MAN, I REALLY RODE THAT FAST? BECAUSE NOW ONE YEAR BEFORE I TURN 50, I TAKE PLEASURE TAKING BEGINNERS OUT ON A SATURDAY MORNING RIDE WITH A STOP AT STARBUCKS. REMEMBER FOLKS, WERE ON THIS EARTH FOR A SHORT TIME. TAKE TIME TO SMELL THE ROADKILL ON THE ROAD.

  5. offtherivet

    Brilliant writing. For me, cycling has always been a way to discover myself, and create myself in real time.

    “The act of cycling is the act of simultaneously creating and trying to extract meaning from that creation, an overwhelmingly positive process.”

    You say it so much better.

  6. Howard

    I am glad every ride is not a training ride, as much as I love those rides. The scenery, the interior diolog, the conection to my world is exquisite. It maters not the cables or the electronics, its the opportunity to experience, to enlarge my perception that is magnificent. Thanks Robot and others. I love you all!

  7. Beci M.

    I love this:
    “For the most part, you don’t change cycling. You go round and round, and it changes you.”

    I shall ruminate upon this idea for a while.

    Cycling has certainly changed my life this year.

  8. christopheru

    Peter Dedes says it so well – I spent most of my teen years riding with my dad and loving (almost) every minute of it. Now, as I watch my daughter enter those years and see how much she enjoys riding with me, I feel transported both to my own youth, and to how my father must have felt when riding with me three decades ago.

    Yes, this kind of thing can happen without a bicycle, but for me, I am glad that the cycle continues to involve wheels.

  9. Pat O'Brien

    As the Zen fellow said, “I ride my bike to ride my bike.” Besides, I can drink more beer without getting fat. How’s that for a reason to ride?

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