Incidentally

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I think about the bike a lot. Too much. I think about my bike. I think about your bike. I think about the next bike. I sell bikes, and I tell stories about bikes. I reminisce about bikes I used to have, and I try to convince my wife that the next bike is important, more important in whatever very specific way than all the ones that came before, the ones still crowding the garage and spilling into the basement, leaning against the cedar chest, blocking access to the laundry room.

The bike, however, is incidental.

I will pore over the details of the build, wondering if 12-32 isn’t maybe a better choice than 11-28 for where I want to go. I will consider 28mm vs. 32mm, because of the particular ruts that mark graded New England dirt roads and the washboards that develop during the latter stages of mud season, the ones that shudder through your whole body as you plummet off the top of some nowhere hill. I will consider lighter wheels.

I don’t want another bike. I think I do, but I don’t. I want to get to the places the next bike might take me, long fire roads that connect high lookouts to hidden ponds, ropey dirt paths that lead past people’s other homes or the retreats of those who no longer wish to live so close to the flame of peopled lunacy, simple sand and gravel throughways that ring farms and bisect primordial forests. I want to feel the gravel and hard pack beneath the tires of that next bike, and I want to fall off it and scrape my elbow, lay in the road laughing.

The bike is no more necessary to that experience than the elbow.

I want to ride with people who have that sort of bike, because those are cool people. They’ll give you a bottle when you’ve underestimated the day, the weather, or your own capacity for suffering, because really, suffering you can seek and tolerate is no suffering at all, but only a gilding for your flowery ego. The people who ride bikes are the best sorts of people, because they’re all kinds of people, and the bike only gives you a reason to speak to them, that and the sand and the gravel and your desperate need for water.

I will call Padraig on the phone and wander the parking lot at work while we plot and plan the stories we will write about riding our bikes up and down geological formations, places where glaciers scraped up against granite, and we will try to piece together a second living from our efforts, all of it wrapped around bikes and cycling, all of it combing through the details, panning for gold.

We have this friendship, he and I, that seems to have started in a correspondence about cycling, but later found us standing face to face in a casino, hugging each other in incredulous first meeting bemusement. We drove out past the strip malls in the Las Vegas hinterland to crowd around a greasy grass track and watch a bike race, all of an industry swirling around in the spotlit darkness. On the way back he bought a Mountain Dew and a bag of Peanut M&Ms, so he could stay up and write more stories about bikes.

I don’t know if any of this, the farm roads, the casino, the people, if any of it happens without the bike. I don’t know. I am under the impression that you can skate, surf, climb, hike, run to the same sorts of salvation the bike has brought me. I can take the thing itself too seriously. I can focus all my attention there, when it is only really a cipher for life’s cluttered bucket of fun and misery, a pivot point.

The bike is incidental, deeply important, but only incidental. I think.

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7 comments

  1. Michael Levine

    Cycling is a great thing.
    Bikes are totally great. I always think of them….like all day; a lot.
    but the bike itself is just a thing.
    it’s a great cool thing and I have had dozens…literally.
    I have also ridden over a quarter million miles on them.
    that’s cool too.
    and the stories, the friends , the accomplishments and the sheer, unbridled JOY.
    The people, the people , the people.
    But the bike is just a thing….as beautiful a tool as it is.
    these past couple of years I have watched loved ones die, loose their minds,loose their jobs, their homes , loose their children.
    their g-d damn children for g-d sakes.
    The past 2 yrs. I have been in 2 hurricanes where thousands of people all around me lost EVERYTHING, including their lives.
    Last week a friend had a cancerous brain tumor removed…who knows what’s next.
    I ride all the time because I love it, I need it, and because I can.
    I AM UNBELIEVABLY GRATEFUL.
    Recently a bike I spent thousands on broke in half.
    So what.
    They’ll fix it.
    If I had to ride the 30lb. 10 speed with toe clips that I rode the length of Vermont and back again in 2 days in 1968 for the rest of my life, it would not be a problem.
    Thanks to the great spirit…which might as well be a big wheel…. with 36 spokes, 3x .

  2. Pingback: Incidentally | OneOffTwoWheels

  3. Tom in albany

    You are correct! I ski – so do some of my best friends. I ride – my best friend from high school has never learned to ride. I used to play volleyball – where I met some of my best friends and, eventually my wife. I don’t play volleyball anymore, since the kids were born and we bought the house and the demands on time increased. However, it was a means.

    That’s what the bike and all of those other thing are. It is a means to an end. Which end? Well, that’s up to you and those you surround yourself with! :-)

    Thanks, Robot!

  4. scaredskinnydog

    I’ve kinda always believed that its who you are not what you have that really defines you as a person but…..there’s one exception. Bikes. My bikes definately are much more than the sum of the parts. They all have distinct personalities and often dictate how and where I ride. My skiis don’t talk to me, my snowshoes don’t, neither do my running shoes, but my bikes and I have had many long conversations.

  5. Rod

    About a couple of years ago I’ve come to accept that pretty much any mid-to-high level bike is “better” than me. I am the one holding back, sometimes from lack of physical capacity, but more often than not from fear or insecurity.

    The bikes become the tool to expand my perception of those limits, but only as a tool. They are helping shape me.

  6. Andrew Joseph

    i have a back injury. i walk with a stick. i can’t run, i can’t swim for more than a few lengths before the pain overwhelms the pleasure of the effort.

    i can ride a bike. i can ride for hours and hours, day after day. doing so allows me to meet people.

    my bikes are very important to who i am.

    without my bike i am alone.

  7. Ron

    Wait, Padraig does the Dew? Noooooooo!

    I came to cycling a few years after I finished college, where I played a varsity sport. I was burned out on that sport & kind of floundering. Jogging was horrible, the gym smelled & was full of egomaniacs. I wasn’t up for the same kind of win-at-all costs mentality towards sporting that I’d had for many years.

    Waiting for the bus one day I saw cyclocommuters zipping by. Hmm. I converted a mtn. bike I had into a road bike. Still too slow, and what a huge waste of money. A used Cannondale & I was on my way.

    A decade later & I simply can’t imagine my life with cycling and bicycles. I ride everywhere, from commuting to training rides to racing. It has provided a new focus, a new passion, a new outlet, one where I can be as competitive as I want, mostly with myself, sometimes with others. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I consider before falling asleep.

    As for the bikes, well, I love a nice bike & have a few myself. I don’t know if it will last but right now I’m in a holding pattern, happy with the stable I’ve built up & simply content to ride as often as I have the time. It is and it isn’t about the bike, I suppose.

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