What is it we search for when we ride a bike? By the time someone has decided that cycling is for them, is a church befitting their meditations, their prayers, they’ve been devoted to the sport for years. So the answer to that question is different if you’ve been riding for a few months than if you’ve been riding for decades. By the time you’ve turned 10,000 miles, the polish has been rubbed to patina. It’s nearly impossible to find new from your front door. Fresh requires a different area code, if not a different state.

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

So what is it that keeps us rolling that chain? We find ourselves on the road; the asphalt runs beneath our wheels and gives us a chance to shut off the incessant I. What we learn out there isn’t about the arc a bike carves in a turn or how fast we can accelerate. We know those truths are as relative as the weather. What we learn is often only helpful after we get off the bike.

I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen

It’s easy to lose track of what life is. Life isn’t the job. It’s not the house. It’s not the car or any of the bikes. Life can be found in those moments that make you stop and focus on the second at hand. It’s the birth of a child, saying “I do,” looking into that corner before you shoot through, sans brakes.

Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose

The thing about the bike is that it gives us a chance to focus on a second at a time, to remind us of how fleeting time is, how quickly a whole day can pass.

Oh I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me

We like to say we feel alive when we’re on the bike. It shakes us from our walking slumber. As we feel the pull of gravity, we are forced to focus; there’s no multitasking, no phones, no ping of new email. It’s you. The road. The spinning wheels. That’s enough to sharpen your senses. And that’s all we need to be reminded of how brief is our visit.


Lyrics from David Bowie’s “Lazarus” reprinted without permission.

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  1. Pat O'Brien

    I constantly try to keep cycling from becoming training, exercise, a contest, or an obsession. I just want to glide silently through the world on my bike, with my senses alive, causing the least amount of harm to the environment. Riding a bike helps me, and, more importantly, everyone around me. And when I return to the source, they can put my ashes in a rack trunk and pedal my ass to the scatter ground.

  2. MattC

    VERY nice post Padraig…but you are forgetting over half of the equation: Mt biking! There’s just nothing like the zen you can find on a sweet forested singletrack. Riding for HOURS without seeing another human being…just the animals, the wonderful forest scent, and utter quiet. On some roads I can find nearly the same thing, then a Harley (or 7) blasts by and the peace is shattered in noise and exhaust. Or even worse, some yahoo in a diesel truck that thinks it’s fun to “roll coal” on the lycra-clad roadies. if you’ve never had that happen to you, all I can say is it really makes you long for the trails. If only we could ride in wilderness areas…but that’s a fight still ongoing and not going to be resolved (in our favor anyway) anytime soon.

  3. Frederick B.

    Excellent piece, Padraig. I wrote a short essay last week about the 2014 and 2015 Stagecoach Century rides out there in SoCal and how time flies and how fleeting this all is — all prompted by my dad’s passing in December. I wrote, “The coroner wrote the cause of death as cardiac infarction and the time from onset to death as “within minutes.” 89 years gone ‘within minutes.’ And a month gone already since he is gone.

    “Truly, our time here flies…seemingly within minutes. Enjoy it all — every single moment! Swim, bike, run…and have fun!”

  4. Ron

    In the last few months I’ve found myself finally slowing down enough to really think about things. For the first time, college wasn’t “a few years ago” but now many years ago. I’ve hit middle age. I’m not the same age or younger than the pro cyclists; I’m nearing the retirement age for them. What do I do now?

    Thankfully, I’ll ride my bike home from work in 2 hours and that’ll put my mind at peace. For awhile.

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