Friday Group Ride #397

Friday Group Ride #397

If all of life, whether consciously or not, is a search for meaning, then each ride, consciously or not, is a search for meaning. We have fun here. We talk about frivolous things like shoes or the weirdest place you’ve ever worn cycling kit. We burn through words and pixels contemplating things like proper sock height and the best way to wrap handlebars. But underlying all that is this practice of riding that, I think we can all agree, informs our lives in evolving and curious ways.

Padraig is, of course, off the front on this, but I don’t think you need to pedal the back roads of remotest Japan to see something deeper in riding bikes. Who was it, Jean Bobet, I think, who pointed out the absurdity of leaving home, exerting great effort, eventually arriving back at home? What do we get from testing ourselves? And when does it arrive?

Riding can be like a walking meditation, each pedal stroke deliberate, the mind turning inward, calming itself,  resting. Sometimes we get away, free ourselves temporarily of life’s responsibilities. The trees roll by. The sun shines. We remind ourselves that the world is bigger than our small worries.

I sat through a stretch of doctor’s appointments yesterday with my father, whose body is breaking down. The radiologist was a cyclist, and we exchanged brief cycling pleasantries. My dad said that I rode in all weather, that I was crazy, that I spend crazy sums on bikes, and I thought, “Without cycling I can’t be sitting here. I can’t be helpful. I can’t bear this process. But I ride, so I am here. I can sit. I can do this.”

This week’s Group Ride asks, where do you find meaning on the bike? Does it come easily or only after a lot of work? Are epiphanies more likely when you’re alone, or with friends? Or is this just not what you ride for? Why DO you ride?


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  1. Aar

    Interestingly, I find some of the meaning of my cycling through insomnia on nights after days that I don’t ride. Alternatively, a great night’s sleep on days that I ride. On the bike, it comes through things I see. When riding quickly, it’s the numbers on my bike computer. Other times, it the sunrise, sunset or anything else of interest. Meaning also comes from the on bike conversations and off bike relationships that build and strengthen through shared “suffering”.

  2. AG

    I’m not sure I am one of those that finds deep meaning in riding a bike. I usually ride alone, and I’ve come to need that time by myself. I wonder if the yearning to ride is not so much for the endorphine dose that comes form a hard effort, but for maybe just being alone with my thoughts for a while. And, of course, to do some tricky stuff out on a rocky trail to let myself know I am still living and not just alive. Epiphanies oddly seem to come from riding with friends. A collective stream of consciousness sometimes is created that results with new ways to approach personal issues. I like the group therapy. Sure, those conversations ultimately degenerate into crass jokes or something about beer. But that’s cool too. Yep, all of that….that’s why I ride.

  3. Grego

    The need to draw breath deeper than the lungs can inflate;
    Trying to keep the front wheel on the ground.
    Behind me the most gorgeous sunset over the ocean–
    I’ll stop to admire after I make it to the top.

  4. Jay

    I find riding to be the best form of stress relief for me. The rhythm of a steady pedal cadence is somewhat meditative (as Padraig alludes in “88 Temples”. I ride mostly because I just like it more than any other activity, and I enjoy it more as well. I only race one a year, and that is a “fun” race. I no longer worry if I get dropped on the big hills; it’s more about riding than staying with the group. I do significantly more rides by myself than with my club, but I enjoy the solitude. It clears my head.
    Another reason that I ride is that I find that my bike is a time machine. It can transport me back to my young and provides me with those same feelings that I enjoyed then like nothing else in the entire world. As long as I am able to ride I am forever young.

  5. Stephen Barner

    As I settle into my 50th year of road riding, cycling is much less what I would call a passion, and more simply part of my life. Over half of my annual riding is wrapped up in my long commute, which starts high in a forest and ends in a city. Cycling, for me, started as a fun way to get around the neighborhood and evolved into inexpensive transportation. By the time it came to think about getting a car, I couldn’t resolve why I would spend so much of my meager income just to buy insurance, when the bike was working so well for me and I didn’t have to pay anyone for the privilege of riding it. That calculus continues, today, but is improved through the health and physical fitness the bike has provided. At 63, I am reasonably trim for any age, when my natural tendency is to pack on the pounds. I take no regular medications to stay healthy, my blood pressure is good, and my pulse is below 60. I clearly owe all these things to a lifetime of cycling.

    The last car I bought new cost me close to $30,000 to own for 13 years, just in its purchase price. Total ownership costs were much, much higher. Friday night, it was my Fat Chance that bore me home, surefootedly through the snow on its studded tires. That bike is now better than when I bought it in 1985, with two more cogs in the rear and clipless pedals. The view of a distant peak above the mist of a 5-degree, winter dawn, and the dancing snowflakes that slanted across my headlight beam on the way home were among the extra rewards I earned that day. I shared the snow-covered dirt road with only two cars in the first and last five miles: the rest of the time, it was all mine.

    For me, cycling is a lot like my 39-year marriage has become–lots of ups and downs, lots of intense passion in the early years, plenty of times when the relationship became strained or even distant, yet the underlying attraction was always there, drawing us back together. Today, the connection is rock-solid. It’s not something that I take at all for granted, but it’s an integral part of me that I work to build in positive ways, seeking out new experiences as extensions to generally positive, daily interactions to maintain interest and growth. It’s all working for me. It’s working well.

  6. KG

    A friend once asked me why I wasted so much time out riding my bike. It really got me thinking. I was initially worried that I’d been wasting time.
    As I thought about his slant towards my hobby, I realized he had a hobby too. He also spent a great deal of time and money on his. I thought about my neighbor that builds model trains in his basement. He spends countless hours making tiny houses and towns for his little world. My other neighbor is a runner that runs as many hours as I ride.
    I think we are all looking for, or even finding, the same thing. All of these hobbies, while different in practice, are the same search. I believe cycling is the best and perhaps one of the most pure forms of finding the inner peace for which we all search, but no matter what the practice is, our efforts are all for the same goal.
    After that conclusion, it became easier for me to understand my other neighbor – the triathlete.

    1. Jay

      Your opening reminds me of a quote that I once read: I have spent half my life riding a bike, the other half I have wasted. I do not know who to credit for that statement.

    2. Padraig

      Whether conscious or not, that line is a rip of a poem by James Wright. He writes of laying in a hammock and looking up at the trees and watching a butterfly float by. His final line is the beautifully ambiguous, “I have wasted my life.”

  7. Tominalbany

    Careful. If you answer why we ride, the raison d’etre for this site could go away! (I kid…)

    I ride because it keeps me healthy and I love it and I’m not interested in finding something else to consume my few, free moments. Someday, when I can no longer throw a leg over, I’ll be in deep yogurt…

  8. Jeff Dieffenbach

    I ride for fitness. I ride for fun. I ride to compete. I ride to get to work. I ride to fill my lungs. I ride to clear my head. I ride with friends. I ride with strangers. I ride alone.

    I don’t ride for any one reasons, I ride for all the reasons. I don’t always know which reason it will be when I set out. So I guess I also ride for the mystery.

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