A hundred years ago, folks didn’t bathe every day. The smell of human bodies was acceptable. We didn’t yet have a fear of germs, and in some ways we were better off. A simple reading of what happened includes two big ideas, the first that germs are real, and washing eliminates many of the harmful bacteria that cause common illnesses. The second idea, and the more insidious one, is that savvy marketers discovered that humans would buy more soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, cleanser, masks, etc. if they thought they weren’t measuring up to cultural norms. You’re filthy. You stink. You need to bathe.
This Group Ride is not a meditation on more balanced social norms for hygiene. I bring it up merely as a way of understanding how our ideas of ourselves can be influenced in both helpful and more malign ways.
What we are interested in, of course, is cycling, or more broadly fitness. Fitness is a boring way of saying sports, which connote competition and entertainment. By seeing cycling as fitness, it becomes more relevant to people who are maybe not likely to stand by the cobbles in the Forest of Arenberg in a state of rhapsodic ecstasy.
A hundred years ago our conception of cycling and its roll in daily life were different, too. We were still rapt with the transformative power of the bike as transportation, of not needing to own (and feed) a horse. When actually did cycling as fitness crack the mainstream? The 1960s? The ’70s? And since then we’ve seen boom and (not quite) bust, as modes of cycling have appeared, flourished, and then normalized themselves. Indoor cycling is maybe the latest growth segment, excepting eBikes as they are not, in most instances, fitness solutions.
Some number of us love to ride bikes. We love them for some or all of the reasons (freedom, fitness, transport, exploration, conservation, independence, mental health tool, et. al.). But not everyone has adopted a daily ride yet, as they once did the daily shower.
This week’s Group Ride asks, is there a plausible understanding of fitness as hygiene? In other words, is there ground to be made in cycling specifically, and fitness more generally, by fostering the understanding of movement as basic hygiene? In this scenario, it doesn’t matter if you’re not into sports or that you’re not naturally athletic. You need to do something, because not doing something isn’t in line with the overwhelming cultural moment. There are clearly both physical and mental benefits to be gained by most anyone who changes their lives from passive to active, right?