The Friend

The Friend

How do you define a friendship? Mutual support and sustaining conversation is my starting point. My friendships are so varied, it is difficult to define the terms of the relationship with greater specificity. The classic definition of friendship is what I share with many of my riding friends. We joke, play, push ourselves, converse, commiserate, support. It’s an arsenal of interaction, the range such that we are likely to see all sides of each other.

In some, I’m offered guidance and the terms asymmetric in a way for which nature has no analog. I ever feel indebted. In others, I’m the person offering perspective and guidance, and feel less that I’m paying down my psychic bill than learning how to be the sort of friend others have been to me.

The thing about a friendship, one deep enough to dispense with the secrets, the self-lies, is how it is there, strong as a sprinter’s acceleration, in both the easy days and the ones that make us want to quit.

I’ve begun to realize that the bike has been as much my friend as any human being. That may seem simplistic and unreal, but when I think of what I depend on to have a good friendship, all the elements are there.

When I’ve had a good day, I want to get out for a ride and use that passion to feel engaged with the world. When I’ve had a bad day, I want to get out for a ride so that I can burn that energy away like so many fat cells. And speaking of lopsided, while it may seem that the bike won’t ask anything of me, and it’s true that it can’t make a request, but my best friendships have seen me offer and tend even without a request. Why wait? Why not just do what needs doing?

The closest my bike will ever come to asking me for something is the way the chain will squeak when it runs short on lube. If I want to be a good friend, I’ll tend to the worn brake shoes, the balding tires before there is trouble enough to prevent me from riding. And if my bike is in good working order, that’s proof enough that I’m being a good friend.

As with all relationships, reciprocity is a necessity. I don’t give to get, but the giving enables me to believe that I don’t take more than I deserve.

My relationship with my bike taught me that washing it, making sure that the chain runs with the silent pull of a creek, tending to everything from the action of the levers to the movement of the cables—that investment is the real goal of a friendship. We don’t grow when others give to us, but when we give. Not the what, nor the how, but that we give at all.


Image: Andrea Wells



  1. Neil Winkelmann

    Nice article. Riding has been my friend for sure. The bike itself? Not so much, actually. I appreciate a nice bike for sure, but I don’t get all that attached to them. I don’t find a two-way connection. I need to look after my bike so that I can ride. Does my bike look after me?

    (Oh, and turns out apparently, from your photograph, that you were staying at the same motel as were Steve and I in Emporia.)

    1. Author

      I’d say your bike DOES look after you.

      And, apparently, it is where the event used to start, before it became a thing that takes over downtown.

  2. Dan from Emporia

    Take care of your bike and it will take care of you. It’s satisfying to be able to make a bicycle work correctly and to help others when needed. The other day I was riding with someone who had their first ever flat tire. I changed it for him and explained the process. His first tube had a hole in it so I got to show him how to change a tire a second time. A great ride, great conversation, a maintenance lesson and a new friend made. All on Road K just north of Emporia. It doesn’t get any better than that.

  3. TomInAlbany

    Thanks to my bike I took independence and became confident moving around the world. I’ve made some life-friends and had some of the best experiences of my life.

    On Sunday, I did a little bike-love. Wiped it down and cleaned and lubed the chain. Then I grabbed my son’s ride and spread the love!

    1. TomInAlbany

      I would also add, to your essay, Patrick, the concept of endurance.

      I have a few friends that I don’t see very often any more. We’ve moved to different parts of the country. But, when we do see each or or speak, we fall right into our ages-old rhythm. That part of me that was missing gets topped up again.

    2. Author

      That ability to drop right back in with someone and pick up where you left off, even if it was 10 years ago is the real hallmark of a true friendship. I’ve spoken to a number of wise people over the years about what that special sauce is, but all I can say is once that simpatico is established, it’s indelible. It’s no less true with the bike.

    3. Neil Winkelmann

      Steve (who you met in Emporia) had just reconnected after 15 years, with DK being the catalyst. We’d been training and racing buddies for years back when I lived in Australia. I found that we did indeed drop straight back into the familiar routine like it was just yesterday. Wonderful. We’re planning next years’ cycling adventures already.

  4. Eddie Whittemore

    Agreed with Padraig, the bike does very much look after us. Whether it’s an organic, living and breathing organism is open to debate. To me, what’s not open to debate is whether the bike looks out for me when descending or cornering.
    That said, is it us looking out for ourselves when we maintain our bikes, knowing good and well that every ounce of good will and TLC will usually come back in spades during hard rides? Not sure. I tend to think so……

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