I’ve written enough about cycling over the last decade to know that I don’t know that much about cycling. It has helped enormously to do this weekly Group Ride, which so often elicits responses I didn’t expect and course corrects my ideas about how people are riding their bikes. Far from feeling like an expert after all this time, I feel like more or less the same clueless Fred I was when I first started corresponding with Padraig more than a decade ago.
Most of the time this column falls out of a conversation I’ve had with someone smarter than me, or someone with a different perspective. And then, sometimes when I’m thinking about the Group Ride I go to other ordinary cyclists and ask them what they think about something. This really never turns out to be a bad approach, and it’s nice for me, because it allows me to see the bike and riding it through someone else’s eyes.
This week, cooped up as we are, I decided to ask my wife and kids what one word they think of when they think about riding bikes. None of them has ridden a fraction of the miles I have, but as it turns out, you don’t have to have ridden and suffered and obsessed over the bike to understand most of what is fundamentally great about it.
My youngest son said fast. “I just like that you can go fast, that feeling, and that if you want to get someplace you can get there faster on the bike,” he said. It reminded me of that day every spring when I first throw a leg over my road bike, instead of the gravel or mountain bikes. The narrow tires at high pressure, the lower gearing. It feels like riding a rocket ship. It feels like being a ten-year-old again.
My older son said farther. “You can get to places that are farther away,” he said, “to friends houses or whatever.” I thought of my first forays out of my own neighborhood when I was a kid, incredulous that it was even possible to be this disconnected from home, free floating in space. How far could I go? How far did I dare to go? That’s a pretty intoxicating headspace to live in, no?
My wife said empowering. “It’s that feeling of knowing your body will get you from point A to point B,” she said, “that you can hang with your friends on a group ride, or that the bike will just carry you down the hill.” I like this too, the self-sufficiency and the independence.
For me the word is freedom. I have always loved the process of escape. When I was a kid that was mostly escaping the authority of my parents, or of adults generally. Bound up in escape is discovery. You flee your familiar surroundings and you find new things, new places, new ideas. I don’t need to pile up miles or pull off any public exploits in order to feel free. Sometimes I just need to roll out on my bike and see where it takes me.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what is your one word? Feel free to explain, but give us that one good word and explain why it’s the one that captures what’s most important to you about riding your bike.