Friday Group Ride #496

Friday Group Ride #496

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.

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  1. Jeff vdD

    I wouldn’t have said that a decade ago when roads ruled my riding. Now, roads are ways to get TO my riding. When the dirt begins, so does the adventure.

  2. TominAlbany

    I think I have different answers at different times depending on what is happening in my day/life. Today’s answer is

    Peace and Quiet: I often use the bike to promote peace and quiet in my sometimes frantic mind. Right now, even before COVID-19, I needed the bike for P&Q. Even more so, now.

    I wonder if this would be a fun one to re-ask later in the season when everyone’s been riding for a while – hopefully.

  3. Tom Milani

    On the tandem, for me, it’s love. Or connection, which is maybe the same thing. On the single bike it’s freedom.

  4. Michael

    Life. I can’t recall a time I wasn’t riding a lot. It is how I have gotten around for 55 of my 60 years. It is how I relax, how I work hard, how I see new things, how I revisit old things. I view the world from a bike saddle. When I have to drive somewhere, it is what I wish I was doing instead. Driving somewhere, I am bored and antsy within half an hour, whereas I can ride for weeks and never be bored.

  5. Miles Archer

    I went on my first ride in over two years on Tuesday. Warm spring afternoon. The first mile gliding over the smooth empty roads was magical. I had forgotten how great it feels to be floating silently along. Traffic was easy like Sunday morning. Didn’t do a ton of effort, but just enough to get the heart pumping and the mind off the constant drip, drip, drip of bad news.

    Wed morning, not so magical. Achy and even a little sunburned.

  6. James Fitzgerald

    Zen. Meaning, only here, only now. It is normally very difficult be be only here and in THE moment. So many distractions in today’s world. Multi tasking is supposedly a good thing. Padraig often writes of flow, usually connecting many dots into a beautiful curving line.
    It is rare and difficult to do that when cycling recreationally. It’s happened for me on some blissful descents in Europe. But, I have accomplished that Zen feeling many times, and not just for a few moments, while racing. That was a driving force in keeping me racing for nearly 40 years and 1000+ races. Especially in an intense race, like a criterium, there is only the race and only now. I’m retired now and I miss that.

  7. Shawn


    You know that feeling when you’re in a new place and going to be there for a while yet haven’t precisely figured out where everything is? Maybe you’re spending a week biking the Ozarks. Even though you’re pretty sure you will get to that fantastic bakery in the morning, the route is a little fuzzy? And then as you pedal thru the place you see something new you’d like to visit later when suddenly you round a corner and, “Hey, there’s the bakery! Just where I thought … we, hoped it might be.”

    That’s the wonder cycling brings me. It’s that feeling of uncertainty in motion — before you’ve learned every root and rock on the familiar singletrack and before your riding group subconsciously moves like a school of fish to bypass that unusually deep-set manhole cover on the way back into town from the Tuesday Nighter.

    It’s the wonder of exploration. The kind of wonder that makes youth so precious. And you don’t have to be young to capture it again on a bike.

  8. Shawn

    I hate it when my phone thinks it knows what word I meant to use. “er” does not = “we”. But I’m not copyediting unless I get a feature article. haha

  9. Dave

    Freedom. From life’s many concerns, depression and anxiety etc., I get out riding and all that goes away and gives me a much needed break.

  10. Kurti_sc

    It’s another form of “love” but I think it allows one to include some of the great things shared so far, like freedom, adventure, and magical

    You guys are all awesome. This will Be in my head on tomorrows ride. A true group ride in a rare time as this. Thanks!

  11. Quentin

    Freedom. It was one kind of freedom when I was 8 years old riding around my neighborhood. It’s a different kind of freedom now in my 40s, but the feeling is not that different. A few days ago I was out on a ride on unfamiliar roads and realized that I didn’t quite know where I was, other than knowing roughly which direction home was and roughly how long it would take me to get back to familiar roads. It was awesome.

  12. Donovan

    Plus 1 for flying. Rolling out from the driveway my soul lifts me off the ground once again as it has for the last 60 years.

  13. Parker

    It’s not easy for one word to capture my own thinking about cycling. On the one hand, cycling means at least three things for me. Strength/stamina for large efforts; delight for small ones; and self-reliance for bike touring. On the other hand, none of these experiences can be defined in the clear-cut manner that “pain,” for example, is. Then there’s the difference between cycling and thinking about it. Maybe Robot’s question’s a koan that cyclists are privileged to consider.

  14. Phil Kent

    Connection. I got my first bike at 6 years old, I am 78. I drove trucks over 35 years and in both cases, when I get out on the road it connects me to every place I have ever been, and anywhere I might wish to go.

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