What We Wish They Knew

What We Wish They Knew

Communication. It’s been a subject of much consideration for me lately. It’s as multi-faceted as a princess-cut diamond. There’s who my circle of contacts has been lately. Given just what is going down, it’s been curious to consider just who I’ve felt a need to be in touch with. I can identify some shifting priorities; it’s a signifier of who I really wish to be in contact with. There’s the what of my communication. Just what have I felt a need to tell people? Are those communications positive or negative; I have to grant that there is one source of open conflict in my life and another in which I’m trying to avoid conflict. Then there’s the big one with my boys. I have a need to manage them and their behavior here at home, to try to keep them doing some school work, reading at the very least and not playing with electronics all day, but the tension of needing to complete freelance projects on deadline and the need (it’s a genuine drive) to produce for RKP has me occasionally admonishing them with more horsepower than necessary. Just what does that tell them?

I’m also thinking about what is being communicated to me, first, by those in my inner circle, then those people I feel a need to be in touch with. Beyond that, there is what my local government has to say, what my town’s newspaper is reporting and then the alarming information coming from the national media and, finally, the insanity spewing out of Washington.

Deep in the margins of my day, which is to say late at night or early in the morning, I’ve been working on some fiction. It concerns cycling, bike racing, and to you lot, rather unsurprisingly it obsesses over the concerns on which this site was founded: Where cycling takes us psychologically more than physically. Going someplace else has turned out to be a way to go someplace else.

When I began the manuscript, I was writing it for fellow cyclists, for a more metaphoric inner circle, those in-the-know. Then a strange thing happened: I asked a friend, a non-cyclist, to read it. She’s been a valuable sounding board for other non-cycling work, and I wanted to get her take. Her response was so positive that I began to feel like I’d cheated her for not slowing down enough to explain bike racing, the thrill of undulating singletrack, the rush of the pack.

To my complete surprise I developed a desire to write for a much broader audience, to talk about where cycling lives in my life and the lives of many of us, to demystify bike racing without condescending, without going full 101 on the reader. Can you seduce a non-cyclist into a love of going fast on a bicycle? Surely it’s possible as evidenced by all the cycling widows and widowers who wanted to see Jan Ullrich beat Lance Armstrong, the girlfriends who wanted to see Fabian Cancellara pound all comers.

And now, I find myself asking a whole new question. For nearly 15 years I’ve been writing about the inner expanse of cycling for cyclists. It’s certainly possible that I could write a novel about cycling for cyclists that would be warmly received by a thousand score of MAMILs. That would be a satisfying experience, full stop. But I can’t seem to stop there. I want to say something true about cycling for people who absolutely don’t give a shit about cycling, people who don’t need to care about the sport beyond the fact that maybe a family member, friend or coworker wears that nutty, stretchy clothing.

I’m not Robot and it’s not Friday, but here’s my solicitation: What is it you wish the rest of the world new about cycling? Is it that it’s your spiritual practice? That it’s the only time when you are truly free of the world? That it’s several of your favorite hobbies? Help me out here; make my guiding stars a little brighter.


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  1. Matt

    Here’s my stab at it:

    A bicycle lets you be the connection between earth and sky while moving through both. This is what a sailboat lets you do between water and sky. Both involve enough speed that they are distinct from just standing, or running or swimming on the road or in the water. You become the nexus in a dynamic system and acutely aware as all of it flows through you.

  2. Mike

    A few years back, I was riding from work to my daughter’s volleyball game at school. While riding I was focused and at peace. The world was flowing along at just the right place; not too fast and not too slow. Once at the game, I almost immediately felt awkward and out of place. An alien in a foreign land. Once the game was done, I hopped on the bike and felt at home again, at peace.

    1. Author

      I know that feeling well. A birthday party my kids went to. I was painted green and was eight feet tall until I left.

  3. Aar

    I’d really like to sum cycling up by saying “it’s my meditation”. In many ways it is that trite but my reference is to all of the many meditative aspects of cycling. The obvious reference is to communing with nature. Slightly less obvious to non-cyclists is the pain cave. There are so many rhythms involved in cycling from the hum of the chain and the feel of a decent cadence. All of those rhythms are easy entrances to a meditation. I also find meditation in the process of maintenance and cleaning my bikes. I’ll also find a meditative calmness in watching a metric on my bike computer. Yet, when riding you must constantly be aware of your surroundings while still immersing yourself in the meditation. I hope there’s something in there that you can shape into your material.

  4. CT

    Cycling augments the common experience of a landscape, just so, for me. It’s a more expansive understanding of the topography of a place. To walk around is to be immersed in the small details. A single plant, a stretch of light over an unusual surface. The shuffle of another persons feet, the unending plod of your own. But cycling transcends the common, walking speed, experience and allows me to feel the swell and crest of each hill. Something that barely registers in a motorized vehicle, and becomes a monotony on foot. It makes the world feel limitless in a wonderful way.

    1. Harth Huffman

      This is one of the things I was going to bring up, but CT said it so much better than I could have. Thanks for that. You took me back to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for a moment.

    2. Author

      That’s really lovely. And I’m right there with you. I think about that a lot, how cycling is a way to apprehend a landscape.

  5. Scott D Gilbert

    Cycling is my “religion”. It frees you from the stress in your life and helps you to connect with other people.

  6. Maxwell

    Cycling is a single solution for many problems of the individual. Need to lose weight? Need to be present in the now? Need to stop worrying about something? Need to get outside? Need to feel childlike? Need to compete? Need a positive social setting? Need a sport that rewards effort without requiring physical advantages or inborn talent? Need some low impact cardio? Need to replace a bad addiction with a good one? Need to get from here to there? Need to fill your time with something that costs very little?
    However, cycling is less helpful to people who don’t have much ‘me time’. The most common barrier to entry I see is that people have kids. Some moms I know drive close to 100 miles per day. That’s not going to happen on a cargo bike.
    Sure a motivated person can find 15 minutes to go for a ride, but for the general population you’re asking about… I think we see the facts all over the industry.
    What I wish those people knew about cycling? That it’s well worth the time and effort to work it into your or your family’s routine. That it makes you a more compassionate person – eg. a better driver. That it improves your health and is more fun than going to the gym or eating right.

  7. nellborg

    Cycling combines the feelings of being alive and the quality of being outside. By feeling alive, I mean that you get to feel all the minor discomforts of the seat, too much pressure on a certain spot on your hands, breathing too hard, muscles tiring, the cold air entering where you don’t want it to enter, or feeling the heat building up too quickly, plus a thousand other niggles. In our cush, easy, modern Western lifestyle, it stimulates us in a way and reminds us that we are alive. Regarding being outdoors – that’s where we are vulnerable and where parts of our ancestral brain turn on. Senses sharpen. The mind clears. Hikers, runners, etc know this, too.

  8. David

    Because we live in a car culture and benefit from lower oil prices, its difficult to imagine a society where bicycling is integrated into the fabric of day to day living. Euros cycle as part of life, especially in the low countries and Denmark. Shopping, going to the Post, going to school or work are all done on a bike Someday we will experience the same here in USA.

  9. Scott M.

    Stressful times. Stress at work. Hadn’t been for a ride since Sunday. That’s not my usual dosage; not by a long shot.
    Yesterday was yet another day in a series of days with the speedometer pinned at 90 with changes from directives to orders to actions.
    Then something amazing happened. I snuck in a ride after work (in accordance with Biking being an “essential activity”).
    I glided along the levee top in full sun, floating 15 feet above the river bottom on one side and empty offices and apartments on the other. I waved at an old man sitting in a chair in the sun. He waved back. I watched dozens of first time trail users enjoy the day. I said “hello” to people I would normally pass without a second thought.
    From atop the levee, it felt like flying.
    I grinned a big old shit-eating-grin like I hadn’t all week.
    And I felt the stress melt away.

  10. Harth Huffman

    Cycling is not as complicated as bike shops, advertisements, and many other cyclists lead to believe. It’s quite simple, really. You can be a cyclist without getting caught up in it all. Just ride your bike.

    Cycling is stress relieving an mood altering, in a positive way. It makes me a better person. Ask my wife how I know this.

    Do you want to end your commute in a better mood than when you started it? Ride a bike.

    Such good comments above that have already touched on these things and many more. It’s all so powerful. We know this. If you can get others to know this by writing a book about it, then I hope your fingers glide over the keys like a new chain on clean cogs!

  11. Lyford

    There is immense satisfaction in being self-propelled. I have nothing against motors — I enjoyed my time on a motorcycle —but going places and coming back powered only by your legs and lungs gives a great sense of accomplishment and freedom.
    On a different note, I wish people knew that mountain biking isn’t just for young male adrenaline junkies. Most advertising seems to show big air and gnarly drops, but the biggest growth in our area is older riders and families finding a new way to enjoy being out in the woods together.

  12. Eto

    Cycling brings freedom and adventure. Freedom to set and follow a course of your own or someone else’s (a race or ride); adventure in the form of tackling a challenge (hill, distance, weather or course) and mostly of your own doing. You can ride it alone or with others, some you choose and others you may not but each sharing at least a common interest but hopeful of a passion. Cycling in its many forms can be a metaphor for life … with its struggles, duty, work, passion, the elation. Through all this comes the ability to clear the mind, contemplate new ideas and solutions while focusing on the flow and the subtleties of the ride.

  13. KG

    I think Pirsig did it well with the motorcycle and how the ride itself can be a kind of freeing meditation in the same way the working on the motorcycle can. If you can weave a theme like that into the relationship people have with other hobbies, then all (with a hobby) will be able to relate.

    1. Author

      Agreed. That books is one of the stars by which I navigate. I’m a little frightened of writing something that people call a failed riff on his great work. I’d rather write something good that isn’t compared to his book than something people say is a bad copy.

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