Why I Started Riding
I have no idea why I started riding but I can tell you this – I am in my mid-forties and some of my earliest memories of being a kid involve bicycles. I can remember riding a bike outside my grandmother’s house when I was 5. I remember riding to/from school from about 5th grade all the way through high school. I have many scars and each one has a story about a different wipe out:
- Foot in front spokes when my brother was giving me a ride home from school and I was on the handle bars
- First day with new BMX bike, taking a big jump, landing with knee on pedal, many stiches
- Half pipe side landing destroyed ankle;
Even though the scars tell the stories of all the things that did not go right, the rest of me, and the fact that I love riding to this day, tells the story of all the stuff that did go right.
I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa (close to Zambia – relatively) in a place and time that no longer exists (mostly for the good). As a kid I had an incredible amount of freedom. There were no grownups out there keeping tabs on me and so my best friend and I would spend our days riding. When I think back about those days I can honestly say that our bikes were as much a part of us as our arms or legs. We rode until it was too dark to see and then we rode a little more. There were no cell phones so no one would call us home. We rode until we kept crashing into things and general y this told us it was time to head home. I knew the roads and dirt trails so well from my friend’s house that I had no problem riding them home in the dark. I rode because, to me, it was total freedom.
Then a whole lot of life happened between the ages of 17 and 35 with only brief periods of riding. I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. I rode a bike as I had no car and didn’t care for the bus. This was great in the summer but in winter it rains all the time, so riding was only available for a third of the year. Then I moved to Portland, OR, then Seattle , WA with much the same riding pattern. Some riding in the summer and very little the rest of the year. With kids arriving while in Seattle, riding faded into the background and stayed there for some time.
Then, about 8 years ago, we moved to Southern California and abundant sunshine. I had an old mountain bike that I had ridden in college. Wasn’t much, but it was a bike. I remember sitting around one morning wallowing in my mid-life rotundness and wondering how I had let myself become so out of shape. I got on my bike and rode up the river trail, a total trip length of 7 miles round trip and completely flat to boot. Liberation! I was so excited. Not because I had gotten off my rear-end and done something, but because I felt like I was a kid again. Everything that I remember about loving bikes as a kid came back to me in this short ride:
- The freedom that comes with cycling
- The fun of going really fast under your own steam
- The wind and the sun and the sound of cycling
- Knowing that if, given the time and if you wanted to, you could ride to just about anywhere.
I knew at that moment that I wanted to ride again and keep riding. I got rid of the old bike and got a new one. I rode that one for a year then upgraded to the carbon world and spent 5 years racing triathlon. Recently I sold the tri bike and bought a Specialized Stumpjumper 29’er and took to the hills. Soon I will buy another road bike and split my riding time between dirt and road. I have a single speed road bike that I love riding. It is a pure steel frame and has the setup for the old suicide sticks, but mine is just a single. I ride it to work once or twice a week and love the simplicity of pure riding without worrying about gears. Hills are harder and my cadence is up on the flat but really all I need to do is point it in the right direction and pedal. I can’t keep up with my buddies on the Cervelo P3’s or other fancy bikes, but I have ridden this thing from Seattle to Portland (STP for those who have not done this I would highly recommend it). This is over 200 miles and I did the first 150mi on day one. I ride it because I love riding and this bike is riding at its purest.
Here is a poem that I imagine Dr. Seuss would have written if he had liked bikes and riding as much as I do:
I ride it here, I ride it there, I ride my bike everywhere.
I love the hills, both up and down
I’m always happy, never frown
My bike is me and I am it
I love my bike, every bit.
I rode a really hard mtb event this weekend (Conquer the Mountain – Lite). There were times on the trail (after 4,200ft in 18miles) where daemons were all around me. Telling me I was fat and weak and old and foolish. And still I was on a bike in the mountains. And the sun was shining and the breeze was cool. So I rode past the daemons. Again, and again, and again. And when I got to the top of the climb and the descent was straight down with loose shale and rocks and cliffs (way beyond my ability), I pointed my wheel straight down and rode. And I loved every minute of it (some in retrospect but mostly while I was there).
I may not remember why I started riding when I was a kid, but I certainly know why I keep riding. Riding a bicycle is a spiritual experience for me. Wind. Sun. Rain. Hills (up and down). Dirt. Chip seal. Bike path. Sweat. Speed. Pain. All of these are part of the ride and all of them make me feel alive. I love and hate each one of these at different times on different rides, but each one is there in some form and each of them combine to remind me that sitting in an office most of the week is a means to an end and not the end itself.
I ride because my bicycles are part of me. Part of who I am. I feel a little silly being 43 years old and talking about bicycles this way, but I love what a bicycles allow me to be. I love where bicycles take me (both figuratively and literally). I love how riding makes me feel. To sum it all up I just plain love riding.
Thanks for letting me tell you my riding story. I wish you all well and hope your days (and mine) are filled with many more wonderful rides.