Guest Post: Why I Started Riding, by Paolo

05.31.2012 | 1:52 am

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.


  1. Comment by Bragi Freyr Gunnarsson | 05.31.2012 | 4:04 am


  2. Comment by Erik Stoneham | 05.31.2012 | 4:39 am

    Well put. Thank you,

  3. Comment by Graham | 05.31.2012 | 6:01 am

    Do you know why I reading this website makes me cry? I’ll tell you. It’s because years ago I moved to the coast in order to experience something different from the Appalachian mountains.

    I have ridden my whole life and I LOVED riding the trails that seem to appear and disappear in those mountains. Here? The closest thing to a “hill” is a 2 degree incline into a headwind. “Trails” are sandy stretches chewed up by atvs and impossible to ride on.

    All you happy people getting muddy on your bikes just makes me nostalgic for those singletrack days. I’m trying to love road biking (we have lots of roads) but so far it seems to lack the same sense of adventure that being on the trails had.

  4. Comment by Mary Timberlake | 05.31.2012 | 6:08 am

    Twin Six needs to buy your poem and put it on a tshirt or jersey. I’d buy it. (loved the rest of the story, too)

  5. Comment by sara | 05.31.2012 | 6:56 am

    love love love this post. riding a bicycle is a spiritual experience for me and i think that’s hard to explain to people sometimes.

    also, i agree with Mary’s comment … would love that poem on a shirt!

  6. Comment by Clancy | 05.31.2012 | 7:01 am

    Pure poetry. You’ve nailed the essence of why I ride as well..

  7. Comment by Anonymous | 05.31.2012 | 7:35 am

    Pure poetry! Thank you!

  8. Comment by Juju | 05.31.2012 | 7:48 am

    Feeling silly at 43? Try being 59 1/2 (and “fat and weak and old and foolish”) and STILL hitting the road on your bike several times a week. The thing about cycling is that you can grow older with it, and it can grow older with you.

    Keep up the pedaling and the poetry-writing!

  9. Comment by Yannb | 05.31.2012 | 7:55 am

    Good story. Poem would be awesome on a tshirt. I’d buy one and think a few of my friends would as well.

  10. Comment by TK | 05.31.2012 | 8:40 am

    “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’ve never heard it put this way, but think it perfectly explains how I feel about riding too.

  11. Comment by Sara | 05.31.2012 | 8:56 am

    Love the Suess-like prose!

  12. Comment by Fat Cathy | 05.31.2012 | 9:18 am

    Awesome. And I too love the Suess poem (I have a 4 year old, so I’m into Dr. Suess at the moment). I would so buy a t-shirt with that on it.

  13. Comment by SaddleAmericana | 05.31.2012 | 11:30 am

    ah yes, the tales of the scars. Thanks for the great post Paolo—what a great, well written, deeply communicative conclusion you gave us too…I love it: all the places bikes take us! That’s what pedaling is all about!

  14. Comment by Dan O | 05.31.2012 | 12:26 pm

    Great post. And not silly at all feeling that way about bikes at 43 years old. I’m 50 and feel the same – along with a bunch of other folks…

  15. Comment by | 06.1.2012 | 10:46 am

    …ok, confession…this story and your words actually made me cry. Cry because of the absolute joy and pain of riding. My bikes are my religion, I worship on them and they sooth my spirit. WE LOVE BIKES!!!!

  16. Comment by AKChick55 | 06.1.2012 | 2:26 pm

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is exactly how I feel, though I do remember when I first started riding. And I really don’t like hills or headwinds or chipseal, but realize they all make me stronger. However, it was the poem Dr. Seuess would have written if he rode a bike that got me. That brought tears to my eyes because I FEEL that way (except hills and wind unless it’s a tailwind). I fell back into bikes later in life and I don’t consider myself old nor do I think that it’s silly to talk about bikes this way whether you are 10 or 90. Bikes keep us young and healthy!!


  17. Comment by Micki | 06.1.2012 | 2:48 pm

    Love this Paolo!! I had a smile from ear to ear as I read it!! So many of us 40 something’s can relate to feeling like a kid on the bike! I always like to say that with each pedal stroke forward, we gain so much life and energy. When you ride, I sure see the passion you have, and it is contagious!! Thank you for sharing your story!! And, I really love that poem, too!!
    Cheers to many more great rides!!

  18. Comment by Giorgio Teker | 06.4.2012 | 12:42 am

    I remember some of those scars, and how you got them.I have a similar passion but for hiking instead of cycling. I too, allowed the necessities of life to interfere with my living life. Strangely, in the last few months I have started hiking again, after a hiatus of some 15 years. This article has given my feet wings, as it were. Thank you.

  19. Comment by Gavin | 06.4.2012 | 1:53 am

    I am the priviliged best friend Paolo talks about. Well done Pal you nailed it bud, couldn’t have said it better myself. I miss those days more than anyhing but cherish the memories like gold, if ever there were days, those were the days. Keep pedalling up the memories.

  20. Comment by Jane | 06.4.2012 | 2:31 pm

    Well written Paulo. Jane, CT SA

  21. Comment by luciana | 06.25.2012 | 9:53 am

    You call him paolo, I call him dad. Thank you for moving me off my butt and on to my amazing bike to bike to cycle with you!
    Your loving (and tolorant of constent bike rides) daughter,

  22. Comment by luciana | 06.25.2012 | 9:54 am

    Ask booty to put your poem on a shirt. She’d be happy to.


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