One of the miracles of cycling is that it is possibly the perfect sport.
It’s ideal for someone who wants to get away from the proverbial “it all” for an hour or two or six. A solo road ride could pass for meditation for many of us. A mountain bike ride on challenging terrain can burn away a week’s-worth of frustration.
Then there’s the way it can allow us to connect with a friend. I have enjoyed one-on-one conversations pedaling beside another rider that would never have happened were we seated across a table from each other. The fact that we are both facing the same direction and physically engaged disarms us and allows us to share things we might keep under seal when faced with another’s gaze.
Let’s not forget that sharing a beautiful road or a fun descent with another rider has the tendency to make the experience a bit more memorable. The colors are brighter, the wind sweeter smelling, the dopamine a bit more plentiful.
None of that speaks to the society that cycling can build between us. From clubs to group rides to the events by which we define our lives, we come together, disparate and common, supportive and antagonistic. I have always marveled at how the peloton is at once cooperative and competitive. Like life, it’s not zero-sum, and in that I see lessons that remind me of why it’s good to get along, why ambition can be a complicated driver.
Winning a bike race (or even a group ride) is definitive in a way a one-on-one match will never be. Being first across the line requires one not just to be more powerful, but to outsmart as well; to beat all the comers requires a diverse set of tools.
I often consider my world through the lens of introversion and extroversion. My solo rides are inarguably introverted; often they are meant to do nothing so much as recharge me. And what is a group ride other than an opportunity to feed at the trough of humanity, to surf the crowd’s energy at speeds few of us can maintain for more than a few minutes on our own.
The longer I am a cyclist, the more I ask myself why I’m still a cyclist. My desire to move through the world astride a bike has taken different forms—road, mountain, gravel—but I’ve never lost the taste for it. What I’m just now beginning to appreciate is how turning pedals has enabled me to find whatever I need, connection, contemplation, serenity. What I seek in cycling, I’ve always been able to find. Nothing else in my life has been so reliable.
I used to think the bike required balance. Now I think it lends it.