TCI Friday

Like any writer, I have a pile of books next to my bed. The pile shrinks and grows, a topographic map of my fragile curiosity. Currently, it contains one piece of fiction, a biography of Einstein, two volumes on modern physics, and a book about the psycho-neurology of Buddhism. This makes me sound more clever than I am. A lot of what I read is aspirational, in the sense that these are topics I’d like to understand, but as you can imagine, my attention span only allows a small fraction of the total knowledge in the pile to hit anything like pay dirt.

If you listened to this week’s Paceline, you heard me tell a story about judging another person’s cycling life and making a snide comment to them about it. Notwithstanding the fact that it was my wife’s boss I was snarking, it was poor form on my part, AND it doesn’t even reflect how I want to treat my fellow cyclists.

This goes along with a broader discussion Padraig and I have been having about who “qualifies” as a cyclist and how we might do a better job of welcoming them into our world.

And then I read a chapter in one of the books in the pile, “Why Buddhism is True,” titled “The Alleged Non-Existence of Your Self,” and I began to see a parallel between what Buddha might have meant by the not-self and what I am coming to understand about what I’ll call the “not-cyclist.”

Please note, I am not a Buddhist, nor am I a religious scholar. I read heavy s**t, but I’m just recording my own thoughts here, charting a possible, logical connection between the ways we think of our “true self” and the way we try to parse who is a “real cyclist.”

First, I’ll try to explain the Buddhist idea of not-self as simply as I can. It’s a big topic, but you’re likely already bored, so…

Buddha asked, “What is the self?” Is it: 1) The body 2) Our feelings 3) Our perceptions 4) Our thoughts or 5) Our conscious awareness of 1-4. Systematically, he explained that our sense of “self” can’t be said to exist in any of these various components of our consciousness, and so it is possible that humans don’t actually have a coherent component of themselves which can properly be called a self.

Don’t work too hard on any of that.

And I thought, based on my clearly false ideas that people who ride Pelotons and other indoor trainers are not “real cyclists,” and my sense that eBike riders are not really cyclists, the way I understand the term, that maybe my whole mental construct of “cyclist” might be empty.

What even is cycling? Is it movement through space, transportation from point A to point B? Or, is it just the repetition of a physical process, like pedaling, even if you’re standing still? Does it happen only on two wheels? What is the thing, the single, discreet quality of cycling?

Like the Buddhist appraisal of the self, every time I try to grasp it firmly, it runs through my fingers.


The Cycling Independent started from the premise that we would write for anyone who rides a bike. “If you ride a bike, you’re one of us,” we said, which was a way to invite as many people as possible to our party. I recognize that I have held onto some firm ideas about who belongs at the party, ideas that are not serving my goals or our intentions very well, so I’m working on letting those go.

In the meantime, maybe you wanna play this little game with me. This week’s TCIF asks, what even is cycling? How do you define it? Craft me a working definition that is broad enough but still logically discreet. Or maybe, like most questions, the answer isn’t that important. Just keep pedaling. All will be revealed later.

Join the conversation
  1. Jeff vdD says

    Cycling is accomplishing a desired objective using a bike.

    New definition required: what’s a bike? A bike is a physical-world frame enhanced by components that has at least one wheel and that operates with a circular or reciprocal rotation of a crank. A bike can be be moving or stationary. Power may be supplied by a human, in some cases amplified by a motor. Technically, pedal boats* might fall within this definition, but I’m making a specific carve-out to exclude them.

    I have no doubt that I’m missing important considerations here and look forward to improving my definition accordingly,

    * Pedal boats offer among the highest known ratios of perceived to actual fun

  2. bsowatsky says

    Pretty simple, really: If you think you are a cyclist, you’re a cyclist. Whatever anyone else thinks about you is irrelevant.

  3. jlaudolff says

    We live in a time when everything is relative. Reality is however you define it. So everyone is a cyclist. And no one is a cyclist. At the same time. What matters is if you are relevant to me.

  4. Barry Johnson says

    I’ve been through this same mental struggle at times. I’ve been riding/racing on the road for nearly 40 years. I’ve had my share of bias, be it e-bikes, spin bikes, tall bikes or whatnot. All that ended with me being sidelined and riding 100% in my basement due to vision issues. Did I become what I loathe? No, I just rode harder and faster on my Kickr. I do plan on hitting the road again, hopefully in spring 2022 if my retina damage allows but I will do one thing and that is too have a new found outlook on anyone in a saddle, of course, if you ride without a saddle I might still call you out, or at least give you a number for a good proctologist.

  5. johnrom719 says

    I know several roadies who ride Pelotons in the winter. They’re cyclists. And what we call spin class in the Midwest is branded “Soul Cycle” in some places, so I guess that Soul Cyclists consider themselves cyclists. In yet other places that activity is called “indoor cycling.” Indoor cyclists probably view themselves as cyclists. And anyone who considers him or herself a cyclist is less likely to run over someone else who considers him or herself a cyclist riding a bike on the road. So, it doesn’t really matter whether Robot, or Patrick, or I consider them cyclists. The important thing is that more people consider themselves cyclists, for whatever reason and whatever device they use to cycle. Its a big tent, and the bigger the better!

  6. mattdwyerva says

    Pretty sure that enlightenment is only possible if you are on a ride. So the picture makes perfect sense. Not sure sure about the words … but I’m not on a ride right now.

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