We all have a favorite bike, right?
Mine is a non-descript steel Sawyer from 2010. I bought it on a whim from the local shop who (quite oddly, in my opinion) couldn’t seem to move it. They made me a deal so they could clear room for other inventory, and I was happy to take it for (if I recall correctly) about 900 shekels American.
While I think the frame looks kinda bitchin’, there’s really nothing special about it. It’s meh grey, the components are basic, and I didn’t even try to do anything ‘cool’ to it, even though it’s set up to easily convert to singlespeed or even belt drive. To be silly ironic, I had the shop put a set of matching RockShox stickers on each leg of the rigid steel fork. I’d like to think they found it funny, but it’s much more likely they thought I was a dork.
To be truthful, the bike rode like crap at first: heavy, sluggish and slow. But those negatives were largely remedied by replacing the poo-licious low end stock wheels with a set of Mavic Crossmax’s set up tubeless and ditching the weird swoopy stock bars with a standard set of risers. What I soon found was that I had a simple and rugged machine that was perfectly serviceable for any ride that didn’t have too much chunky gnar. It soon became my go-to bike any time I wanted zero-pressure riding; flow trail rides, after-work trips to the teeny-weeny pump track on the other side of town, and (of course) bike-assisted bar crawls. Feeling annoyed? Grab the Sawyer and practice wheelies in the church parking lot (yes, I still suck at them.) Work is a pain in the ass? Throw a bag of Cheerios in the pocket and meander down to feed the ducks at the creek. Buddies want to meet for a beer? Hop on the Sawyer for a bit of ‘free range’ experience to and from with the bonus of not having to worry about driving.
The obvious reason why I’m so into this bike is because when I’m on it, I’m playing. Time is generally unstructured, destinations (if they are defined at all) are fluid, and speed is almost never a priority. The brain is a bit closer to ‘new experience’ mode, like a kid or younger animal exploring the world around them; being in the moment, trying new things, making new connections. At the risk of being overly cosmic, when things are at their best, my time on the Sawyer is really just allowing myself to enjoy the world around me with as little judgement as possible. Kids do this sort of thing naturally, but adults crave play, too. And the Sawyer is my talisman, to the point that I sometimes just get a bit happier walking into the garage and seeing it.
Riding bikes is generally fun, and just getting out will make most people better riders. Of course, anyone who has any interest in improving will usually start to do this thing called ‘training’. For people who go there, this represents a subtle change in approach. Instead of just being play, riding slowly now becomes a ‘have to’ obligation. Sure, it’s about growth and self-improvement, but it’s no longer the kind of free-form activity done only for its own sake in the moment. Time is the stuff life is made of, and it makes perfect sense to spend a good deal of it on conscious growth-oriented activities. But there’s a fundamental tension between intentional, focused self-improvement and genuine play, even when that self-improvement is fun.
A few weeks ago I was chatting with some of the up and coming juniors at the local Saturday hammerfest that’s probably just like the one in your town. They’re all good kids, by all indications, and strong riders to boot. As I listened to them talking about their training, the number of hours a week they were riding (too many, in my opinion), specifics of their interval sessions, etc. and I couldn’t help but sadly wonder how long it would be until they quit, as repeated experience has taught me most of them will.
No less that even Ernest Hemingway compared cycling’s cruelty to boxing. And while some might feel that this comparison is silly, I suspect that most of those folks never suffered from a healthy dose of road rash, shattered a collarbone or wrist after their front wheel sunk into some unexpected loam, or were forced to abandon a race after suffering for hours until cramps made turning the pedals impossible.
The truth is that bike racing is designed to be brutal. If done correctly, all but the very best will progress to the point where they’re getting their asses handed to them as a matter of course, and even those who are the very best won’t stay that way for long. No less that even Ernest Hemingway compared cycling’s cruelty to boxing. And while some might feel that this comparison is silly, I suspect that most of those folks never suffered from a healthy dose of road rash, shattered a collarbone or wrist after their front wheel sunk into some unexpected loam, or were forced to abandon a race after suffering for hours until cramps made turning the pedals impossible.
None of this is to say that training and racing are bad things. In truth, I tend to think the opposite, at least when done honestly. With a few notable exceptions, all the folks that I know who have actually stuck with riding over many years, the lifers, are the ones who most enjoy the play aspects of riding. Many of them are racers (or used to be), and some are still borderline maniacal about it. But they all seem to allow themselves the indulgence of riding for no real reason at all, at least some of the time.
And man, do I know a cool bike for that sort of thing.