Friday, February 19, 2010

Pedaling in the Sticks: the joy of rural cycling

Lately there has been a deluge of writing on urban cycling. In part I believe it is due to the upswing of riding bikes for transportation in cities, in part due to the fashion choices of hipsters, in part due to the fact that everyone with a keyboard and wifi can now publish their musings. (Yeah, interwebs)

I have nothing against urban cycling. I like to commute on my bike, I like to be stylish when I ride, I even like cities. I just don't want to live or ride in one anymore.

I read David Byrne's "Bicycle Diaries" this December. It turned out to be less about cycling, than about musings on the architecture, cultural attitudes, and arts scenes in various cities around the world. One biographical comment of Mr. Brynes struck me; he notes that as a teenager he "...grew to disdain the suburbs, their artificialness and sterlility." (page 9). So he sought to escape the place he grew up in by going to the big city, as many creative thoughtful kids still do. By the 9th grade, I also wanted to flee from the superficiality of American suburban life, and was thrilled with the mere thought of the great cities in the world. But I also understood that where I was best able to think, to breathe, to truly live was in quiet open places. I wanted to live in rural America, i.e. in the sticks.

What does this have to do with cycling? I will let you in on my most cherished secret, the best cycling in America usually starts 40-100 miles outside of urban centers. Even if you do live in the 'burbs, you've got to drive before the riding really gets good. You see, this is where the traffic starts to fade away, the roads are still paved, but are more designed for slow going, and you can begin to hear yourself think. Add to this the fact that the chances for single track are infinitely greater, and you have the best options for all types of cycling.

This fact is more true in New England than other corners of the nation, if only because we have so many paved little country lanes. The reason it is a secret, is that few rural communities are as cycling centric as the urban centers. But there are some very bike friendly rural towns. I am very very fortunate to live in exactly such a community. I have a group ride that I can go out on every day of the week in summer, and we ride a different route every week for months. We don't have to deal with being constantly buzzed by traffic, or risk our skin by blowing through stop signs. And if the roads are full of tourists for a week, there are always the miles and miles of single track.

I just won't tell anyone where, I might take you there sometime, maybe.

And since we have broadband now, and HD Public Television, I feel like I am missing less culture from the big city. I still like to visit every few months,

But for cycling? Week in and week out? Give me my country lane every day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Bike Fever: objects of desire

Cycling is not just about fitness. Part of the joy/madness of cycling is an obsession with bicycles. I know of no one who is as passionate about running shoes or tennis racquets as cyclists are about their bikes. It is an instant obession as well. As soon as a boy falls in love with cycling, he falls in love with bicycles. And as soon as he falls in love with his first bicycle, it can lead to a lifelong passion for cycling.

Unfortunately, this passion is sometimes like puppy love. It comes on fast, and fades just as quickly. The new bike eventually becomes familar and faded. But, it is also like being a perpetual teenager, there is always another object of obsession right a round the corner, the next new bike, and the condition known as "New Bike Fever"

The biggest lie every cyclists tells his spouse is "this is the last bike I'll ever need/want/buy". It assumes that the bike companies will never come up with a new faster, lighter, stiffer, more aero, longer travel, better geared, more comfortable, bike again. Each and every year the great bicycle making companies put out exactly those new bikes. And every year they make sure we have glossy pictures to drool over like kids at the candy store window.

So the lie of "this is the last..." also assumes that you'll never fall in mad obsessive love with a new bike again. The day I can not fall in love with a new bicycle is the day I should sell them all and take up golf, since it will mean that I no longer have the desire for riding better than I have before now.

Falling in love with a new bicycle is also like puppy love in that is as much about the wanting as the getting. Right now, around the globe, cyclists are planning, plotting, and dreaming about their next new bike. It is February, so much of the cycling world is still confined to the rollers or short rides in tights and booties. The beautiful new bicycle is not meant for harsh conditions like this. No, no. In fact, it probably is not even available yet, or it is on order to be delivered late in the spring, or it is still in boxes. But the anticipation of that new bicycle, the sheer tingly anticipation, is exciting of itself. The fever sets your heart racing. You think of all the wonderful new features, and the places you'll ride, and how fast you'll be able to go. It is always a thrilling fantasy.

But once the buds have bloomed, and the sand has been swept from the streets, and the new bike has been built up, then, then we will ride and ride. And the fever will break. For now.