The bicycle is a simple device. Apply force to a crank and a chain, which turns a cog, which turns a wheel. Forward progress. That simple act has been pushed to the brink by cyclists for well over a hundred years. From the very beginning people have used bikes to cross mountains, cross nations, and simply enough, to cross the street.
There is a smooth beauty in the way a bike works. The fluid motion of pedaling, the speed, the control– all beautiful.
Naturally riding a bike is appealing to many people. And naturally, those people tend to cluster together. How many times have you nodded or waved to a passing cyclist, a complete stranger. There is unity and friendship in the very act of riding a bicycle. Even roadies and mountain bikers have been known to, although very subtly, acknowledge one another when paths are crossed.
I have realized over the last few months just how much of an impact the simple act of pedaling a bike has had on my life. And the results were, to me, astonishing. I am not referring to the physical impacts of riding and training. No doubt, my fitness is better because of my riding, but I am thinking of a different impact. One less tangible and obvious.
I am speaking of course about people.
As I look around, I see that my closest friends today are people I met because I ride a bike. They are fellow racers and riders. People who at first were just “bike friends”, and who are now much more than that. They are people I would not hesitate to help, or to ask for help in any situation. Biking is no longer the reason for the time spent together, but just another accessory to the friendship.
This is never more evident than when one of these people is in need of real, actual help.
Keith invited me to race for the Mad Dog Cycles team in 2001. He was recruiting people for a team he wanted to start up. Seven years later and the team is still going strong. In that time both Keith and I relocated, and ended up across the street from each other. Because we already knew each other, it opened the door for our wives and kids to get to know one another. And today our two families are great friends.
I was thinking about Keith’s sister Sharon recently. Sharon rode on the team with us. So did her husband Greg. Sharon passed away in November 2007. She fought brain cancer with all she had. She left behind her husband and two kids, ages 3 and 1.
And now today, I am thinking of Elden. His wife has been fighting cancer for some time now. Saturday he and his family received difficult news. He wrote that “absent a miracle, Susan only has months to live.”
And now I sit here, and I think of the bicycle again. There is nothing overly impressive about it. And yet, it has changed my life. Without it I would not know so many of the great people I now consider friends. I would not have ever known Sharon. I would not have witnessed the call to arms that so many people answered when Chris and Jefe rolled the Element. I would not know Elden. And I would not ache for him and his family today.
I would not know of all the support that everyone is offering each other. There would be no RAWROD or KTR or ICUP or CarboRocket, that is none of those things for me.
My life is better off for knowing these people. My life is better because I can feel a little of the pain they experience. My life is better because of my friends. And really, I am not sure that other interests or hobbies in my life would come close to impacting me the way the bicycle has. I have friends all over the country, simply because we each enjoy riding a 2-wheeler.
And so I welcome that ache. I know I am still human. I know that someday these same people may be aching for me and my family. And to know that brings me comfort, even when I am not in need of it. I do not know if what I feel helps those who are most effected. I do not know that my sadness when Sharon passed helped Keith and his family. What about Bill Corliss’s wife and son? Did my sleepless nights help them rest easier? And I do not know that the hopeful ache in my chest today is helping the Nelsons. I like to think that on some level it is. Maybe just knowing that there are countless people backing you is powerful enough to raise a person above the darkness? I think it is. I hope it is.
I am drawn each spring to Desert Solitaire. I quote from that book often. And again today I am reminded of something Abbey wrote. “The only thing better than solitude, is society. . . .” I often write about the joy of being alone in the mountains or the desert. But that solitude is only appreciated when offset with good company. What good is there in experiencing a great story, if there is nobody to listen to it afterwards?
People. Bicycles. A simple, yet powerful combination.
Thank God for the bicycle, and for the people who ride them.