Whenever we ask the question “Is it good for cycling?” the answer should always be “Yes, If it helps children.” The questions about bike lanes and bus routes and helmets and miles ridden and safety gained should always include our wishes for the next generation of human beings. If we fail at that, then why bother?
Everything we do should be something that we could show our children and “not have to explain.” When we sit them in our cargo bikes and head off for a gathering that ends in a drunken mess, we have to ask ourselves what have we taught our kids?
When we demolish one another in online conversations within forums and our kids happen to see them will we be happy that they found them? When we design things for clubs and forums and advocacy groups do they embody the best of what we could and should pass on to our kids when it’s their turn to be the adults?
In fact are we acting at every point in our lives as a cycling community with these precious little ones in mind? I think perhaps we do not and we know this in the back of our minds. But we decide to carry on with whatever it is because we “want it that way“.
High School All Over Again
Frankly it seems to me that our level of discussion always sinks back to those days in school when we were part of a given clique. Some of us are the helmet Nazis. Some are the Protected Bike Lane police. And whenever we get into forum discussions with anyone whose ideas threaten us we lash out. We actually wrote aloud that we want to see them dead!
I had a chance to speak with a friend this weekend about the kinds of disagreements that go on within bicycle forums. He made the comment that one should never take these kinds of conversations seriously. Instead he suggested that if you really wanted to get to the “truth” you had to do it over beers. I drove home thinking about the meaning of those statements.
Do we really need alcohol in our bloodstreams before we can have meaningful dialogue? Do we really not intend for what we say to one another in a forum to be taken seriously?
If we were honest with ourselves we would realize that when we sit down to write something we do so with a fairly good idea of what it is we want to say and wish for it to be taken seriously. Yes, there are a few folks who “troll” in forums. They log on with multiple accounts and use them to create what we used to call “hate and discontent” back in the days of the CB radio craze. But by and large it is males who like to sign in and begin the slow descent into vulgarities and verbal abuse.
And then a few days later they want to ask (in a serious fashion) why there are so few females who ride Divvy or the Protected Bike Lanes around town? Why they might ask themselves do there need to be “Women Only” gatherings to discuss clothing, mechanical issues with bicycles and strategies for getting other women to take up bike commuting?
Why Does Cycling Matter?
Of all the activities that you can do long into your 80s and 90s you would have to include bicycling as one of the best. You can walk of course but for me cycling is far easier and far more enjoyable. Besides if I have a niece or nephew who wants to engage in a pastime with me between the ages of 4 and 40 I can almost always assume that we could do this together with little difficulty and both enjoy the time spent together.
Heck, I can ride alongside a fellow with legs that don’t work anymore if he is on a bicycle. A person without eyesight or balance can easily maneuver a trike or ride on the back of a tandem and have a great time. Cycling is one of the most life affirming things I can think to do with another person.
Because you can ride along at a comfortable speed it does not mean that people of different genders and strengths cannot enjoy the activity together. And always the worries and cares of that particular day are washed away with the sweat of the ride. Running is a great sport, but it requires a lot more energy and skeletal integrity than does a bicycle. We even put young kids on tiny trikes and they can propel themselves around the block with ease.
Nothing works as well as a family activity as riding a bicycle. Trails are delightful when you get to see a good deal of them and can accomplish this in a reasonable amount of time. For instance walking or running 25 miles is daunting. It is a relatively easy thing to do even for beginners on a bicycle.
The Focus We Have Is What Defines Us
Mileage covered in a year is a bit like religious beliefs to me. I am never ashamed of how much or how little I have traveled but like my religious beliefs I treat this as something personal. If a person wants to engage on the subject of religion it is their right to do so. But frankly I am more interested in how that person deals with life’s issues than I am in knowing their understanding of Spiritual Law.
The obsession with mileage for its own sake is a bit like earning merit badges as a Boy Scout. I am an Eagle Scout with a few palms and the God and Country Award. I am even a member of the Order of the Arrow (Brotherhood). But the only people who have ever seemed interested in any of that were other Scouts.
And besides the idea that you have a shared experience of Boy Scouting there is little else awards like merit badges provide other than skills that you learned when earning them and can apply to real life.
Cycling is a bit like Boy Scouting. You can earn awards for mileage and ride leadership and there is nothing wrong with either of them. But if the focus of a club is too narrow something as innocent as earning mileage points gets to be contentious. Is that really necessary?
Miles Without Burden
If you have ever been to a high school reunion or a business party the conversation always devolves into finding out what you do for a living. In these United States that is really the question of how much do you earn. And for most of us that helps us sort out the persons in the group to hang with and those to let go of. I suppose that we do not think ourselves this shallow but we all are, really. We are taught this from an early age.
If our kids do well in school we like those bumper stickers that announce that “My Kid Is An Honor Student at …” The sole reason we really and truthfully put up decals announcing our school affiliations is because it means we are part of a group. The I went to Harvard, Stanford or the University of Chicago mentality is alive and well.
In cycling groups we either like to brag about how many days we were able to ride in sub-zero temperatures or how many miles we were able to get this past year. In most clubs that sort of information is how we establish the “pecking order“. But does any of this really mean that our kids will be better people than we were or are? Probably not.
Nearly a dozen years ago I stopped recording mileage on group rides with my bike club. For one thing there were lots of rides I did with my spouse that just included the two of us. They really could not qualify as club mileage for that reason. And besides I learned that riding as we did for a while in four different clubs meant that a good deal of our mileage never could be recorded across all of them.
So I settled for keeping my own mileage and that has been just fine. Have I stopped being a cyclist. No way! If anything I branched out into riding in places I would never have gone simply because any single club experience is unlikely to be as broad as membership in four at once.
I propose that people simply ignore the mileage counts and perhaps give their to some person who is sick and shut-in. You know it could do you a world of good to ride on behalf of those who no longer can or are too injured to do just now. Anything that allows you to ride without the burden of constantly looking over your shoulder to see who is gaining on you is a welcomed relief.
Smiles Not Miles
Vow never again to use club mileage as a wedge against someone else. Instead could the number of smiles you had this year.
We plan our riding season around a few invitational rides we have done for decades. I frankly do not care if my club counts those miles or not. I am my own mileage database manager and that is good enough. If I can ride a century with friends and chuckle about getting cramps at mile 75 that is worth it all to me. The number of miles I ride is about a meaningless as wondering how many miles a person drives in their automobile. It certainly is not a measure of their skill as a motorist or their quality of life.
After all a delivery boy who uses a bicycle each day could log more miles than your average club rider every year. What does that say about either of you? Do brevet riders deserve more respect than say moms who ride with kids from their neighborhood back and forth to school each day? I don’t think so.
Are the mileage totals of wounded soldiers using arm-propelled trikes less impressive than the guys who ride RAAM or do the Tour de France? I don’t think so. The number of miles you ride in a given year has all the meaning of the statistics surrounding how fast you ride when traveling 50-60 miles. If you ride 100 miles every day does that mean you are having a better time than a person who rides back and forth to the breakfast joint each morning to chew the fat with other retirees?
For me the bottom line is all about enjoyment. I like to stop and take photographs when I ride. Always have. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to gather the images into ride reports to read over the winter when the snow on the roadways is taller than my wheels. Does that make me a less serious rider than someone who rides his bikes at 30 MPH for a distance of 50 miles each day? I don’t think so.
Learning to enjoy yourself and have it infuse your life in such a fashion that those around you say, why don’t I come along and see what all the fuss is about, is the key.
In addition to eschewing miles in search of smiles, why not ignore speed as well? I read about a so-called movement in which people get together on bicycles to find out how “slow” they can ride, not how “fast“. Now there is always a good reason to ride fast. But there is always a good reason to ride slow as well. One of my cycling heroes is a gal by the name of Pamela Blaylock. She is from the Boston area and wrote many a thread on the old UseNet of 20 years ago.
Her cycling group like to hold “granny ring races” as they completed long group rides. I think once a month a ride in your granny gear should be encouraged. In fact when you have rides where people who are worried about “keeping up” are present this is a great way to “break the ice“.
Let’s keep “Austin Weird” and “Cycling Done At The Speed of Fun“. Let’s make bicycle all about enjoying our neighborhoods and our neighbors. We won’t have Open Streets this year due to budget cuts. But who the heck cares!? We can invite folks from the city and surrounding suburbs to our communities to ride along with our bike clubs and encourage them to bring the family.
Besides we can then all stop at the local coffee and ice cream shoppes en route and make memories. Nothing spells fun like having an ice cream shoppe ride where for fun you have to eat at least a single scoop (0r not) at each stop. Why not have your club design a Sunday ride series for your neighborhood or community. You invite everyone out to ride to the local pop corn shoppe or bakery and enjoy and greet people you never knew?
You can show up dressed any way you want. You can sport Lycra and Spandex or nylon. It does not matter. You can accept people with or without helmets and make certain that everyone is riding on properly inflated tires. You can also have those teachable moments when a person get a puncture and everyone stands around watching it get fixed.
Let’s put cycling back into the hands of kids. Seldom do cycling club really have any outreach to children. Why is that? I guess it’s because we are too busy being mileage mongers and trying to learn to ride fast enough to go with the “big dogs“. Does any of that mean we are having more fun? Well it depends. Given the right state of mind you can have fun (or not) on just about any kind of ride. Does it matter if your miles get counted? I dunno?
It’s far more important that we keep track of those smiles. Not just on our faces but upon the faces of the kids who are enjoying riding along with the adults. So let’s be on our best behavior and settle into a enjoyable afternoon of ice cream or donuts or smoothies or iced mochas. Doesn’t matter. I predict that more marriages could be saved and fewer kids have behavioral problems if we only starting to take life as it comes.
Granny Ring Races For Everyone!