Over the years I've gone on quite a lot of bike rides for a wide variety of reasons. And let's be honest, most of the time, it's just a ride. It's fun, more often than not (except when it isn't), but seldom a transcendental experience. My rides are really pretty prosaic a lot of the time - I need to get to work, I want to be fast for racing season and have a workout to do, I have nothing better to do. Et cetera. Which makes the standard form for Writing About Riding seem almost defensive in the way it seems (at times!) to seek to justify our weird little hobby by making every ride special. There are a few forms this can take. There's Riding is Meditative. There's Suffering Teaches Us About Ourselves. There's The Bicycle is a Vehicle of the Soul. Perhaps worst of all, there's Riding As Therapy.
Can we have some real talk? A lot of the time I come home with my thoughts as jumbled as when I left. Quite often, I have suffered and learned nothing but that I am tired. Turning the pedals doesn't actually make my problems go away, though of course there's value in a few minutes or hours of escape. Best not to get me started on the spiritual angle. And riding is therapy in the same way that an SSRI is therapy - that is, it has benefits but isn't a substitute for a comprehensive treatment plan. I have gone on rides that rank among the very best experiences I have ever had, but so was the week-long Outward Bound sailing adventure I went on back in high school, and I don't feel too compelled to do that again. My honest reason for loving cycling is that I enjoy riding my bike, most of the time, I like the sensation of speed and the wind in my face and I've made some really good friends doing this and get to spend a lot of time playing with them.
The way we sometimes romanticize and lyricize the act of putting on some funny pants and going for a bike ride can veer into some goofily egotistical territory. And egotism doesn't do much to sell an activity. What cycling means to me is what cycling means to me. I want to share the happiness that cycling brings me. I only fear that making out as if all of my rides, or even a significant minority of my rides, are journies to some poetic apotheosis, is, well - not only is it untruthful, it seems to carry the smug implication that the fulfillment that I gain from it is inaccessible to other people by other means. Cycling doesn't make us better because of something intrinsic to cycling. The only people it makes better at all are the people who are the sort of people to be made better by cycling.
Forgive me if that seems tautological, but what I mean is this: no doubt rock climbers get the same sense of deep personal fulfillment from their hobby that I do from mine. And I'm interested hearing what it is about scaling a rock face that really grabs someone, that reaches into their heart and turns those knobs and switches that open us up and make us warm and excited and alive. I'm just unlikely to be convinced that the same experience would reach me in the same way, or that I would be compelled to come back over and over to climb bigger and harder and faster. My heart is operated by cogs and chains and wind and speed, the same way theirs are operated by ropes and hammers and lichens and altitude. What's special isn't cycling, or climbing, it's how cycling or climbing speaks to us.
I would never ask that we eliminate the poetry in cycling writing. It's a poetic activity. Let's just keep it real every now and then and remember that we are who we are and that's just fine, and sometimes a ride is just a ride.