I hate this post. I hate it I hate it I hate it.
I didn’t want to even post it after I wrote it. But some tragic events have happened in the Ohio cycling community that have made my stomach sink.
And like the one-too-many beers, the post has to come out, along with some bile and the taste of self-loathing.
So, if you’re not a die-hard cyclist, don’t read it. You won’t understand. It will cause you concern. It may reinforce your preconceived notions about why I’m stupid.
Still reading? Another warning: this post isn’t funny. It may make you sick like I am.
So here it is.
I’m rattled. And I am scared lately. Too many close calls. Too many friends hurt.
Cycling is dangerous. There, I said it.
I suppose I should qualify my statement.
Riding sensibly on bike paths, in bike lanes, and on low-traffic roads are not inherently any more dangerous than any other outdoor activity. Possibly less dangerous than, for instance, hiking or rollerblading.
But the kinds of cycling that I enjoy are inherently dangerous.
Traffic is the main danger in city cycling.
Fast-paced road riding risks include getting run off the road, tangled up in a peloton, chased by dogs, and wiping out on a downhill, a patch of gravel, or a tricky corner.
Gravel grinding is, well, essentially riding on a bunch of loose rocks. Duh.
And mountain biking. Yeah, my favorite, might be the most dangerous. When you start riding, you crash a lot. As your skill progress, you crash less, but your crashes are faster and harder. Some say, if you’re not wrecking, you’re not progressing as a rider.
I must be progressing, because I have had every kind of wreck on every kind of bike. Some caused by me (or my lack of skills or attention), some caused by other cyclists, and I’ve been hit by car drivers twice.
I have had concussions, broken several bones, had many, many lacerations, and I have been rendered unconscious twice. I’ve suffered road rash, bruises, and dog bites. I’ve even been burned by a brake rotor.
I can’t fully bend my middle finger anymore, and sometimes the screws in my collarbone painfully remind me of their existence when I try to use a shoulder bag. My right knee squeaks and gets stiff, my hip pops, and I’m pretty sure I’m ignoring a chronic rotator cuff injury.
Overall, I’m healthy and no lasting harm has befallen me. I’m fortunate.
In the last couple weeks, I have been buzzed at high speed by drivers, and have had a couple close calls on the mountain bike. Happens all the time, but I can’t stop thinking of my friends, for whom that couple centimeters or milliseconds were the difference between eating dinner at home or not.
I won’t go into details mostly out of respect, but also because describing even minor injuries to my friends pulls me into a dark place.
I have fallen into a cycle of reflection and introspection. I’m trying to understand myself (and my friends). I mean, I know it’s dangerous. And I have kids and a spouse who would be deeply affected if I got hurt.
So, why do it?
Analytically, I suppose it is explained by personality. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum of risk-averse to thrill-seeking. In economic terms, this is the difference between being “thrifty” and being “greedy.” Some are content with a small reward, if the cost is not high. Others are willing to gamble big for a big payout.
I admit to being somewhat closer to the “thrill-seeking” side. This makes me greedy, because the potential adverse consequences are high, and would affect my loved ones, yet I do it anyway.
But this is not a full explanation. It’s not just the thrill of risk that I seek.
It’s the escape. I love the outdoors. When I’m in nature, I refocus, find my center, and at the same time, lose the baggage of everyday life.
And there’s the adventure. The new place, the new trail. What secret surprises await?
And the challenge. Small accomplishments, like a faster lap on a trail or a smoother landing on a drop, are tiny rewards to myself. The soul-clearing exhaustion of hard and repeated physical activity is addictive.
Cycling has given me my health back. As I age, I see a fitter, healthier, sharper me. A better me than existed before.
I could make all of these things sound really meaningful, purposeful, important. It’s easy – in western culture, rugged individuality is romanticized and constant self-discovery and self-improvement is applauded. Self-love counts more than love for others.
Individualism is an appealing concept; it enables self-centered behavior – and it makes for inspirational memes. Imagine a picture of a winding trail through the woods with a quote like “life is meant to be lived” or some other tag line. Heck, you have probably seen one today.
But isn’t this just enabling self-centered and destructive behavior?
And don’t get me started on the notion that “he died doing what he loved.” Yeah, but he fucking DIED.
I’m spoiled. Riding bikes makes me happy. So, I do it. I have the money, the free time, and I’m healthy enough.
But is it really right?
I don’t know. Probably won’t ever have a satisfactory answer. Maybe there isn’t a rational answer.
I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want my friends to get hurt. But I like riding too much to stop. I can’t imagine not riding. But I can’t shake the cold in my stomach at the moment.
There’s no message in this. No advice. It’s up to you.
Be brave and be safe.