Life in the Bike Lane column

Avid cyclists understand

By: Tom Frady
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I almost never get sick.  In about 15 years of cycling I had never missed a planned ride due to illness. 

But last month I got hit with whatever it was that has been going around.  Flu?  Cold?  I dunno.

I know most of you will say “big deal” but I was off my bike for a full week.  I’ve been off my bike for this long or longer before but it was always because of a combination of travel/weather/bike-in-shop.  Somehow, it’s different when you’re sick, not really feeling miserable but can’t ride. 

Even when I’m riding all the time, I get a little envious of rides posted on Facebook by friends.  It doesn’t really matter if it’s a 15-mile test run of some new bike part or an epic double century. 

In a normal week, I spend 15 to 18 hours on the road.  That can double during May when I am not only adding extra miles for May is Bike Month but training for AIDS/LifeCycle, a seven-day ride in early June. 

I have joked that the road is my church.  The saddle my pew but there is some truth to it.  Avid cyclists understand.  We know from science that repetitive movement – such as knitting, drumming and pedaling - can help people achieve a meditative state and calmness of mind. We can feel like part of a mechanism, rhythmic, learning the virtues of a silent, solitary experience.  Life reduced to its simplest form:  no demands but to pedal.

Cycling isn’t quite a religious experience for me but it does make me feel good. It seems counter-productive to wear hi-vis clothing, have bright lights mounted front and back and use a helmet mirror, all to enhance your safety, then drift off into some Zen-like state where you are aware of nothing but your “true self.”  You and your true self will either end up in a ditch or the ER.

My equivalent to “Zenning” out is what I call a “smile moment,” that moment when you realize how much you love being on a bike. 

Not long after I had started cycling, I was riding in one of my first centuries. I had been riding most of the day when I looked down at my speedometer that was just turning to 101 miles. I could feel the wind at my back on a flat road; beautiful Lake Almanor was on my right and a spectacular view of Mt. Lassen straight ahead. I smiled to myself and thought “this is fun.”  It still happens often, like this week.

Avid cyclists understand.

I know riding 50 miles in the cold or heat doesn’t sound like fun to most people. But I have noticed my ride buddies seem more animated at the end of a tough ride and it’s more than a “glad that’s over” kind of relief.  Saying “that was a good ride” (which we often do) is saying something more complex and interesting about how we can extend and challenge ourselves.

It’s a feeling of accomplishment, “something to tell our grandkids” we joke.

If I’ve had a good ride, by whatever definition, I can’t wait for the next time I can get out on the road. I get up early to beat the heat, feel comfortable in Lycra, separate my cycling clothes from the rest of my laundry and say sentences such as “it’s an easy 60-mile ride”.

Avid cyclists understand.

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.