By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
The Kalamazoo crash has gutted us, frightened us, saddened us. It’s horror stabs our idyllic vision of springtime riding like shattered glass to an inner tube.
Collectively, we bleed.
But I will not stop riding my bike on the road. Ever. Here’s why:
- Riding a bike is freedom.
Unfettered, human powered, wind in your face freedom. It was our first freedom as a child and it remains the purest human powered freedom. Freedom isn’t free. The cost is risk. I know if I stay at home in a false cocoon of synthetic safety I will still die one day, having never truly lived.
So I will keep riding.
- I am fit, even though I am old.
What do you call a 50-year-old marathon runner? A cyclist. Riding a bike is easy on my old body. And the wind that blows over my skin is the wind of a younger man’s life. I will never give that up.
Hospitals are crowded with the obese, the decrepit, the infirm and the physically disadvantaged, either by bad luck, neglect or age. But for now, I am not one of them. One day I will be, it is inevitable.
Until then, I will keep riding.
- Cycling is a beautiful sport.
Bright colors from flashing leaves and green grass, sleek fabrics and delicate looking bikes sailing on pavement in wind-whisper silence. Sun-splashed glimpses with blurred peripheries. Riding a road bike is an opulent aesthetic feast for the senses.
When I ride I am fully engaged in a bubble of exuberance and vitality. My problems in the world fade. There is only speed and toil.
Cycling has given us heroes and villains, big and brave; the dashing and arrogant Jacques Anquetil, first man to win 5 Tours de France, the simple and hardened Eddy Merckx, the abrasive and rugged Bernard Hinault, the affable and tragic Greg LeMond and the hate-able and controversial Lance Armstrong.
I will forever be both a fan and a practitioner, and I will never give that up.
- Riding a bike is one of life’s only fair exchanges.
You put in; you get out in roughly equal measure. Few things in life are that equitable, that fair, that rewarding. Toil your entire life at a career only to have it negotiated away. Raise a child who becomes a criminal. Fight a war that is revealed as a ruse. That’s life.
But this is the bike, and every time you push the pedal down the bike goes forward. Every hill is hard but if you do not stop you will reach the top. If you keep riding with the devotion of a religious zealot you will be rewarded with fitness and strength and vitality. Heaven is just a promise. Riding is real.
I do not know if I will go to heaven or hell, but I know if I keep pedaling I’ll get somewhere.
- I want to belong.
We have our own language, our own uniform, our own conventions and quarks. My legs have not had hair since I was 18. I never wear shorts unless I am on a bike. I only use sunscreen on my arms and back of my neck.
These are the marks of club membership, the universal club of the bike rider, the devotee’, the enthusiast, the disciple.
The great cycling writer Maynard Hershon once wrote about “drawing the snug blanket of cycling around us”. It is a blanket that contains only my closest friends. Only they have seen me at my weakest, my strongest. Only they understand.
I belong to them, they belong to me, and cycling holds us as common to each other.
6. I want to be alone.
If you are an introvert who lives mostly between your ears then the bike is precious solace. In ten pedal strokes I am free. I ride my own pace, choose my own route. My only masters are fitness and fatigue, gravity and inertia. They are fair but ruthless arbiters. And I enjoy their quiet and stern company.
A quiet and urgent narrative instructs me on the bike. Things are simple. Go as fast as you can, never give up, come back in one piece.
The rest of life is not so straightforward. So I ride.
I’ve worked in the bicycle industry for 39 years. It was my first job. My lifelong best friend died on a bike. I’ve earned and lost a fortune from bikes. My second avocation, airplanes, was invented by a couple brothers from a bike shop in Ohio.
Riding a bike has given me a decent living, decent health, a decent outlook and a better than decent life.
That is why I’ll never stop.