He sat opposite me, still smiling, with a few more kgs on than I remember and no longer a biker. He had been cycling so long that if you mentioned his name, let’s call him Michael (it’s his real name) I could only picture him on his bike or standing with a clipboard and a stop watch. Michael was that guy, full of passion for cycling and wanting to encourage others into his world of joy by organising races and introduction spins. I was always impressed by his energy for the sport. He gave the newcomers an extra long handicap in races to envelope and share out victory.
Lives change and demands on time change and routines change, and Michael just stopped biking. He disappeared off the mountain…and I wouldn’t accept that you just wake up one morning, or over a period of a hundred sunrises and don’t pedal. So I quizzed him.
Why? Don’t you miss it?
And only afterwards I realised I was being both too abrupt and nosey, as cycling is such a big part of my own identification. I would be but an indoor plant without the pot. Soil leaking onto the carpet, ugly roots exposed and a beautiful wife shouting at me for getting in the road and creating a mess.
Cycling completes me. It keeps me socially, physically and mentally happy.
In 2007 after dropping out of a stage race, 4 days in, I was disillusioned and packed cycling. I thought there was more to life. So I bought a canoe and then another. I wasn’t a great swimmer or a canoeist, and very nearly drowned, a lot. The boats were replaced by a cutting edge recurve archery set and decided to try to attain international level. I set up a 70-meter target and fired thousands of arrows and walked that 70 meters to retrieve the arrows until the grass was worn into a trench. A trench of shame and boredom. Archery on your own is shit. It is like sitting, lonely, at a bar when there is a birthday party behind you and the sound of laughter and desire to be included makes you cry. I felt my life was missing something, and firing arrows at a dot and being told you missed me by that dot, 6 times a minute, isn’t positive. Being cold and nearly dead in a river wasn’t it either. There wasn’t anything else to life. The life I had was it. It was cycling and I missed it. When two mates asked me to go for a spin- I was out the shed door on a Mountain bike with a flat rear shock like a puppy off its lead.
During that period I wasn’t cycling and someone asked what do you do? I never said I was Robin Hood once. “I used to do a bit of cycling.” I wonder does Michael miss identifying with us awesome bikers? I used to look at passing cyclists in this dark period in the way Cinderella’s sisters stared at Glass slipper emporiums.
My efforts to convince him back in the saddle were fervent. What do you do with your weekends now? How do you keep healthy? Do you not miss the friendship? All the questions I listened back were the reasons we all cycle. Transport, freedom, nature, speed, competition, belonging.
Living our best life.
Solutions exist for the negative aspects of cycling,
Traffic? Go gravel (it isn’t a fad – joy, forests, mud and speed)
Fitness? Go electric assist or shorter or flatter.
Nob in the local cycling club? Tell them they are a nob, they will change or avoid you- simples. (Or tell another club member, it will get to them just as fast. Cycling clubs are the only place in the universe where sound travels faster than light.)
I don’t know if Michael will get back on his bike(s). His partner told me they are still there. Deflated. We both hope he does.
We were never close friends, you would see him on the trails and stop for a chat. I do have his number and I should ring him to go for a spin. Not sure if I will. There are Michaels everywhere. You know a Michael. People who for whatever life has thrown at them have stopped cycling. Us, who still bike and daily/weekly, on the return from the ride, notice the positive life affirming affect it has on us. We should give the Michaels a text to see if they want to go for a short spin, to the coffee shop, for a catch-up, on a dry day.
Both will feel better.