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I wrote this yesterday, 30 March 2017. Today cycling seems different. There was an accident early this morning and a person died. He was riding his bike across Australia.
My commentary (right) offers a few thoughts conjured by exchanges with a reader of RIDE.
If you’ve got any thoughts you’d like to add, please make a comment on our Facebook page or send me an email.
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With the 75th edition of our magazine out and a refreshed look for our website, it’s a good time to reflect. Breathe deep. Count backwards from 30 slowly. Take a moment to clear the mind. There’s a lot to take in – but, at the same time, this is largely a column about nothing more than a few casual observations made during the opening stanza of 2017.
Let’s start with the obvious: summer is behind us in Australia. The long, hot days are getting shorter and colder but there’s a sense of fulfilment in the cycling community.
Never mind what happened in the races. They’ve been done and won.
Don’t worry, for a moment, about what went on in your club or at the federation or in the political realm, when it comes to cycling – that’s all largely hyperbole anyway.
The collective ‘they’ can talk about change all they want and state that things are “getting better” and about how cycling is becoming a broader part of the social conscience. But does it really mean anything if we still feel marginalised when we ride our bikes?
Before getting bogged down by the instinctive urge to whinge about how it could be better, however, the aim of this post is to simply take a moment to consider the state of cycling in Australia: how it’s changed, grown and matured into something that is on the cusp of gaining true momentum.
Cycling is more accessible than ever. Equipment is amazing and more affordable. Infrastructure is emerging, policies are changing, and there’s a general acceptance that this bike riding caper has some genuine benefits.
Throughout it all, we continue to ride. Thank goodness for the sanctuary of the simple act of pedalling, it keeps many of us sane.
A recent letter from a reader reminds me that I’m not alone in the way I view cycling these days.
A common theme of commentary about cycling is how it is great for both physical exercise as well as emotional therapy. And although we all do a similar thing, we do it for different reasons at different times in different ways.
Transport, exercise, sport, work, meditation…
Morning, evening, summer, autumn, winter, summer…
Road, track, MTB, BMX, cyclocross, communting…
Ultimately, however, we ride our bikes because it is good. You know the reasons why you do it and even when it’s potentially bad, it’s still good.
“It was horrendous, the climb never felt like it was going to end.”
Followed by: “When I arrived it was genuine elation!”
“The weather was terrible, the trails were filthy, there was mud in my eyes, ears, nose and nothing was dry…”
And then: “I’ve not had that much fun since I was a five-year-old riding through puddles.”
* * * * *
“I heard you on the most recent Cycling Central podcast talking about how your view of the sport and what you love about it has changed,” wrote Matthew, a reader from Leederville, WA. “I would like to say that this resonated with me. I really enjoyed your perspective. As an almost 47-year-old bloke with two kids who runs a business I relate to it very much and have found my perspective has changed, particularly around my own racing.”
During the discussion in SBS’s studios early in March, I couldn’t hold back the urge to explain my take on cycling at the end of summer.
“Anyone who has heard me speak on this podcast – or who has read my magazine for 20 years – they know I love racing, I love the pro scene and a lot of things about pro cycling.
“But I think that what we’re seeing at the moment is a groundswell of participation over viewing: I don’t know if it’s just me [but] I haven’t turned on the television a lot but I’ve ridden my bike a bit.
“And spare time conjures the urge to ride more than to watch…”
There’s more to my commentary but these were the opening lines about it on the Cycling Central podcast.
I wrote back to Matthew and thanked him for the encouragement.
“It’s difficult to articulate that something I’ve been passionate about for so long is beginning to seem a little ‘mundane’,” I said in my reply, “but I think that cycling is a holistic concept and to just pigeonhole something with so many tangents is a shame (and something of a waste).
“Recently I was compelled to make a little clip out of an adventure I had with my oldest son while riding,” I explained to Matthew. “It’s largely a family ‘vlog’ but you might get something out of it…”
(Let me be the first to acknowledge that swathes of the vlog could have been edited out but for me it was just a little bit of multimedia fiddling on a Sunday afternoon following a lovely ride. – Rob)
My reply to Matthew concluded with the following sentiment: “Cycling means a lot to me, and pro cycling is still fun … at times. But for me, the true future of the activity lies within encouraging everyone to find what it is about cycling that they like and to cherish that – and then go and find the Next Cool Thing about it. Does that make sense?”
Matthew wrote back a few days later and his response reminds me how fortunate we are to have cycling in our lives.
“[It] makes total sense to me,” he wrote. “I still love pro racing but with a lesser obsession that I once probably held. I find that the main love I have is just riding. Not so much racing anymore. The act of getting out and riding/suffering through a pedal is what I now love more than anything.
“I liked your vlog,” he said kindly. “Unfortunately my son has no interest in the bike and my daughter has a heart condition so I can’t share these types of experiences with them.
“You are lucky.”
Indeed. I’m blessed to have discovered the joy of cycling when I was young. I’ve been able to turn my passion into a profession. I’ve had the pleasure of riding all kinds of bikes on all manner of terrain with all sorts of people. I’ve falling in love and out of love with cycling many times, but I’m still here, riding my bike whenever the opportunity presents.
The fact that my children enjoy riding too is a gift, a joy, and it heralds the beginning of a new sequence of adventures that two young riders are about to embark on. What the bike brings to my children and where it delivers them remains to be seen but for now I’ll take heed of Matthew’s concluding words and thank all the serendipitous events that have led me to where I find myself.
I’m able to ride my bike. I like to ride my bike. Cycling is part of our family activity and although I’ve seen a lot of what riding can do, there’s always more to discover.
There is frustration and satisfaction in many elements of life. Sometimes we complain, other times we rejoice.
The passing of seasons offers a fitting time for a moment of reflection and consideration of why we do what we do and how we hope to progress.
I’ve been annoyed by cycling sporadically but ultimately it is one of the finest things I can think of doing. It brings me more satisfaction than frustration and it allows me to feel as though I’m part of a community that, big or little, is being proactive in the quest to make this world a better place.
Yes, I am lucky.
– By Rob Arnold