Thursday, June 26, 2008

Recreational Cycling and the "next step"

Every time I see a bike rack on a car, filled with bikes headed to some idyllic road on the edge of town, something inside me grimaces a little. The word that comes to my mind is "dilettante". I know that's a harsh judgement.

There's a positional difference between the practical cyclist and the recreational cyclist that outsiders (and probably many cyclists) don't see. I suspect that most practical cyclists see the difference, however. The difference is this: while both recreational and practical cyclists see cycling as a rewarding activity (flying, fitness, blah blah), only practical cyclists have taken the next step.

The "next step" is adopting the philosopy that I see at the core of practical cycling, to wit: if a purpose can be reasonably served by a bicycling trip, then it should be. This means that bicycling trips are the best choice for commuting (reasonable distances), grocery trips, errands, and getting to the start point of a ride (again, within reasonable distances).

The "next step" means taking the practical (there's that word again) steps to overcoming the (sometimes irrational) fear of automobile traffic and learing to be safe -- something I'll talk more about later. Some of my friends think I'm unusually brave (or a crazy fiend) for riding in traffic. Neither is the case -- I just follow the rules.

Back in the late '70s, when I was just beginning to cycle seriously, I lived in Houston. My good friend Bill P. (who was into practical cycling back then) suggested that we participate in a fun organized ride "out to Katy and back -- it's only a 25-mile round trip." Bill neglected to mention (and I in my dullness neglected to work out) that from our neighborhood to the start point was about 22 miles. We rode out, we rode the ride, we rode home. When I complained to Bill the next day of how sore I was, he said something like, "Hey man, only pussies drive their cars to the start point." And just like that, I'd put my first ride of more than 50 miles behind me.

The "next step" is a learning process. It means learning (really learning) the rules of the road. It means that one re-thinks his ideas of distance and timeliness, and how much time and effort it should take to do something. It's definitely a change of habit and a lifestyle change.

I still own a car and use it, but much more sparingly, and for things that I can't do on my bike. If I'm in my car going somewhere and I really could be cycling there, it feels like a guilty pleasure. More guilty than pleasure, really.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a first time rider and I like what I'm reading. But I disagree with you on the bike rack thing. I believe the practical rider can, with a good bike and rack, turn any trip into a bicycling adventure. But I do see your point. And I do like that you are monitoring the comments you receive. Other blogs, for the overall good of cycling, need to do the same.