A few weeks ago I asked around to see if people could put why cycling was so central in their lives into one (or two) sentences. I was curious to see if there was a common thread that ran through the reasons, which, of course, there was.
In reality, there are only a handful of reasons why someone cycles with any regularity, whether they enjoy it or not. While a few people cited more practical reasons, like keeping you fit or more affordable transport, the majority of answers ended up waxing lyrical about what cycling brings to one’s life.
On the more pragmatic side of things, cycling can indeed be mere transport. It can accomplish the same job of getting people from A to B as personal vehicles, public transport, and walking. There are drawbacks, to be sure, such as foul weather, lack of or or poorly designed cycling infrastructure, large or very heavy loads, and distances greater than what can be practically undertaken by bike.
Ask yourself, though – what percentage of journeys do you undertake in a week or month that fall outside of these things? How many trips can you easily use a bike for?
Cycling is practical for many journeys (physically, temporally, financially, emotionally), and for everyone that uses a bike, that practicality is pre-packaged into the deal.
When you compare this practicality to cars and even public transport (for those trips that can be undertaken by any of the above methods), it is where the drawbacks and benefits differ that really take you to the next level, beyond pragmatism.
Aside from convenience, what does driving provide you? As we are assuming trips that can be undertaken by any mode of transport (ie. reasonable weather, reasonable distance, and reasonable infrastructure), driving provides no other benefit. It does, on the other hand, cost more – far more – in terms of financial and physical resources, health (physical and mental), pollution, congestion, stress, etc.
It is here that we start to understand why cycling is being embraced by an increasing number of people from all walks of life (though it is curious why this popularity is on the rise only recently in many places). Where driving provides convenience and ends there, cycling is only just getting started.
Beyond the pragmatic is the profound. Beyond the fact that cycling can physically take you places and do so cheaper and oftentimes faster, it also provides for the immaterial needs of the user that driving or using public transport simply does not (though at least on public transport you have the option of reading, writing, etc).
This is where the responses to my question come in. The thread running through nearly all of them is one of a connection to something more meaningful than ground covered or fitness gained. It is one where body and mind connect in such a way as to produce a positive effect for both, but the impression on the mind is what leaves the stronger, more lasting effect.
From the other end of the spectrum, your emotional needs can come from talking to a therapist, spending time with people, physical activity, or connecting with nature, to name a few. All of these things can be accomplished, and often more than one at a time, on the bike, even while using it merely for transportation.
See, cycling really is something quite special. There aren’t many other things in life than can combine practicality and the ability to serve one’s emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, needs on so many levels, then, on top of that, provides a sustainable, clean mode of transportation that actually puts money back into society rather than costs it. It’s a wonder cycling isn’t the 8th wonder of the world…
Don’t believe me? See for yourself. The following are some of the comments (in full and unedited, in no particular order), in response to the question, “in one sentence (more or less), what does cycling mean to you?”
“It’s a great way to keep fit and explore.”
“Freedom. A chance to let my mind and body unwind. It can be a relaxing time taking in views, or a release for my competitive drive.”
“Presence. Challenge. Exploration. Presence – It gives you a chance to focus your mind, to really be in the moment. There are no checking texts, no interruptions, just you the road and your mates. Challenge – Cycling is a unique sport in that it allows you to challenge yourself individually or in a group or with your friends. You can push as hard or as easy as you like. Exploration – Just getting out there. You, the road, the trail, the mountain, whatever. It’s as it should be. You can cover so much ground, relatively self sustained. It’s grand.“
“The ability to experience so many wonderful moments purely with the use of your legs, lungs and heart.“
“A means to get out and explore and to share the passion with like minded people.“
“A rare chance to escape all the noise of modern life & clear the head, the fitness, endorphins, socializing & other experiences are nice added benefits.“
“Aside from the obvious fitness benefits, beautiful heritage and cool gear, it provides both solitude and companionship, depending on what you need at the time.”
“As long as you’re on a bike we have that in common, you’re free of judgement, stereotype, rank, and class, yet bound by a camaraderie that is as instant as it is rewarding.“
“Escapism & camaraderie.”
“Cycling is my only transport; mostly it takes me across a city, but sometimes it takes me across a continent.”
“The challenge, it can be as hard or as easy as you want it to be. The freedom of being ks away from everything and everyone else and the camaraderie between cyclists, it’s an awesome community to be a part of.”
“Riding a bicycle is life’s greatest pleasure. That’s all there is to it. When you ride, you’ll never feel more active. Life is static without it.”
“Cycling to me is the purest connection to the outside whilst providing the head space to have a clearer perspective on the inside.”
“It’s one of the few things on earth I’ve found which seems almost too good to be true; including freedom, pushing your limits, cheap transportation, overall health and exploring.“
Thanks to all who participated.