Cycling is more than finishing first

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01/3/2012| 0 comments
by Neil Browne

Cycling is more than finishing first

As the new year begins I think about what cycling means to people.

As the new year begins I think about what cycling means to people.

Cycling isn't always about who is the first across the finishing line or about the newest tech gadget. Cycling is much more than that and I look at what inspires the passion before focusing on the approaching 2012 road season.

I recently discovered a new social media site that has started to suck up my time - Pinterest. Type "cycling" into the site's search engine and you're rewarded with pages of beautiful images of not only racing, but the spectacle of the sport and the passion of those who enjoy it - either as a competitor or as an enthusiast. Who isn't inspired by an image of the peloton climbing a sinuous mountain pass? The colors of the various jerseys create a kaleidoscope and you're no longer looking at the individual riders but the whole image, which has always inspired me to ride.

Of course racing images aren't the only ones that evoke that type of reaction. I love looking at the photos of riders in chic cycling inspired clothing. The style of the riders as they commute through some European city is the epitome of style - and I love it. It almost makes me want a job that I can commute to. Almost ...

Speaking of chic, fashion has been touched by cycling. There are several clothing manufacturers that have developed their clothing line to something that is suitable for casual wear. To get a better handle on riding chic I contacted Robin Bylenga, owner of Pedal Chic, a shop dedicated to cycling with style. Bylenga has her pulse on the fashion side of the cycling industry.

"It's a whole movement of people riding fashionably that became a viral movement. There are chapters all over the world," says Bylenga.

My European readers know that commuting by bike is part of their DNA, but as Bylenga tells me, "Americans are trying to catch up with that." I'm hoping that's the case. I can envision major metropolitan cities as New York embracing this cycling chic lifestyle, but there does need to be a change in how we (by "we" I mean Americans) look at the bicycle and regard it as more than just a toy, but as a legitimate mode of transportation.

Cycling has given us many iconic images beyond just gritty race photos. There's the photo of Albert Einstein riding a bike with his quote, "I thought of that while riding my bicycle," referring to the theory of relativity. Here's a guy who had a billion ideas rattling around in his brain that only a handful of us could possibly understand and he still has a huge, silly smile that reminds me of a small child going for their first unassisted ride - pure joy.

And speaking of people who have invented or discovered things I am always blown away by the creativity of people within cycling. I recently saw on (a site where creative projects can receive public funding) a lighting system that attaches to the rim and power is generated from the hub! Then there was the elegant looking bike lock which could be displayed as a piece of art on your office desk. Like Einstein said, I bet the inventors thought of these while on their bike for an easy cruise - not pounding away at the pedals with the nose on the stem, legs burning, and breathing hard. Speaking from personal experience, a slow ride has often been the best cure for writer's block.

I race my bike. Not as much as I used to, but I still show up to the weekly training ride to hone my fitness. As I roll around with the peloton there are other riders that will never pin a number to their jersey. To them cycling is a way to burn off some extra pounds or improve their cardiovascular system after years of abuse. Go to any bookstore and you'll see several books on the subject on how riding a bike changed their lives for the better. While some are riding for self improvement others are riding for a cause. A quick search on the web will find you several people who are raising funds for numerous charities, from cancer research, funds to fight multiple sclerosis, to the Wounded Warrior Ride. So while I ride my local bike path, that's sometimes choked with slowly meandering cyclists or runners, I remind myself that some of these people are out here not just for themselves. They are participating in their sport of choice because they want to make a difference. They want to be a part of some cause that is bigger than themselves and it doesn't require great fitness - just passion combined with dedication.

There's numerous other subsets of cyclists. Relatively new is the fixie movement. Inspired from bike messengers, these riders roll around town on fixed gear bikes customized with cards in the spokes, narrow handlebars and bag thrown over the shoulder. To be honest I looked at these riders as our equivalent of bike hippies - having extreme views on the rights of bicycles to the point of being obnoxious about their cause. I jumped to the wrong conclusion about these riders. Sure some are very opinionated about cars with stickers on their bike's top tube proclaiming, "cars are coffins," others are just riding because they dig the freedom the bike has given them. Whether you agree that cars are evil I think we can all agree that riding a bike gives us that feeling of freedom we seldom get in our normal lives.

While we may have different goals, we share the same pleasurable experience of feeling the wind in our face. Cycling doesn't require you to be the fastest or suffer the most. It is more than that. Cycling is about innovation, passion, and let's not forget - a good time - otherwise why bother? Cycling is all these things and many more to many people. Sometimes it's good to get a reminder of that. Clipping into two-hundred dollar pedals with three-hundred dollar shoes isn't the only thing that makes you a cyclist.

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