It was a fleeting thought. As soon as it came, it went, and the clarity that I had during that short moment was just as transient. I was riding on a wind-swept rural road at dawn. It wasn't a particularly beautiful road. Not steep, not terribly flat. Not well paved, but not the gravel that so many obsess over. It was just a long country road. I found myself there because I visiting family in the middle of nowhere along with my wife, and I'd brought my bike along. Unable to sleep in a foreign twin-sized bed, I woke up earlier than usual, and got on my bike at at five in the morning or so. In the course of four hours I didn't see a single car, or a single person. I rode alone, sometimes talking, and humming to myself. But most of the ride was spent in absolute silence. Eventually I could see the road in front of me as time passed, but the sun remained hidden behind clouds. It was an unusually cold summer morning.
It wasn't a zen experience, it wasn't meditative or pseudo-religious. It was just pleasant. Very pleasant, particularly because I was reminded once again about how riding a bike is pretty simple. Me and a bike, mostly in perfect silence.
I had opened my eyes that morning, and gotten on my bike without putting an ounce of thought into it. It had been an odd reflex. I was reminded of the conversation I'd had with Matt Rendell not long before. He'd mentioned how people incorrectly believe that it's the choices they make which define them, when in reality it's the impulses and emotions that they can't control that define them. It's those emotions that have a claim on us, not the other way around.
Bike makers and clothing manufacturers, as well as blogs and photo books would have you believe that riding a bike must be done in amazing or inspiring locations, always with others, while using certain products, and that these types of rides must be documented for posterity (or for Facebook at the very least). Even leisurely rides must live up to this standard. In my case at least, I know I'll never measure up, nor do I care to.
Groups of men in tight clothing sit at cafes and share hot beverages mid-ride. They laugh as they rest after an arduous climb. They look tired and strained, but perfectly posed. They mug for non-existent cameras. They share a bond, and their experience has greater meaning as a result of this companionship. Some may nod as they read this, knowing all too well that human contact can enhance almost any experience. So I've heard.
But there, on that windswept country road, I remembered what makes a riding a bike fun. It's simple. Me and the bike. That's it. When and if I can share that with others, it can be great fun. But it's comforting to know that regardless of what happens in professional cycling or to others who own and rides bikes, I'll always have the chance to have a quiet ride at dawn in a not-so-picturesque road in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, the thought of becoming emotionally invested in any other aspects of riding a bike seemed silly.
Riding a bike as an adult is one of those things that doesn't really depend on anyone or anything else. At the risk of sounding dogmatic, I'm afraid that some have complicated things to the point where they may lose sight of this. I hope I don't, because if I make things any more complicated than they were that morning, I'll end up ruining the whole thing.