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Best Of 2016: For The Love Of The Bike
 
Lowdown: When asked for their favorite articles of the year, this 'Lowdown' from Lee Rodgers got the vote from our North American photographer, Darrell Parks. Lee sums up the all-encompassing pleasure and pain of this sport we love so much.
 

Harelbeke - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - crash val sturz Robert Wagner (Team LottoNL - Jumbo) pictured during E3 Harelbeke (World Tour) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2015Why?

"So if it hurts, why do you do it?"

"Huh?"

"You just said you did 165km today, and your knackered. You said your hands and your neck hurt. Why do you do it then."

I looked at him, this friend of a friend who had joined us at the cafe that evening, longer than I should have. Staring back at me from somewhere deep in the empty abyss that made up the insides of this form before me was a being that I understood less than I understand the true nature of the objects that inhabit my sock drawer. I find it hard to fathom the mind of a person who does not understand what it is to go seek, to adventure, to jump off the edge not knowing what it is that will greet you when you hit the bottom. What is a life, after all, if it is not lived seeking to unravel something of what it means to be alive on the only inhabitable planet in our solar system?

And what better way to do this but on a bicycle?

Raleigh ChopperLee's red Chopper will never be forgotten

I remember getting my first ‘real’ bike (thank you, red Chopper, you will never be forgotten) and heading out of my cul-de-sac into the wider world. In the summer of 1978 I rode around on that thing from dawn till dusk, heading out to discover new rivers and creeks, new parks and forests, old abandoned houses and drunk hobos, arriving home way after supper time, dismounting that shining stallion in the time honored fashion of kids the world over, jumping off and letting it crash down on the front lawn and trotting in to get a telling off from my mum.

There’s a great song by the English band Elbow, ‘Scattered Black & Whites’, whose opening lines take me back to that time whenever I hear it.

‘Been climbing trees I've skinned my knees
My hands are black the sun is going down
She scruffs my hair in the kitchen steam
She's listening to the dream I weaved today’


I used to listen to that song before every big race I ever did because it took me back to the time when I first fell in love with riding as well as the halcyon days of my childhood, which, not uncoincidentally, were at the same time. Some of those races, like the Tour of Oman, Qatar and some of the huge 200km plus days in tours in places like Thailand where the heat was up above 40km, felt like war. I really did feel like I was going into battle and I can admit that I was often apprehensive about what would happen out there. I remember lying on many a bed before a race, legs up against the wall, with that song in my head, trying to calm the nerves that threatened to overtake me. Some races just have a darkness hanging over them, a sense of brooding malice.

tdf16st12-crash920The worst can happen to the best of us

I saw some heavy stuff in races. I saw a guy rip his cheek wide open in one race after he went over a cliff, saw another on his back frothing at the mouth and shaking after a bad fall in the sprint, and saw another slice his index finger near clean off. I’ve also had the absolutely horrific experience of being in a race where a rider died. After that we set up a fund for donations and managed to get almost $15,000 together for his young widow and his infant son.

But we race in spite of the risks. Or maybe we do it because of them. So close to possible injury and even worse, I’ve never felt so alive as when I was in the peloton, sprinting out of corners, desperate to get on the wheel in front, or trying to bridge up to a break, or in those moments when the line is approaching and our senses are firing on all cylinders.

worlds16womenrr-28sprintThe thrill of the sprint

However despite my nerves, when I got on that start line it all faded. I’d close my eyes and repeat my pre-race mantra:

This is why you do it and this is why you’re here.

This is why you do it and this is why you’re here.

This is why you do it and this is why you’re here.

Three times every time, and then I was ready to rage. Or suffer beyond comprehension, one or the other. However, through it all, through the training rides alone or the social rides with friends, through the racing and even through being involved in the organizing of races like the Taiwan KOM Challenge or the Mongolia Bike Challenge, the same feeling that I had when I was 6, cruising on my red dream machine through the neighborhoods of St. Catherines has permeated throughout.

Aalburg - Netrherlands - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - kids Rabobank Dikke Banden Race pictured during the Rabobank 7-Dorpenomloop 2015 in Wijk en Aalburg - photo Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2015Just cruising

I wrote the following a few years ago and came across it just the other day, and it sparked the idea for this article - which is to say thank you, really, to the bike and to this wonderful sport that I will forever be thankful for, because - and this is not an overstatement - it has transformed my life.

You ride because you love it. You ride because you need it. You ride because you want it. Sometimes you ride because you don’t love, want or need it, you just do it because that is what you do. You ride because it helps with your weight, you ride because it makes you well, you ride because you need the therapy, you ride because you need the escape. You ride because she rides. You ride because she doesn’t. Or he does. Or he doesn’t. Or you ride because they do. Or because they don’t. You ride to find God. You ride because there is no God and because everything is futile and yet that matters so much and you may as well ride anyway because your time here is finite. You ride because you love the earth. You ride because sometimes you don’t like yourself and heck can you ride fast when you are angry.

Paris - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Jens Voigt (Dui-Trek Factory Racing Team) pictured during stage - 21 of the 101th Tour de France 2014 - from Evrt to Paris - photo Wessel van Keuk/Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2014You can ride fast when you are angry

You ride because you kinda secretly enjoy shaving the pins and because you love taking an age to get your bar-tape perfect. You ride because you love the sound of a freewheel thrumming on a summer’s day, love even more the sound of a hundred of the things humming together in the quiet moments of a race. You ride because when the sunlight comes through the trees above and dapples the road and the rays catch the spokes, you almost think, however fleetingly, that you might just understand this entropic and essentially unknowable universe. You ride because it needs no language to be on a bike with someone and to look over to them and to smile and to get one back, and you ride because the bike is our language and you ride because no one who does not ride can fully understand why the f*ck you ride.

Wachtebeke - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen of Omega Pharma - Quickstep cycling team giving an autograph during the 2nd annual OPQS Fan Day of the Omega Pharma - Quickstep cycling team 2013 on June 02, 2013 in Wachtebeke, Belgium - photo NVPN/Cor Vos © 2013Cycling is for everyone

You ride because this is our brotherhood, our sisterhood, our togetherhood.

You ride because you miss the hurt.

You ride because you don’t quite fit in anywhere else.

You ride because you dared once to dream and you don’t ever want to stop.

You ride because you fell in love with the most beautiful, the most epic, the daftest, the most furious, the most poetic, romantic, brutal, life-affirming and soul-destroying sport of all, the sport that drives its flawed geniuses to destruction and its devotees to distraction. You ride because this is the love affair of human with machine and itʼs the one toy from childhood we get to keep, that grown men and women still get to play with, all over the world, no matter how old, no matter what culture, race, creed or ideology. You ride because itʼs the thing that gave you the freedom to leave your neighborhood and to explore the world around and when we ride, all grown up and adult, itʼs the same barnstorming thrill you had when you sped down your block, racing home from school against your best friend to see who could get back first. You ride because you still feel that same rush, that same freedom, the same breath of Sheer and Unadulterated Life. You ride because the bike connects this you, to that you.

You ride because you are you.

You ride because you ride.

And that, in a very large and unwieldy nutshell, is what I wanted to say to that bloke who asked ‘Why?’.

Thanks folks, for reading.

San Luis - Argentina - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Nippo - Vini Fantini De Rosa pictured during training Tour de San Luis 2015 - photo iB/RB/Cor Vos © 2015Just for the fun of it!




Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.




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