The bicycle is still freedom.



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Choice, or the perception of it, is one of the most powerful forces on Earth. The great secret lies in the locus of control, which suggests that if given the perception of a choice we will be more willing to endure hardship or suffering. We’ll suffer even for the promise of a future intangible reward so long as we feel we have a choice. The Matrix was based on this principle, which means it’s true.

On good days, I will ride with a strong sense of control over my pain. It still doesn’t mean I enjoy the pain itself, but I enjoy the power I feel in my legs, the constant hum emanating from my tires telling me that I am pedalling smoothly (a pulsating sound indicates I am starting to pedal more square than round). My legs will burn as always – as will my lungs – but there is a calm that cannot be shaken with this kind of form. At will, I can push hard enough to force infantile wails from the deepest recesses of my being – sounds that feel as though they originate from another person altogether. Those sounds may well be coming from me, but I feel as though I’m outside myself, driving the tempo and benevolently amused at the suffering I’m imposing on myself.

Most days, however, the suffering doesn’t come so easily. However much I love Cycling, the reality of life means a constant push and pull between getting on the bike and staying at home. Some days, it will be a relief to climb aboard the bike and stamp away at the pedals, squashing some workday quibble that couldn’t be resolved at the water cooler. Other days, it will take every bit of determination to stumble into the cellar and emerge with a bicycle and not a bottle of wine. On still other days, the bike is a break in the routine of a rough day at the office; I won’t go hard, I won’t seek out the hills; I’ll just get on the my machine and wrap myself in the sensations of being one with my bike until the stress melts into pleasure.

On every one of my usual rides, I know exactly where the challenges along the route lay. I feel them as I get closer to them, and I count them off, one by one. I’ll have them laid out even before I clip into my pedals. I will have been steeling myself against the first of the day’s efforts – an effort so different from my professional life. To ride is to enter a simple word full of the sort of physical exertion that purges worry and concern from the mind while it is completely occupied by the singular focus that only pain can offer; pain is a greedy thing that can coexist with nothing else. If only for a few fleeting minutes, I will be away in the Cave, where nothing else can touch me.

But the freedom found at the other end of the Cave isn’t free and it never gets easier to accept. I’ll prepare myself for the suffering I know is coming long before it arrives. Sometimes, even days before. I will remind myself of its fleeting nature, that it will settle in like a shadow before it strikes out in full force. But after the effort is through, the pain will wash away. And like a dream, it will be hard to remember how it felt when it was there; only the notion will remain. I will compartmentalize what is coming, put it in a box of defined size that I know I can understand during the effort. During the effort, I will choose to put myself inside the box. After, I will choose to be free.

As adults, we understand that most of what we do are those things we must do. The rest of the time, we do the things we choose to do. The artist is said to suffer because they must, whereas the Cyclist suffers because we choose to.

Riding a bike spelled freedom to me as a child seeking to escape the bounds of my house. As an adult, it spells freedom from the stresses of daily life.

The variables have changed, but the fact remains: the bicycle is freedom.

// Defining Moments // La Vie Velominatus // Musings from the V-Bunker

  1. Well said, Frank. Lately, the things I must do far outweigh those I would choose to do. When I can steal an hour a few times a week it’s on a track or TT bike for maximum suffering in limited time. Barely quiets my mind, but promises freedom, albeit Rule #9 style, in the off season.

  2. Bloody Hell @Frank, you’ve been brewing that one up for a while.  That’s a really beautiful piece.

    The more pain I can endure when I’m training, the more I know I’ll enjoy the simple pleasures of just riding tempo for a few hours. Suffering is still there, but I don’t feel the need to beat myself up if I’ve struggled through a big session earlier in the week. The mantra “it’s in your mind, control it, use it” is a favourite of mine to help push further than my weak will wants to.

    I’ve ridden all the big events I had lined up for the year now, too.  So I’m back to my v-meter for a real sense of freedom.

  3. well written!  the ride is both freedom-from and freedom-to

  4. “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking”

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    Sherlock on the Bike

  5. Today’s post got me thinking. I started back riding after a 20 year hiatus primarily about fitness. The bike was my preferred poison to get more fit. The willingness to endure the pain and choice to do so has become more focused as I have moved beyond just the need to get more fit into a burning desire to ride for its own sake. But I never thought about, until rading your article, how freeing it is. I just realized that I never worry about that next project at work, or needing to get groceries, or the front door needs paint. There’s no room for that (truly) trivia when you’re focused on what’s important on a ride: the distance between my front tire and the tire in front of me, the next hill, can I go faster, can I go faster than the guy behind me on the next hill.

  6. @rfreese888 Oh well done.  That’s class.

  7. I like this post a lot.  I’ve always felt like I’m a better person when I have/make the time to ride and I suspect that the control that I have over where, how long or how hard I ride is a big part of that.  There is much in our day to day lives that we have limited or no control over, but cycling offers the ability to fully take control over something in a positive way.  I haven’t ridden this year (or last) as much as I have in the past as family and work commitments have made setting aside time to ride more difficult, but every time that I do get kitted up and roll out of the garage I’m reminded why I love this sport so much.

  8. Robin Williams, may he RIP, said he liked cycling because it is the closest he could get to flying.

  9. Love this post. For me the greater the sustained and inflicted suffering the greater the ride. But it’s defined by whether I am choosing to suffer on a good day, or having a bad day and just suffering

  10. Really well done, Frank. Can’t speak for anyone else, but sometimes when I climb on my bike I ask myself, “Do I really want to do this?” Then when that ride is over, no matter the circumstances, (hills, weather etc.), I always say, “Damn, I’m glad I did that” Always. The power of the bike. It’s indisputable.

  11. Frank,

    Your insight provides a clear example of the power of cycling.

    Thank you.

  12. @Nate I think that many of us in this community have shared a similar sentiment about riding; I know that I have.  A as cyclist Robin Williams is a kindred spirit, who also happened to be a world renowned comic genius and actor.

  13. I think that a portion of the freedom that comes from riding my bike is the fact that it is also a time machine, allowing my mind to go backwards in time to when things were less complicated.

  14. Seems you & I have been reading from the same songbook recently Frank, here’s my response to the suggestion of how crazy I was for getting up so early to go riding & what greeted me at the turnaround point of this morning’s ride.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’m told I must be crazy to get up so early to go riding 3-4 days a week.

    Well, after an hour or so of mind clearing exercise, I get something like this all to myself, then I get the mood benefits of an endorphin boost that science would struggle to match for the rest of the day.

    If that’s crazy, I don’t want to be sane.

    Forest Range Sunrise from Mikael Liddy on Vimeo.

  15. @Mikael Liddy  “if that’s crazy, I don’t want to be sane”

    A-Merckx to that

  16. @Mikael LiddyA-Merckx indeed.  Nothing better than the sunrise rides. Quiet, peaceful and mind clearing.

  17. @John

    Really well done, Frank. Can’t speak for anyone else, but sometimes when I climb on my bike I ask myself, “Do I really want to do this?” Then when that ride is over, no matter the circumstances, (hills, weather etc.), I always say, “Damn, I’m glad I did that” Always. The power of the bike. It’s indisputable.

    @Frank this is me today… Reading this article while slowly getting ready for a ride. My body and mind say stay at home, rest, relax, but the desire to quash those demons is just strong enough to get me or on the bike with the knowledge that it is worth it in the end.

  18. Stage 5 of the Eneco Tour was like a mini-Flanders today–in its classic form. Choosing to suffer 3 times op de Muur led to “freedom” for Van Avermaet. (Strangely, in the background, is a poignant memorial to another man’s choice to suffer…).

  19. >>> Sometimes, even days before. < << Ohhh man, sometimes, even months before ! And sometimes following a cash payment for a registration. Kinda like paying for privilege to consider what pain is on horizon… it’s all very weird. Cheers

  20. @Mikael Liddy Perfecto !

  21. Brilliant writing Frank. I remembeer Chris Boardman once said that cycling was the closest man could come to flying. At first I thought it was rubbish but it actually rings true; paragliding is – yeah – gliding og parachuting is just free fall in some sort of control. Flying an aeroplane is still by the help from sophisticated Machinery while the bike is The (s0metimes flying) Man Machine

  22. @Mikael Liddy     The only people that think you’re /  We are, crazy for early morning or late night rides are people to lazy to get off the couch.

    Once out and on the road the endorphins (or dolphins as my daughter calls them ) kick in and the planet looks so much better.

    Agree, if thats crazy, then put me in the white strapped jacket and padded room.

  23. Same, but different

  24. @freddy

    (Strangely, in the background, is a poignant memorial to another man’s choice to suffer…).

    Except, Van Avermaet exists

  25. Great article. I work in a business that involves tourism, retail, and the service industry  all rolled into one. There are days when I want to choke someone…well most days. But I have found the trick to getting through is riding to and from work. It may only be 72 km total for the day but burning off energy before and after work keeps me going. I don’t spend as much of the day thinking  “I should be on my bike” because I know I will be on it again soon. I count down every minute till 5 o’clock when freedom of mind, body, and spirit begins. It’s all about the bike and it’s all about freedom.

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