Addiction is typically defined as a bad thing. Addiction to drugs, to alcohol, sex or even work is usually portrayed as a condition to be battled, to overcome. The same sources may recommend a strict regime of regular exercise and healthy living as the perfect antidote to the bad addictions that befall an overwhelming majority of the general populace. We are convinced that an ‘exercise addict’, ‘gym junkie’ or ‘health nut’ is a tag that we should be proud to hang around our necks, not something to be fought. But take away the words ‘exercise’, ‘gym’ and ‘health’, and all you’re left with is an undesirable character of questionable sanity with bad skin and rotten teeth. And no-one wants to be that person.
I’ve known, and know, a lot of people with a lot of addictions during my life. Moreso, I’ve been/am one myself. Both good and bad. The one unifying addiction throughout has been Cycling. It seems Cyclists are of the predisposition that doing something, anything, is best done to excess. I don’t really have any Cycling friends who ‘just do it on the weekends’, as one might play golf or go to the movies or ballroom dancing. Ok, those ballroom dancers seem to be a bit obsessed, too. But Cyclists, no matter how hard they try to kick the habit just seem to keep coming back, over and over again. And I’ve never heard a doctor or so-called expert tell a Cyclist to give that shit up before it sends them to an early grave. So what we’ve got ourselves is a ‘good addiction’.
Long before I ever read the tale of Guns n Roses’ bassist Duff McKagan’s pancreas exploding and his subsequent absolution through mountain biking (in BIKE magazine sometime in the 90s), I’d been fighting my own demons, and using the bike to help conquer them. Still am. Being a hard-drinking/drugging bassist (then later a DJ) and mountain biker myself at the time, I drew a lot of comparisons between us. I took some inspiration from his story, despite not being a fan of the band, and used it to tip the balance in favour of riding rather than partying.
I’d also been surrounded by a lot of other Cyclists who had delved a lot further into the sport than I ever had, and who had their own personal battles to fight. Some were up against alcoholism, others drugs, depression, or failed relationships. And on more than a few occasions, I heard the term “saved by the bike” quoted. Among all the turmoil, in the maelstrom of a life gone awry, their constant saving grace, the rock on which they could rebuild a solid foundation for happiness, or at least some form of normality – contentment, perhaps – was the bicycle. It was always there for them, silent, trustworthy, reliable, even if many other aspects of their situation weren’t. I wouldn’t hesitate to wager that it still is there for most, if not all of them. I know it is for me, and always will be.
Whenever I need saving, I know where to look.