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« It's now 30 years and the National Enquirer still owes me a story | Main | Well, I Guess I’m Back »
Thursday
Mar122009

Riding my bike: Then and now

It’s taken me the best years of my life to reach the best years of my life. That statement is certainly true of cycling.

I find nearly all forms of exercise a chore, with the exception of riding my bike. Although I will agree that even that is not a pleasure when I am below a certain level of fitness. It becomes a pleasure when my level of fitness allows me to ride at a level where I am happy.

I remember in the 1980s living in Southern California, great weather, wonderful terrain, hills etc. However, I didn’t enjoy riding because the pressure of my business, didn’t allow me enough time to ever get fit enough to ride at the level I wanted to ride at that time.

It had not been many years since I had quit racing, and I still expected to ride at that level. Hammer up the hills is what was in my psyche told me, but my mind was making a promise that my body couldn’t keep. The result, I suffered horribly. It became a chore.

Lance Armstrong’s assessment  “It’s not about the bike” is absolutely correct. Once I started racing it became about how hard could I push my body. The competitiveness of beating, or even just hanging on to the wheel of someone at a level of fitness way above mine.

The bike was simply a tool, a piece of equipment necessary to participate. Even training rides with others were unofficial races, always trying to be first to the top of a hill, or always having my front wheel ahead of the rider next to me. (Known as Half-Wheeling.)

Today, I have reached an age where I have nothing left to prove to myself or anyone else. Just to get out and ride two or three hours is an achievement in of itself. I am content to ride without pushing myself to the point of exhaustion.

My level of fitness doesn’t seem to affect my speed, just the distance I can cover. More miles equate to more time on the bike, and more cycling pleasure.

I now remember what it was like to ride in my early teen years before I started racing. For me cycling started out as a means of escape from my dysfunctional home life. I would stay out and ride for hours, and would even cover close to a hundred miles at the age of thirteen or fourteen. All this on a Hercules Roadster with a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub gear; the bike must have weighed around forty pounds.

Mostly I rode alone because none of my friends were willing to cover the distances I did. I grew used to, and even enjoyed riding alone; this still is the case today. Now, a ride on my bike is almost sacred. I enjoy social situations, and good conversations, but not while I’m riding.

Riding is my "alone time," I have few thoughts and it becomes a form of meditation. I am at one with the elements, the temperature, the wind, even the rain on occasions. I am at one with the terrain, up or downhill; the road surface, smooth or rough.

Lastly, I am at one with my bike, it becomes an extension of my body. The closest thing to human flight without actually leaving the ground. The feeling I can imagine some get from flying a glider, or sailing.

It is still not about the bike, it is about riding the bike and all that goes with it.

  

Reader Comments (6)

That's exactly my sentiment. I enjoy my own company and prepare to help myself in any eventuality. Riding with timid others just creates extra delays and risks, keeps you out of the saddle. But I do participate in some group rides.

Every May I host the local Ride of Silence in memory of all those who've been killed in traffic collisions, not just cyclists. This is now worldwide, rides on every continent on the same day. While there are only 750 cyclists killed nationally, the CARNAGE of traffic deaths is enormous and unnecessary, the 3rd leading cause of death in America. I also designed a Memorial Day half-century for a local club. I do believe in the idea of communities that honor each other.

People are nothing on their own. Cooperation and dissent are both necessary in the fabric of society which supports all life.

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLabann

In the first place, it's good to have you back Dave. I discovered your blog after you stopped updating it, and I found the archives really interesting. I look forward to reading your new posts.

I also ride by myself almost all the time. As a married man with a kid (and another on the way), time by myself is a precious and treasured commodity. Time spent riding a bike by myself is, as you mentioned, somewhat like meditation. It may tire me out physically in the short run but the mental (and, eventually, physical) renewal it affords me is invaluable.

I need to get a hold of your book. Reading is my other passion.

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterYohann M

I'm also a solo rider. For me, part of the appeal of cycling has always been the contemplative nature of it. It's like meditation almost. You can't really do that unless you're riding alone at your own pace, and with total freedom to go anywhere you like. But who am I kidding? I've never been into competition probably because I couldn't compete anyway :-)

As far as fitness goes, I've always found that the biggest obstacle for an aging cyclist who loves sporty riding on a good, responsive steel road bike is the abdomen. No matter how thin the rest of the body is, age tends to accumulate its fat in the belly, and it does get in the way.

For example, I'm still extremely flexible at 55, really no less than I was 30 years ago (with some minor calisthenic efforts to keep it that way). From a muscular-skeletal point of view, I have no problem bending over or maintaining a road riding position for any length of time, except that the extra abdominal fat pushes up on my diaphragm and makes it harder to breathe properly. But that belly fat is almost impossible to get rid of. For body shape, think of a typical climber with skinny everything, but with a big belly. That's me.

March 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Great post and it echos my feelings about riding. In many ways I still feel the same sense of adventure and movement I did as a kid - and probably why I've never viewed this as exercise and never tire of it.

Now at 47 years old with two small kids of my own and all the family responsibility involved, my riding time is limited. However, my 2+ hour roundtrip bike commute gives me a solid chunk of riding and time alone. Something needed and welcomed. Weekends involve shorter rides with my 9 year old son - which is great fun.

I discovered your older retired blog. I'm looking forward to future posts.

Thanks.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

I'm mostly a solo rider here as well. It takes away the pressure of having to "stick to someone's wheel", and fire at the speed of sound through the countryside without having to look and feel and smell the sights.

April 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Hello Dave
Thats a really nice story. I love to ride alone and always have done. Apart from riding with my wife I always look to go out alone and like you see it as a form of meditation. Thanks for the post.

Un uomo solo

Simon
www.lagazettadellobici.com

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Lamb
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