As a bit of a change of pace from the gear reviews and ride reports I usually post here, I thought I’d answer a question I get asked a lot…
Motivation: why ride?
One of the questions I’m asked the most — either by strangers whilst on the road or by friends and family when I get back — is, “why?” Why do I ride long distances, why do I not use my free time to do ‘normal’ things? Why do I choose to do something so difficult and lonely when I could be lying on a beach somewhere?
I think the shortest possible answer to these questions is to reply with the slightly obtuse and vague, “why not?” This is the answer I sometimes give to strangers on the road when I’m short on time — I quite enjoy using this retort before riding off, leaving them slightly bemused. However, I’m going to try and give a slightly longer, and hopefully more interesting, explanation here.
I’m not crazy…
I recently read an interesting interview with Jay Petervary (link: bit.ly/173wU3H) in Adventure Journal — for those who don’t know Jay is one of the most accomplished distance cyclists out there and has set numerous speed records, including a 15-day ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. During the interview he commented, “People think I am crazy but I’m passionate.”
I think anyone who’s ever ridden a cycle tour, let alone an adventure race, will have had people tell them that they’re crazy — some people say it when they really mean that they’re impressed by what you’re doing, but others just genuinely think you’re mad. The latter category can’t fathom why a person with all their mental faculties in tact would be riding a bike through the middle of nowhere.
I think that the quote from Jay P is the best reaction to this I’ve heard, and sums up my feelings when I’m told I’m insane — I’m not crazy, I don’t have some kind of undiagnosed mental illness, I just honestly enjoy being out there on a bike.
I started cycle touring because I believe a bike is the best way to explore a new landscape — it allows a degree of emersion that motorized transport will never allow for. I have seen more from the saddle of a bike than I could have believed possible when I started riding long distances just over three years ago. I have connected to foreign countries in a way that many of their inhabitants never will, opening myself up to their contours and experiencing their elements without obstruction. I love the freedom and simplicity of waking up in the morning not knowing where the day will take me, not knowing what adventures are waiting around the corner, and with only a vague idea of where I’ll end the day. It’s escapism and adventure in its purest form.
I started riding long distance races for related but slightly different reasons. I don’t enjoy it because it offers any kind of recognition or acclaim; I enjoy it because it allows me to push myself and test my limits in a way that ‘normal’ pursuits never do. I believe that most people will never get close to their limits; they will never know the satisfaction of exceeding their wildest expectations as they discover what they are truly capable of.
Most of all, I feel genuinely lucky that I’ve found a pursuit that I truly enjoy, that opens so many avenues to me and connects me to great people. So many people will never discover the thing they’re passionate about, I’m glad that I have. I’m fully prepared to accept that riding bikes is not for everyone, but I’d urge people to try it once — to embrace what it offers and see where it takes you, after all it might worth the effort. In the words of Swallows and Amazons, “grab a chance and you won’t be sorry for what might have been.”
It’s not just me…
Just to help prove that the above isn’t the rabbling of a mad man after all, I put the question to people on a couple of different forums. I thought it would be interesting to see why other people get involved in distance cycling and adventure racing — to see the range of things that motivate people to get out there. I’ve quoted a couple of the responses below:
From Adventure Cycling Association’s Forum (bit.ly/19mdmYr):
The answer is a combination of many different reasons, with different priorities depending on the day and person. It’s pretty much everything: fitness, health, wind in your face, the outdoors, seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, achievement, challenge, feeling of exertion, social interaction, random interaction, thrill of speed, relieving stress, appreciation of a fine machine, sunshine, environmental concerns, beating others, beating yourself, smug superiority, chance to think, conquering nature, wildlife, etc.
My wife often asks me, “Okay, you were gone for ten hours. What did you think about while you were out there on the desert or in the mountains?”
My answer is always, “I have no idea. I was conscious, I was alert, I was thinking, I was often talking to myself. No clue.”
From Bikepacking.net (bit.ly/GzSdmT):
Me, personally, I find solace. The pressure from a tough week fades through every pedal stroke. The pain of big days and even bigger climbs are strictly physical. There is no pressure, except the pressure I apply to myself. The destination (to me) is really of little importance. It is all about the journey. Adventure cycling has become my safe place.
Riding my bike through beautiful places, while experiencing soul-searching moments of discovery, is pretty damn rewarding.
If I’ve missed out something that motivates you to get out and ride, then feel free to leave a comment below!