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It’s not about the bike, except when it is.

July 8, 2016

No Tour de France post tonight, other than to congratulate Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) on an excellent solo win.

I barely mustered a stage report last night, and today it seems equally impossible to write anything about the Tour. As much as I love bike racing and the Tour, it just seems a little detached from reality to attempt anything near wit or entertainment while the US teeters on the edge of a new “civil rights” war in the wake of recent events in Dallas, Falcon Heights, and Baton Rouge. Long simmering issues of inequality and use of excessive police force have been coming to a rolling boil. Last night in Dallas, at a protest against the deaths of two black men shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights (Minneapolis), five police officers were killed- and seven wounded- by sniper fire in horribly misguided retaliation. All of this violence has brought parts of America to the edge of an explosive confrontation with itself and its values.

As the father of two daughters growing up in this chaos, and who will have to live with the aftermath long after I’m gone, it makes me alternately sad, angry, and terrified. I don’t know how to explain any of this to them, or coach them on how to navigate this highly charged atmosphere. It’s “above my pay grade” on so many levels, but it’s also impossible to ignore- and I refuse to pretend it’s not real, or dismiss those who are angry.

It seemed like folly to even attempt a ride today too. I went to my youngest daughter’s kindergarten promotion this morning and celebrated the wonderful diversity of her classmates, and the beauty of youth and innocence. It was a beautifully joyous morning, embracing the hope and wonder of the future. But it didn’t take long for the weight of the issues facing the country to turn my thoughts to less happy topics.

But after completing  a few things I needed to get done, I coaxed myself into getting on the bike- it’s been my sanctuary, my escape, my salvation, my motivation for decades now. Since I no longer drink (that ship sailed over two years ago), the bike has more than ever become my escapism from reality … even when it has tried to kill me.

Since the crash in January, I’ve been left without a functioning road bike- I’ve been confined to either the TT bike, or the fixed gear road bike. In the grand scheme of things, I’m blessed to have them, so I try not to complain. Today, I hopped on the fixie again and headed out to find less noise in my head. There are many well-worn clichés about the “Zen” of riding a fixed gear, and there’s a bit of truth to them- of course. With just “one fucking gear”, there’s little to distract you, or cause you to think about anything other than pedaling. Without the chain moving from cog to cog, or chainring to chainring, or the shifters making noise while doing their jobs, the bike is much quieter. But there’s something also to be said for the idea that too much quiet and simplicity in the bike leads to much more noise in the brain.

For me, especially today riding 45 miles with a bit over 2060′ of climbing, the Zen comes in those moments when I no longer feel my legs moving to keep up with the gear. My head, to be honest, is never quiet. Ever. The best I can ever hope for is that the noise somehow changes- from dark or sad or angry, to something that is more useful for me, or productive. I began riding/racing in 1982 on the road. I got on the track around 1992, and found my home within the sport of cycling. I’d been a pretty decent road racer, but it was the track where I found actual success. Over the years, riding and racing on fixed gears, my happiest moments are the ones where the legs seem to become numb, or invisible. There’s a moment when the gear is perfect- you’re neither pushing to keep it rolling, nor are you fighting to slow it down. For me, there’s nothing else that quite compares, other than possibly when you’re in the perfect gear and rhythm on a long climb, or slicing through tight turns on a long descent. Maybe.

As I rode today, I had a few moments where the bike and I were truly working together as one, in the perfect man-machine marriage. There were moments when I realized I couldn’t remember the prior few minutes- or several. It didn’t last. I still got home with a cloudy head. And less than 30 seconds after I turned the corner onto my street, directly in front of my apartment, a motorcyclist was hit by a car- in the very intersection I had just rolled through.

I’m not suggesting that everybody just needs to go for a bike ride and the issues facing us will go away or we’ll find answers. I don’t feel like I’m any closer to understanding what to do. But I know I’m closer to myself, and I remember one of the many reasons why I keep convincing myself to ride a bike- any bike. There are so many issues facing us right now, in a political environment that is more toxic than ever, with even more at stake than ever. All I know is that I want a better world for my daughters, as well as for my friends and family everywhere- including myself.

To once again borrow a quote from my friend Patrick Brady of Red Kite Prayer; there will be chaos- keep pedaling. 



One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2016 12:30 AM

    Tim, you have a couple of things going wrong right now. First things first, you’re two years sober, the first year is a gift and the real work is going on right now. Now it’s time to fix your underlying issues.

    It’s time to change that tape you play in your head. This takes practice, lots of it. Go to my site and in the search box, type “change the tape”. Read those posts, I think there are two.

    Second is small ball. Do good and treat people right. This is how we change the world. Good luck my friend.


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