Why?

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By Lukas Brinkerhoff — It’s a simple question, one that is often asked and more often left unasked and more often than not left unanswered. Particularly when the interrogative is about motivation.

Let’s start with a simple one, why are you here? And no, we aren’t going to get existential. I don’t mean in the big scheme of things, I’m referring to here, Cycling West. You are here, whether you are reading this in the analog or digital version, because, on some level, you identify with cycling, are traveling through or live in the West or are a mom to someone who writes for this publication. Hi, mom!

As far as I’m concerned, if you identify on any spectrum with being a cyclist, you are one. The issue of how serious you are, how often you ride or what bike is your preferred steed have zero impact on that basic fact. You are a cyclist. You ride a bike. And for some, unknown reason, you enjoy it. So, let’s talk about that.

Why do you ride a bike?

According to a TED Radio Hour that I was listening to the other day, the most important thing we need to figure out, is what we are passionate about. That is according to the all too famous Tony Robbins who was preachin’ to me via NPR. Find your passion and follow it, he said. Ok. I’ve been doing this bike thing for a while. I feel passionate about that, but why? To understand a passion, one must ask that question. Once we understand the reason, it may be easier to follow that passion, live that passion, burn that passion all the way to the end of its wick and die with a smile on our faces.

Cory Thompson and Kraig Winterton dedicated enough to ride after work even in the heat. Photo by Lukas Brinkerhoff

So, what is it? What is it about riding a bike that makes us get up before the sun, put on funny clothes, a foam helmet and crank out a few miles before work? Why would anyone do that? You could be sleeping, cozied up next to your significant other or preferred version of a pet. I can guarantee you beyond a shadow of a doubt that your mattress is significantly, scratch that, exponentially more comfortable than your saddle. And yes, I include you Brooks fans. Another guarantee, stay in bed and those post lunch sleepies you get every day that you ride, won’t be so bad. You need sleep, so sleep. Why are you riding a bike?

Kathleen Berglund catching some singletrack after work. Photo by Lukas Brinkerhoff

Our lives have been manufactured for us. Anything that an average human being would have done on a daily basis a hundred years ago, now takes us a matter of minutes and the swipe of a plastic card through a payment console. Don’t want to cook? Buy dinner. Sick of walking to the store two blocks away? Drive your car. Feel a deep need for human interaction and companionship? Buy a social media app. When we say that a good business fulfills a need, what we mean is that they take away the need for us to act for ourselves. Those things that were daily chores, are now expenses. We have been convenienced almost to death.

Blake Mitchell caught the bug good, riding for big adventure. Photo by Lukas Brinkerhoff

And the bicycle is not convenient. You sweat. For those uninitiated in the activity. Sweat is moisture that leaves your body during a hot day or intense exercise. It smells. If you don’t stop your activity, you will continue to sweat and it will leave a salty layer on your skin. You can taste it on your upper lip, in fact it can be a great electrolyte replacement in a pinch. The point is, there is nothing necessarily logical about riding a bicycle. We have faster, easier ways to get from point A to point B that don’t include being uncomfortable.

Which brings us right back to where we started, why do you ride a bike? I can’t answer that question for you, however, I could probably venture a couple of guesses based on my interaction with all forms of cyclists over the past 20+ years.

The number 1 reason I hear is exercise, “I gots to lose some weight cause the doc said I had high blood pressure.” It’s a good reason, a logical reason. It is not a reason that will keep many people riding. Beginning begrudgingly can make the whole thing unpleasant regardless of how long you try to get past it. Of course, there are plenty of people that broke through this. They begin to pedal, the weight starts to come off and then they can’t imagine a day going by without riding.

Reason numero dos I categorize as enthusiasts. They love riding bikes. Their “why” is the escape from the above mentioned convenient life. It’s a way to feel alive. They can’t get enough riding and that’s part of the draw. It’s something they love so much, but the daily grind keeps them from doing it as much as they would prefer.

And then you have the lifelongers, those who have been riding since birth or at least since they realized that they love cycling. There’s a lot less of a question for these folks. It’s just part of who they are. They aren’t thinking, “I wish it wasn’t raining and blowing so hard,” when you see them on the side of the road in a horizontal rain pedaling with all their might to go downhill. No, they are thinking, “There is nothing else I would rather be doing right now.”

Of course, one can lead to two and often then to three. Your why will determine how much you love this thing called cycling. Finding your reason will get you pedaling, but the bike has a way of changing that reason from the mundane to a passion that burns for a lifetime.

Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.

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