I’m not sure but I think I was 5 years old when I learned how to ride a bike. I do know for sure that I wanted to learn so bad and taught myself without the help of training wheels in a single day. I remember rolling down our slightly inclined driveway with the neighbor’s bike many times that day before I eventually figured out how to keep my balance. My parents were both working and I was so very proud and eager to show them what I had learned. That same evening, my dad took me out and bought me my first 2 wheel bike. It was white with whitewall tires and a banana seat. We lived near Boston at that time and I remember my dad literally tying that bike to the roof of our green station wagon with wood panelled doors as we were getting ready for our summer vacation in Canada. Bike racks didn’t really exist yet. My dad just laid the bike sideways on the roof and tied it to the side rails. I hated leaving my friends when we went to Canada but it made me feel good that my bike was coming with me. I remember going on rides with my dad when we lived in the US. We rode out to parks and playgrounds, exploring outside of our immediate neighborhood, my young mind so very excited about the sudden expansion of my outside world, my first taste of what pure freedom felt like. I realized at that moment that there was and will always be some very cool spots to be discovered out there. At its core, I believe that riding a bicycle is, in its purest form, about exploration. Most of the fondest memories of my youth are of discovering new places on my bike.
From the minute we come into this world until the day that we die, we are continuously building or molding our identities, our egos. This is a continuous life-long process, but definitely the foundation of how we see ourselves is constructed during childhood. Our minds are programmed or sculpted by our life experiences, by what we’ve heard and what we’ve been told. Before BMX racing became a legit thing where I lived, my friends and I were just kids riding around town on our little kids’ bikes, outcasts really since we didn’t play the conventional summer sports like baseball and soccer that society recognized. But then in the early 80s, adults became involved in BMX racing and instantly gave it credibility. The grown-ups had access to tractors and machinery required to move large amounts of dirt to build bigger jumps and legitimate tracks with wooden start gates. They charged an entry fee and offered trophies on the line and that’s all that was needed to transform what we had been doing all along into a real sport. It’s funny how that works. And as soon as adults and parents got involved, BMX became “popular” with more kids suddenly wanting to participate. That’s how much influence adults and parents have on their children.
Kids, and even adults possibly to a lesser extent, are constantly seeking recognition, proof that they matter and belong as they try to build and develop their self-worth, their ego. Looking back, I could say that my motivation to race bikes came from a need to feel the thrill of speed and the feeling of flying over the jumps, but the more that I think about it now, I realize that at it’s core it was more about being seen, becoming someone, being recognized and talked about. Racing bikes satisfied my primal need for belonging enabling me to prove my worth in front of an audience in search of praise from adults and peers. Most, if not all, kids dream of one day becoming a hero and I saw bike racing as my opportunity to impress. I felt like I had finally found my niche. I finally had the audience that I craved.
Once the local BMX racing scene died, I found my audience through BMX Freestyle or stunt riding. Me and my friends loved to ride in busy areas trying relentlessly to impress anyone who would take the time to stop and notice the tricks that we had spent so much time mastering. Performing in BMX shows gave me a platform and had a huge influence slowly building my identity as a bike rider. We become what people tell us we are. Looking back, the line between my love of riding and the attention that my bike riding persona gave me was most certainly blurred. In high school, my best friend and I were known as the BMX guys. We didn’t just ride bikes, it was who we were.
As a parent I can’t help but notice how kids’ sports have grown and gotten more serious since my own childhood. The adults and parents have taken it to the next level. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing? It surely is good for creating the next generation of champions, stronger and faster than those past, but is that what our kids need? I always wonder if the kids who seem so passionate about their sport are really in love with the game or with the attention that they get when they excel as a player? Absent parents, both physically and emotionally, are so common today that I wonder if our kids push themselves for the love of the game or for something much deeper. Attention starved kids will go to great lengths for their parents to notice them. Some will act up, others will bury themselves in a game that was initially just meant to be for fun because they notice how much it makes the adults in their life proud. Too many adults and parents have made their kids sports about them and that really makes me sad.
After not riding too much for a few years during my years at university I missed my bike and eventually got into mountain biking. And this eventually led to racing which gave me the audience that I unconsciously still sought. With spectators watching the race and published results, racers really tend to feel like they’re doing something special. Athletes are revered for their bravery and willingness to put it all out there. We say that we race for the challenge but a very big part of it is for the applause. Humans are really but insecure animals that continuously need to prove their power. We are also in constant fear of death, searching for a way to immortalize our competencies. It isn’t enough to be told that we are all already powerful, sufficient and complete enough. We need a measurable way to prove our worth. Published race results are a visible display unconsciously proving that we matter, that we’re good at something.
Society puts way too much emphasis on sporting results. It’s gotten out of hand really. Just look at professional athlete salaries. It’s ridiculous. They’re not saving lives or anything. They’re just playing a game. They’re paid to entertain. That’s it really. One may argue that they inspire? What inspires is the human suffering involved. Lately I have been asking myself if the reason behind this suffering really is something worth suffering for? The only reason why such an effort inspires is because society has marketed it like that. External accomplishments are really but a cheaper substitute to true bravery. I now see internal growth as the bravest thing that you can do in this life. The results are often very subtle and often go unnoticed and that’s why it takes true courage to sit down and try to understand your shit. You don’t need to try to fix it. You just need to understand and accept it, to make friends with it as part of your entire self. That takes true courage and bravery. It’s the most important work that you can do for yourself, your family and humankind. True heroes are not hard and chiselled. They are soft and empathetic. The world needs more true heroes.
Nowadays when I ride, I no longer look for an audience. I actually seek the opposite. Solitude is what I’m searching for as I connect with my introverted self. I tend to look for remote areas to ride in. I prefer riding alone. I realize that as a Strava user I am unconsciously seeking praise by posting my rides online collecting kudos, but when I’m out there actually riding, I best like not being noticed. Riding has become a personal and internal thing for me now. No training, no intervals, no indoor rides, just me and my bike, outside, interacting with nature. If you NEED a group to ride with or to sign up for a race or an event to motivate you to get out and ride, I think that you’re doing it all wrong. Take the time to look around during your ride and notice the beauty around you. Smell the air, feel the wind on your face and legs. Feel the breath moving in and out of your lungs and your heart beat as your legs spin circles. Take it all in and by all means don’t go ruin the experience by wearing headphones listening to music. If you call yourself a cyclist, life doesn’t get much better than that right there. One day, you won’t be able to ride anymore and unless you’re already dead you’ll miss it so very much. Unlike what society preaches, faster is definitely not necessarily better. Nature is never in a hurry. Ride like nature.
Will I ever race again? If I had to answer right now I would say no, but I really don’t know what will happen in the future. I know that right now racing is not what I need and what I am supposed to be doing even if at times part of me really, really misses it. That part of me is my ego and he’s kindof an asshole, so I try real hard not to take him seriously. Why is it so difficult to let that part of me die peacefully? I’m pretty sure that it’s just part of being an insecure human animal.
A wise man once told me that there is a time and age for competitive sports in one’s life and I agree. As we get older, our actions have more consequences. Be it a bad diet, lack of exercise or falling down, it is a fact that every single one of these gets more expensive the older we get after the prime years. It is always a matter of the risk being worth the reward and for me it doesn’t seem worth it anymore. I understand that shit can happen every time you hop on a bike. I just can’t seem to justify adding a bunch of other riders around me gunning for a good result and upping my efforts into the zone that gets you cross-eyed. As much as I sound like a bitter, washed-up, has-been racer who simply can’t keep up anymore, the truth is that only my ego sees it this way, not my true self. Bike racing has been a very large part of my life up until the last few years and I am grateful for all that it has given me.
Now don’t get me wrong, this post isn’t about trying to convince you that racing is a bad thing or a complete waste of time. If you want to pin on a number and line up at the start line in this weekend’s race by all means do, but I strongly suggest that you think about your “why?”. And it’s always more than just “because it’s fun”. There is always something deeper that pushes us. Like with a crime case, there is always a motive behind every action. It’s up to you to dig inside with true honesty in order to find yours. If you’re constantly chasing that endorphin “high”, you may want to ask yourself what you’re trying to numb or run away from?
One thing that I do know for sure that racing isn’t the best thing about riding a bike. I learned that as a young boy the first time that I rode out of our neighborhood on my banana seat bike with whitewall tires.