Friday, August 02, 2013

Ten Mile Limit

Ever since the invention of the bicycle it has been an imposition on everyone who does not ride one. Even before the Draisine grew pedals, rowdies were terrorizing pedestrians with drunken shenanigans and out-of-control downhills. Even though the human-powered two-wheeler has enjoyed periods of great popularity, non-riders during those times simply gritted their teeth all the harder.

People are constantly coming up with reasons a rider should not ride on any given day. Objections usually hinge on the amount of time the ride takes or the types of freight a rider can or will convey. One can count on riding a maximum of ten miles a day before your habit begins to impose on the non-riders or less dedicated riders in your life. A safer bet would be five miles.

With a five- to ten-mile range, this makes most urban cycling acceptable and virtuous. A short hop in street clothes to work or for shopping helps ease traffic and parking congestion and makes a compact settled area more pleasant. Start trying to rack up more distance than that and you quickly enter the realm of the self-centered freak. Sure, a lot of riders manage to accumulate major mileage, but it always comes at the cost of some strain on personal relationships. An accommodating supporting population of friends, family members and loved ones will adapt, but I guarantee that none of them would protest if the rider quit cycling and took up activities that kept him or her closer to hand.

The cellist and I adopted a dog last month. He's a cute little guy, 13 years old, with congestive heart failure, but he still enjoys life. But he has needs. The cellist has been really dedicated to serving them, unlike a kid who whines to get a dog and then can't be bothered to care for it, but when she can't I get the puppy dog eyes from her and the dog.

She's headed out of town for a couple of days. She asked if I could drive to work on a beautiful summer Saturday so the dog could come with me. I said, "no, my employers don't want a dog in the shop because of the liability." Then the boss says, "Scruffy would make a great shop dog."

The cyclist always ends up being the selfish bastard for actually wanting to ride. And if it wasn't this it would be something else. "You get home so late." "You look tired." "I worry about you in traffic." That's from the people who care about you. The objections of the non-riders are much more pointed and hostile. They all boil down to  "get the F### out of the way."

Short hops in congested areas where the bike has the advantage are not only a great example of bike superiority. They're the only completely defensible use of it. That does not mean I will be curtailing my longer rides. It just means I know I'm building up what society perceives as a debt to them for doing so.


Matt Boulanger said...

Wow. this resonates for me so much. I can ride to work because my wife gets our kid to and from preschool. Her bike collects dust because of that, and I am eternally grateful for her sacrifice. I try not to be, but by the end of a day when I have not ridden, I am a miserable human being. So I guess it's her investment in domestic tranquility.

cafiend said...

Rider psychology is fascinating and complex. I too become a miserable human being when I don't get to ride. In the season we used to know as ski season I would get out on the cross-country trails at least three days a week. When that ended, winter became a desolate and desperate survival exercise that has actually led me to prescription antidepressants. The concept of rhythmic exercise like cycling, running or cross-country skiing functioning as self-medication for genuine clinical depression is not far-fetched. The fact that some people get physically addicted to exercise probably indicates that they would get addicted to something else if exercise was not available.

Some people seem to be able to live without it better than others. That might not be good for them in the long run, but they're the ones who will forgo a workout to meet some other responsibility time after time. If you're lucky they don't develop a superior attitude or act like a martyr about it.

I'm all for trying to make sure everybody gets their chance to play outside on any given day. So sometimes I take one for the team. But if the team isn't going to take advantage of an opportunity, I'm suiting up and heading out. Seeya.

Steve A said...

Not entirely by coincidence, ten miles also takes about the same time as the recommended daily exercise workout.

cafiend said...

The recommendation may have as much to do with reducing stress by maintaining domestic tranquility as it does with physical fitness.