Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thrill seekers and thrill avoiders

Yet another former road rider came in yesterday, looking for a bike to use on dirt roads and mild trails. She doesn't want a sit-up-and-beg path bike, with high handlebars and a bar stool seat, but she doesn't want the current version of a mountain bike, with high-volume, low-pressure tires and lots of suspension travel. She also explicitly said that the "gravel grinder" category hadn't attracted her. We discussed some options and she went off to do more research. What she ends up riding is not as relevant as her motives for buying it. She is surrendering, retreating, and regrouping away from the battle zone that the roads have become. She makes an interesting comparison to a rider who came in about a week ago.

A pleasant, friendly, lean and muscular tattooed dude came in to check the shop out. He asked about trails in the area. I gave him the rundown on local attractions, from the rake-and-ride stuff in Sewall Woods and Abenaki to the professionally built course on Wolfeboro conservation land off the Cotton Valley Trail just beyond Fernald Station. He asked about "features." I directed him to the Wolfeboro Singletrack Alliance website, where he found pictures. He summed up the riders in the photos as "kind of lycraed-out, but okay." He liked what he saw of the features. The designer and builder of the trails has ascended to trail builder heaven in Bentonville, Arkansas, which gives you some idea of his capability.

We moved over to the sales floor. He looked at our modest selection of mountain bikes, priced at only a little over a thousand dollars, and slightly higher. For all of its reputation as a money town, most of the year-round residents in Wolfe City are scraping by like everybody else. Somehow we've all let ourselves grow accustomed to the shrinking dollar, so a thousand dollars doesn't raise an eyebrow the way it used to. Forget whether it should. It doesn't. We do have less expensive bikes, but they wouldn't hold up to much really sporty technical riding. Thanks, bike industry!

As we talked about the bikes on the floor and riding in general, he seemed to be trying to appreciate our similarities more than focus on our differences. He talked about the rush of surviving scary maneuvers on the trail. I talked about holding my line on the commute with a tractor trailer inches from my shoulder. He equated the adrenaline rushes, but he seeks his, whereas I am just as happy not to have any. I've never been much of a thrill seeker, even when I was taking risks. I deal with them when they're sent my way, but I don't miss them when they aren't. If he sees a commonality, it does improve relations. It does no good to belabor the wasteful extravagance of purely recreational riding -- no matter how ballsy -- on a trail to nowhere.

Am I judging? A little bit. But I remind myself that human existence is entirely pointless, so how individuals spend their brief span is up to them. I happen to ask myself what the social costs are, whenever I do anything. That does not mean that I am able to eliminate them from my own activities, merely that I note them and try to balance my personal gratifications with a nebulous concept of the greater good. I've noted before that we tend to compare our pastimes to the whole menu of available gratifications, and find our place based on how bad they are for the public more than how much actual benefit they provide. The recreational riders support their position by saying that they offer more potential bait to get a sedentary species out of its chair and into some physical activity. To that extent they are doing good. I look beyond that, though, to the ghettoization of cycling, chasing us off of the public right of way and onto closed playgrounds, where we can be a good little special interest, rather than a tool of general well-being and the humanization of the developed landscape.

On my initial road rides this season, drivers have been totally mellow. But I have not gone on the worse roads yet.

Years ago I made the choice to expend my aggression and fitness on transportation cycling, regardless of where life took me. It was pretty easy in a small city with commuting distances under eight miles one-way -- sometimes well under. In many ways, my best apartment was the grubby, unheated slum I lived in for a year, less than a mile from where I worked, with no hills in between. I could do my time in the salt mine and then sprint home to eat my unimaginative meals and forage in my imagination for what I hoped would be popular ideas. Now the riding distance is much longer, the terrain vastly more challenging, the meals slightly more sophisticated, and the ideas still elusive. Transportation cycling provided a baseline of riding even if I didn't have time to train for racing or take a tour. I didn't have to make time for a separate activity. I merely got to expand my riding when time and finances allowed.

Road cycling should not be a separate thing. Rider accommodations should be fundamental to road design and driver education. We've let the roads turn into motor speedways. I understand the addictive appeal of driving like an asshole. I don't have to drive for very long to turn into a complete asshole. Mind you I probably have more of a pre-existing tendency that way, but I can tell from the behavior of other drivers that I am not a rare case. It's so easy to punch the throttle. Peer pressure joins the weight of your foot, easing the gas pedal down harder. Time is short, risk is cumulative. Go faster just one more time to get where you need to go. Everyone else is doing it. You have no choice unless you insist on it.

As someone naturally combative -- regardless of whether I am good at it -- I tend to persist. Stick an elbow out. If someone passes you closely, lean in to block the next one. But it's not a war. The car has the clear advantage in actual combat. It's a contest of wills. And it shouldn't even be that.

1 comment:

Coline said...

I was most content during my years in a grubby unheated slum with an eight mile hilly commute. All that job brought was a smarter apartment and fancier versions of all my belongings, bike included. Eventually the prison regime of that regular job ground me down so I chose sanity over cash and quit. Some years later I met a fellow worker still not having earned his parole, worn with two extra decades of stress it was not made any better when I told him that I had never bothered to seek regular work ever again.

Try to leave only tyre track, footsteps and no blood...