Why We Ride

“But why?”

It’s one of the most popular questions we get while riding our 80-pound bikes thousands of miles; right after, “what’s the pool noodle for?

I usually give the short answer –– it’s fun and liberating. But many of us have deeper reasons. Mine is my mom; she died from leukemia complications five years ago. Seeing her unconscious, hooked up to breathing machines and unable to take three steps down the hallway made me want to take advantage of my own health and ability to do something crazy. That’s how I ended up cycling across America for a second time.

I’ve come to find that the bicycle is a vehicle for so many things, literally and figuratively. Here are some reasons we ride.

Jim Quinlan with his tandem bike

Jim Quinlan

Jim, the inspiration behind this blog post, rides for his late father who had always dreamed of biking across America. In 2016, he did just that and shared a reflection on it. Here is an excerpt:

I have thought about you every single day of this journey. At length.

I thought this trip would be a painful slog. Something I would just have to “get through.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. At some point, the initial goal of bicycling from the Atlantic to the Pacific changed. I realized in Missouri that I met my goal, and that getting to the Pacific is secondary.

This is the most amazing thing I have ever done. And it’s the most amazing thing you have ever given me. In your death, you figured out how to give me the gift of a lifetime.

“In your death, you figured out how to give me the gift of a lifetime”.

Abby brau riding with friends in the snow

Abbey Brau

I ride for the people and the community that comes with riding two wheels. I have met some of the most amazing humans while on a bike. Doesn’t matter if it’s road biking, touring, mountain biking, fat biking, etc. There is a very real bike community around the world. And it is full of very real, awesome humans.

I also ride for the feeling you get when you ride a bike. The strong, can-do-it-all, wind-in-your-hair, motivating, sounds-of-the-world, feel-of-the-rain, badass feeling you get every time you get on your bike.

Living life like this, our days started to seem considerably longer than a normal day back home. In one day, we’d have so many new experiences that it was hard to actually remember the morning. A day felt like a week.

Keenan DesPlanques

(From his film, Finding Time)

Janie Hayes

Pushing ourselves beyond our preconceived limits of what we can do is how we honor the short lives we have been given.
(From her blog, J-Walking, documenting her Trans Am Bike Race experience)

Brandi Blade and Janie Hayes Photo by Miles of Portraits
In the weeks before the Tour Divide Race, Brandi Blade and Janie Hayes go for a loaded training ride.

Brandi Blade

My mind tends to sound like an old, fuzzy radio with the tuner stuck in between a heavy metal and a country station. After a bit of riding, my mind is clean, my thoughts are clear. I am more present to myself, my life, and the world around me. I have no doubt that riding makes me a better person.

I was also incredibly touched by the generosity I experienced on the Tour Divide Race. I stayed in two free, stocked, clean little cabins maintained privately for Tour Divide riders and hikers. I never met the owners. Strangers paid for my meals without me knowing (even though I had ordered three!) and a woman gave me the sunglasses right off of her head when I mentioned I had lost mine. A sheepherder offered me a joint; I’m sure I looked like I could use one! I could go on and on.

When a complete stranger shows such generosity with nothing attached, I am left not just with a pair of sunglasses, but truly a renewed sense of humanity, of community, and a livened and inspired curiosity of who I want to be out in the world. We battered Tour Divide riders are an obvious, vulnerable lot that would most likely appreciate a kind gesture.

But I also think about all the people I interact with every day –– at work, at Safeway, on the bike path. How can I open myself up to the ways in which I too can offer small acts of kindness out in the world? Because we could all use it at times, not just on big, dirty bike rides.

James Stout

I ride mostly to occupy my body and free up my mind. All my best ideas, most creative thoughts, and considered opinions come to me on bike rides. I also find that if I don’t ride, I don’t feel connected to where I am, even in big cities, there is nothing like a bike ride to connect you to the place you are in a tactile, sensory, and more profound fashion. Oh, and it lets me manage my diabetes and keep up my cookie intake while meeting amazing people!

Liz Steppe riding with a friend at RAGBRAI

Liz Steppe

Bike touring, like life, can be so strenuous and so painful that the only way out of it is to be fully in the present. It isn’t always fun and it isn’t always easy. What do you do when you haven’t seen another person in days or your water is low or you’re just tired and done and questioning the choices you’ve made? I count pedal strokes. It’s the most basic way to come back into the moment and out of one’s head and feelings.

It enables me to open up to what I need in the present moment. What happened yesterday could’ve been blissful and zen-like but today is different. There’s more cars, it’s hot, a town I hoped would be an oasis is overrun by big trucks and people are looking at me funny. We like to think that happiness will carry over from one day to the next but things change. Counting pedal strokes allows me to acknowledge what is behind me, see what’s in front of me, and take care of myself in the current moment.

Jean Medley at 340 pounds before she started riding
Jean Medley and her trike

Jean Medley

“Get up and move!”

At 340 pounds and 5 feet tall, I made the decision in 2015 to get up and move by riding a TerraTrike.

The first day I got on it I was so big I could hardly put my feet on the pedals and I rode around the block. I was breathing so heavily, I thought I was going to die.

I set a goal to ride 25 miles in the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure. I came in dead last. Tony Williams, the former chair told me, “there were people [at the finish line] weeping because you stuck to it.”

Through riding my bicycle, I ended up losing 200 pounds and no longer have type 2 diabetes. Cycling helps me maintain my weight loss and good health.

“At 340 pounds and 5 feet tall, I made the decision in 2015 to get up and move by riding a TerraTrike.”

Howard Metzenberg

I’ve crossed America on a bike, and many other countries as well, especially European ones that can be crossed in a week or a day. It’s a different experience from what other tourists get. You are part of the land itself, not separated from it in an air-conditioned bus or car, and you see what’s between tourist destinations.

If it rains, it rains on you. In populated areas, shelter is easy to find, often a café or pub where locals are as curious about you as you are about them.

“PTSD sucks! Cycling helps!”

Gil Ytuarte

Julie Sims and friends on a ride

Julie Sims

There are few things in life that give me the kind of joy and freedom that riding a bike brings. Riding gives me confidence and makes me feel like a badass. I ride because of the respect I get from others for doing what I love.

Curtis Bunton on a stop of the Continental Divide while bike touring
Curtis from his trucking days

Curtis Bunton

After being sent to 26 countries while in the Army, I decided I wanted to see my own country so I started driving a truck. After 22 years as an over the road truck driver, it was time to slow down and really see everything I had already seen. The bicycle touring community is one of the only communities that is all-inclusive. Cyclists are not judgemental of others. Rather, they are supportive of each other. This community believes in encouraging others to ride their own ride. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do.

“One of the great things about bicycling is that a shift of gears keeps the pedaling easy even as the road goes up and down. In life, we need to make mental shifts at times.”

Bryn Douds

Javier Pineda on a ride in Summit County of Colorado

Javier Pineda

It’s a misty, cold morning in Patzcuaro, Mexico and an older gentleman rides his rusty steel frame bike flanked with a basket full of pan dulce, yelling, “Freshly baked!” People slowly come out from their homes and buy freshly baked goods to start their day. My mom joins the crowd and buys my favorite muffin. The gentleman continues his journey a few pounds lighter, up a daunting hill and into the horizon. Until I was 12 years old, that was my only relationship with bikes; a relationship that consisted of being a spectator and not a doer. I had a humble childhood and learning how to ride a bike was only a movie scene.

In 2006, my family immigrated to the US and settled in the quiet community of Breckenridge, CO. The same summer, my father purchased a silver and red BMX single-speed from Walmart to share with my brother. The two of us were determined to learn and took turns riding behind the apartment complex. A dream became a reality and after a front suspension bike was given to me, mountain biking took over my life. Living in Breckenridge meant having world-class trails in my backyard.

My brother passed away in 2009 and so did my desire to continue biking. With time, I got back on the saddle with a different perspective. I continue mountain biking today and have started long-distance cycling. Cycling is not about me anymore; it is about giving light to the voiceless and serving as an example for others from all walks of life to ride their bikes.

In July of 2019, I cycled 120 miles from Copper Mountain, CO to Aspen, CO over several mountain passes to honor the 17,000 other Colorado Dreamers. The ride brought attention to a moral issue that should not be political. After all, cycling is a diverse sport that should bring back memories from our childhood and should inspire us all to venture more. At the end of the day, I ride in memory of my brother, for social justice, to celebrate the diversity of this sport, and inspire others to find their reason.

See part two of this story with the “Why We Ride – PEARL iZUMi Crew” edition.

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Annalisa van den Bergh was born and raised in New York City by a Venezuelan mother and a Dutch father. She's a visual storyteller with a BFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She's currently riding her bicycle around the world and taking pictures of the people she meets. The project, called Miles of Portraits celebrates the ways the bicycle brings people together.

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One thought on “Why We Ride

  1. So so good! I love Jean’s story. I got my mom a tricycle but she never rode it. 🙁 Such inspiration in all these stories!!

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