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Why do people like bicycling so much?

Your world is what you pay attention to. And on a bike I pay attention to a lot, like:

  • the book or music I’m listening to,
  • the trash, broken glass, cigarettes, tires, bumpers, and ridiculous amounts of debris on the side of the road,
  • the people sleeping in the wooded areas,
  • the clouds and the breeze overhead,
  • the cats, dogs, birds, squirrels, chickens, rabbits, frogs, raccoons, possums, moles, mice, and chipmunks I encounter,
  • the kids drawing pumpkins, leprechauns, Santa, snowmen, hearts, rainbows, friends, parents, and all manner of words on the pavement with sidewalk chalk,
  • the graffiti and stickers on tunnel walls, power poles, utility boxes, and benches,
  • how much I like being in control of my own mobility.

Most people have a favorite pair of shoes, pants, or a shirt. I don’t have any of those things, but I do have a favorite bike.

There’s a moment when I get on my bike and I push down on the pedal. It’s the first of many such movements I’ll make over the next hour or more, but it’s no less magical to me every time I do it. I push down and the bike goes forward. I am in complete control and can feel every bump, twist, and inch of the path in the handlebars. I know that I can always make the bike go faster or slower, sometimes with small changes like shifting gears and sometimes with big changes like training and diet.

Most people who don’t ride bikes or have and don’t care for it find bicyclists an odd bunch. But cycling affords me a way to absorb great books, get outdoors and experience the world around me, and burn a thousand calories an hour at half the physical exertion I’d feel in a typical cardio workout.

Sometimes it rains and I appreciate the cooling sensation. Sometimes I assume people see me in my bike shorts or bright shirts in the store and think I look silly, but they provide me more comfort to ride longer and with less wind resistance. And when I don’t get to cycle much, like during the winter, I can feel the long arm of winter’s effects on my mind and body.

The bike trail to heaven

I hope when I die there’s a bike trail to heaven. Stairways are slow and cumbersome, and highways—to hell or not—are awful. No one ever said, “Yay! The highway!”

On beautiful days like we’ve been having lately, I step on the pedal and my bike fits me so well it becomes an extension of my body. I sit down and the seat is perfectly adjusted to my height and frame, every time. The wheels are like 29” shoes that glide through space.

We don’t have many hills in Central Indiana, which takes away the thrill of downhill sprints, but also means there’s never any uphill jaunts. But the few knobs and gentle slopes that do come along add just enough variety to keep me in shape and appreciative of a little downhill breeze. In motion I forget that my body is sweating because I feel a constant breeze, no matter if there’s a wind or not.

I don’t want to go faster

I can’t help but recognize the effects cars have on people in their day-to-day lives. We’ve all seen people picking their nose or cursing at people and otherwise behaving in ways they’d never behave on a sidewalk, at the grocery store, or really anywhere else. Cars change people, usually for the worse.

Every time I get in a car with someone, they seem stressed. And every time I hear someone proclaim they paid off their car loan, it’s so frequently accompanied by the disclaimer it’s either falling apart, wrecked, or time for a new one to start the dependence all over again. That does not strike me as a form of freedom. If something goes wrong with my bike, I can fix it—usually within a short period of time or with little to no cost.

While everyone’s thumping along in their claptrap cars, the bicyclist makes no noise. On a bike I am 100% respectful of everyone around me by taking up the least space, producing no emissions or fumes, and moving whisper quiet with an unparalleled fuel-to-propulsion ratio. I never take up a parking spot, either, despite always having the best parking spot everywhere I go.

There’s also the immediate feedback my bike provides. I know that eating poorly will come back to haunt me in ways far quicker than how poor diets effect most people. If you eat a big meal today, you may not notice the impact on your waist, heart, or health for months or years to come. But when I eat a heavy meal I recognize its effects almost immediately on my next ride. My joints will hurt from excess sodium, or my body’s need to divert oxygen and attention to digestion takes away from my core and legs’ ability to do their work.

For this and other reasons, my bike is like a medical instrument all finely tuned to provide me instant feedback. And one of the most important is a gentle reminder to go slower.

“But Justin, don’t you want to go faster? Don’t you know a car can go faster?”

Yes, I know that, but if anything I want to go slower. I’m convinced part of the meager success I have in my life at staying on top of things and being someone who can get things done is that, if anything, I go slower than most people. Going slower means more time to think, and more time to think makes for better work and a richer life.

There are so few things I love in this world, but biking is one of them. It’s a reminder of my environment, my health, nature, my work and reading, and a persistent reminder we’d all do well to go a little slower.


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Photo of Justin Harter

About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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