The 1985 film, Turtle Diary, and the book by Russel Hoban upon which it is based, may not be to everyone’s taste. The film’s plot, which revolves around freeing captive sea turtles, would likely resonate much more today than it did in 1985. However, when I viewed the film back then, one of the lines in the movie, spoken by actor Ben Kingsley to his co-star Glenda Jackson – “everything isn’t sex” – was a bit of a shock, both to the characters in the film, as well as to viewers. The odd syntax and brutal honesty of this simple statement probably destined the film (and book) to our culture’s nether regions.
Western society focuses on extremes: the longest ride, the highest mountains, the fastest race times. This focus has a chilling effect on “normal” cyclists, who use their bikes for transportation, exploration, and communing with nature. When asked by friends and other cyclists about the day’s ride, the most frequent question is “how many miles did you do?” or “what was your average speed?”. Not “tell me about the ride” or “what wildlife did you see today?”.
Most cyclists enjoy other activities: hiking, running, walking, birding, gardening, children, cooking, wrenching…the list goes on. We don’t “live to ride”. Instead, the bicycle is simply part of our daily lives. We don’t need to do a century every weekend, nor one-up each other with tales of amazing descents and all-out sprints (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Our bicycles are an amazing tool, allowing us to explore our surroundings while invigorating our bodies and spirits. Everything isn’t cycling. But cycling is a transformative experience upon which many good things are based.
I fully agree, when my father was young in the fifties, he was studying for his doctorate in Zurich, Switzerland. He desperately wanted to see the rest of the country. Having a limited budget, the only way was to tour the country by bicycle. He obtained a touring bike, and together with a fellow collegue, they set off on a tour to admire the beautiful swiss scenery. No racing, no fastest stretches, just plain enjoyment. The pictures that he took were beautiful, often with the bike in the foreground. The only time he spoke about covering a huge distance in one day was because they had no choice due to time constraints.
Even today in Switzerland there are many citizens who commute to work where we would use our cars. Men in suits, women dressed in smart clothes with their briefcases neatly strapped to their bikes. No element of competition, simply an everyday means of getting to their workplaces.
I was fortunate to be able to tour the Alsace region of France, I took many pictures of the stunning scenery, yellow mustard fields and beautiful rivers including the Rhine river. No competition, just savouring the beautiful environment.
So, as you say, it is all about what you saw and not about how fast you covered the ride or how you managed to do a climb in record time. The reward lies in being able to experience the beauty of nature on two wheels.
Jan, what a wonderful story of your father’s and your cycling adventures. You describe what I think many cyclists yearn to experience. Using the bicycle as a way to explore one’s environment – that’s what riding is all about, I think.
“The bicycle is simply part of our daily lives”
Spot on, Nola! Being car-free for going on 4 years now, bicycles are mainly for utilitarian purposes in my household. Of course, I do get out for long, fast rides every now and then. But mainly, I use a handful of my own fleet bikes and the city’s bike share bicycles, which I find incredibly practical when I need a one-way trip. Having bikes in your life for more than just “fast” rides allows one to appreciate the weather, the community, the neighborhood, the wildlife, the list goes on and on. Clearly, you (and Jan, the commenter above) also get it.
Great message in your post!
Hi Josh, congratulations on being car-free. I did a five year car free stint a while back. The operative word for that experience was “free”. What can’t be known until you try it is how freeing it is to be without a car. It opens up all kinds of transportation options and can be a way of connecting with others – by asking for a ride, or to borrow a friend’s truck for the weekend, or musing across the aisle on the train or bus. Walking out of the office at the end of a workday – you can cycle home, take the train, hop on a bus, go for a walk. It’s an option more people should consider. Kudos!
Agreed! I returned to cycling in 1999 to train for doing the STP with a friend, that got me onto a Cannondale R800 racy road bike and for almost a decade I tried to be the fastest Fred I could be, the Polar cycling computer and the whole 9 yards, speed was king. And then one day it occurred to me that every ride was a focused workout and cycling had become a slog, on top of which I was replacing expensive shifters every 3 years -there had to be a better way. So I built up a steel bike with wide tires and down-tube shifters and slowed down and started noticing things and did rides that put a smile on my face, commuted to work on my bike. My new philosophy is do whatever type of riding puts a smile on your face be it going fast on your carbon road bike or riding your beach cruiser in flip flops. For me things got more fun when I slowed down and started noticing things other than my cadence or average speed 😉
The great thing about cycling is that it encompasses so many different purposes – meandering, racing, getting a work out, shopping, commuting, hauling, exploring. It’s rewarding to embrace all that a bike can do.