by John Yoder
During a recent solo ride in the country, I stopped for a snack at the entrance to the cemetery. As I munched on a Clif bar, a biker came down the road from the opposite direction I was going, and as he got closer, he pulled over and called out: “There’s that biking fanatic.”
I was puzzled for two reasons:
1) Why he would call me a fanatic, and
2) Why he would act as if he knew me?
After he stopped, I asked: “Why did you call me a biking fanatic?” He replied, “I’ve seen your picture in the newspaper a couple of times in articles about biking,” he said. (That made some sense, because at the time, I was writing a weekly cycling column for the local newspaper, and it had my picture with the article each timed.)
To set the record straight, I said, “I think of myself as a serious biker, not a biking fanatic.” Having clarified my cycling identity, we then had a pleasant conversation about our biking interests, and I answered his questions about the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. Then we went our separate ways.
Since that chance encounter, I’ve thought more about how I characterized myself that day — a serious cyclist, but not a fanatic. Was my self-analysis correct? What’s the difference between the two? And, most of all, does it matter?
I’ve come to the conclusion that:
1) I was correct in my evaluation of myself;
2) there is a difference in the two attitudes; and
3) it does matter, most of the time.
I think a cycling fanatic is one who lives to ride, almost to the exclusion of other activities. A serious cyclist is one who rides for exercise, transportation and recreation, but has a life outside of cycling. For him or her, cycling is a means to an end, not an end in itself, that is, they have life balance.
I can illustrate the difference with three examples of people I’ve encountered in person or in print who act like cycling fanatics.
The first was a man I saw several years ago on the Tour of the Mississippi Valley. TOMRV is a two-day ride. The first day’s route goes from Bettendorf, Iowa to Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa (106-miles with hills at the end) and then a 90-mile return route the next day. On this ride, I saw a man ride the 106 miles without a saddle (or seat) on his bike. (I didn’t see him the second day.) Why he rode like that, I have no idea, but what I do know is that to ride without sitting down for 100 miles take extraordinary leg strength and stamina, the kind you can only get with hours of training far beyond what a rider like I put in. I’d call him a cycling fanatic.
In 2005, my wife and I rode the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RABRAI). Riders takes seven days to go from the Missouri to the Mississippi River with mileage varying from 50 to 90 miles each day. One day I developed a bad saddle sore that caused us to skip riding one day so it could heal. That day we hitched a ride from our overnight town to the next overnight town in our support vehicle. It wasn’t long after we arrived at that day’s destination that the first bikers rolled in. The local radio station had set up an outdoor studio in the area where the riders finished their day in order to do a live broadcast. They also had loud speakers set up so that people close by could hear their interviews with various cyclists.
The radio announcer corralled the first rider to appear, a thin young man in his late 20s, and the interview went something like this:
Announcer: How has your week been going?
Rider: It’s going quite well, though it isn’t very challenging for me.
Announcer: Why is that?
Rider: Well, the miles we ride each day are a lot less than what I normally ride.
Announcer: How many miles do you normally ride?
Rider: In a normal week, I ride 100 miles every day, Monday through Friday, and 150 miles on Saturday and Sunday.
In other words, he rode 800 miles every week. That’s more miles than professional cyclists in training ride in a week. I remember doing the math at the time: if he rode 100 miles every weekday averaging 25 mph, he’d spend at least four hours a day on the bike, not counting time to get ready, eat on the road and clean up. Who has that kind of time and can hold a job? Who has a job that permits that kind of time off? To me, that’s not a balanced life, but one where a passion for cycling verges on addiction.
Then there’s Cindi Rauch, a woman cyclist, who between May 22 and July10, 2012, to celebrate her 60th birthday, rode 50 centuries (100 miles) in 50 states in 50 consecutive days:
http://50centuriesin50statesin50days.blogspot.com/2012/04/meeting-of-minds.html (The link isn’t very helpful now.) That strikes me as a burst of fanaticism: she concentrated on a biking project for a limited amount of time, and then went back to a normal life, if you can call riding 10,000 miles a year normal. (I took that figure from an article about her and her Facebook page.)
Or there’s 20-something Amanda Coker, who first broke the world record last year for the most miles ridden by a woman in one year, and then kept going and shattered the overall record, too — 76,076 miles! She broke a cycling record that had just been set the year before by Kurt Searvogel, 53, of Arkansas. Before that, the record had held since 1939.
The most I’ve ridden in one year is 3,937 miles. This year the total will be closer to 2,000 miles. For someone who rides 100-to-300 miles a year, I suppose my 2,000 miles looks like cycling fanaticism, but I believe that it means I’m serious about using cycling for recreation, exercise and transportation. It allows me to achieve balance between cycling, other activities and family obligations. If cycling consumes my life, it’s become an addiction, something that controls me instead of me controlling it. That’s a degree of fanaticism that I think is unhealthy, and one I want to avoid.
John D. Yoder is a recreational cyclist, former cycling commuter and League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor. He has been active for over 25 years establishing the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, a rails-to-trails project connecting Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana, Indiana (www.pumpkinvine.org).