Wednesday, April 25, 2012

We Could Talk for Hours

Brevet Season Kick-Off Party, Ride Studio Cafe
An interesting novelty about cycling with other people for me has been the talking. And I mean hours and hours of non-stop talking. Now, I am not an introvert per se. I can talk. I can even sit next to a stranger at a dinner party and have a perfectly pleasant chat. 

But while it's one thing to chat over dinner, it's quite another to spend 5 hours talking non-stop while pedaling and watching each other sweat and scowl. It brings out a different kind of conversation. A sense of bonding can take place with what in retrospect seems like alarming speed.

In adulthood, we do not typically make friends as easily as we do in our younger, more innocent days. With the years we grow more protective of our private lives and more jaded in our views of human nature. At least to some extent, cycling seems to dismantle those defenses and encourage an openness that - in my experience at least - is outside the norm of casual social interactions. Maybe this comes from the physical exertion. Exhausted from pedaling, we have no energy left to remain guarded and aloof. Maybe it comes from the sense of sharing a unique, beautiful and painful experience that no one else is there to witness and to understand as we understand it.

Whatever the reason, conversations flow. Bonds form. The cyclist becomes a keeper of other cyclists' stories, lots and lots of stories. 

I still think of myself as predominantly a solitary cyclist. But now something funny is happening: When I ride alone, I find myself retrieving memories of my riding partners, remembering different snippets of conversations. It's unexpectedly difficult to go from non-stop talking on a bike for hours, to riding on my own in silence. 

28 comments:

  1. I wonder if the same is true of any activity where you are working together with others but also able to talk. For example, sailing or running.

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    1. I have gone hiking and played tennis with people, but it wasn't the same.

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  2. I have done cycling, and, more especially, running, with friends and in groups and it is a great way to both make the miles pass more quickly and to bond with those people. Some of my closest adult friends have been running partners, due to the hours we spent talking and running together. It is also a great motivator, running with a friend keeps the legs going and once a good conversation gets going, you look back and wonder how it was that those miles had been covered so easily.

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  3. 'But while it's one thing to chat over dinner, it's quite another to spend 5 hours talking non-stop while pedaling and watching each other sweat and scowl. It brings out a different kind of conversation.'

    Most club riding I've done, and all racing, is quite competitive, and there is little or no conversation at all while riding, but plenty after the ride.

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    1. It does depend on the type of ride. On the paceline training rides I did last summer (they will start again in May), there was no talking. On the group rides organised by another club that I joined later, there was plenty of talking and it was a bit of a shock after having gotten used to the other style.

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  4. This is one of your more interesting posts, Velouria. (And that's saying a lot.)

    As female riding partners are becoming female friends, I am noticing that we do indeed talk about our experiences of cycling. It also seems to lead to talk about other things in our lives.

    When I was living as Nick, I was riding mainly with male cyclists. When we talked, the conversation tended to be more like "highlight reels" about our rides. We would take pride in bettering our personal bests, and we would wear our scars like badges. As an example, when I was mountain biking, one of my riding buddies tore his knee open as a result of a particularly nasty spill on a rocky downhill. In our circle of riders, that gave him "props." When he didn't boast about how he kept on riders, one of us would mention it, with admiration.

    While my female riding partners/friends might talk about their injuries, aches and pain, we tend to be more empathetic and less celebratory, I think. We seem to support rather than goad each other in our suffering--and joy.

    Although I, too, still think of myself mainly as a solitary rider, I find that I don't ride alone as often as I used to.

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    1. I still can't believe that you used to be a mountain biker; can't really picture it!

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  5. What's funny is that I *hear* lots of people say that they have a hard time making friends as adults. And yet that's pretty much never been my experience. I've always had a close-knit circle of friends as an adult, and as I get older I find that I have several circles of friends that overlap. Some are people I knew better when I was younger and some are people I see more now, but they're almost always people I shared an interest/activity with.

    It's a huge part of why I love the bike scene in Portland so much--it's given me some of the best friends I've ever had. Because you're right, it's incredibly easy to talk while on a bike ride. Even a slow one, or a short one. It's just an incredible way to meet people.

    Much to my chagrin I've discovered that I don't really enjoy riding alone all that much. I'm jealous of people who do. In theory I should be training for a 200k ride in late June, but in reality it just hasn't happened, because it would mean long hours alone in the saddle. It's quite the Catch-22 for me--there are group training rides in Portland all the time (I assume), but I can't go fast enough to keep up with them, and I'll never get fast enough, it seems, because I hate riding alone long enough to train for them!

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    1. I'm with you - I can never motivate myself to do a long ride alone. Just don't like it, and can't really see the appeal for riding hours by myself, even though I'd love to get anywhere close to fast. I'm actually kind of jealous of people who can do it and enjoy it.

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    2. I do my best rides alone but I also appreciate the camaraderie when I ride with friends. And I am fast, maybe too fast, to start a conversation with a fellow cyclist who I pass or who passes me. I suppose it is a gift to be able to ride alone and push hard or not, depending on how I feel. It certainly is now with two little ones and windows to ride that come with little advance notice.

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    3. Here,here! (that means "yes,you hit the nail on the head ;) )

      Really good post,V :)

      The DC

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    4. April - Thats great to hear, both about your experience and about Portland as a community. A lot of people I know complain that Boston is kind of closed and aloof. I myself was very tentative to settle in and make friends here... until I started cycling and then I just couldn't help it!

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  6. From a business perspective, cycling was the new golf 5 years ago for this reason.

    If you're stuck in a sit-down dinner and the convo turns soporific you usually don't have the option to zip up and down the peloton to find something interesting to talk about.

    Riding hard socially has, for me, a little of the same effect as being drunk. Well beyond the allowable limit for endorphins, no doubt.

    PS Pro Tip - don't gab ad nauseum when the climb is easy for you but not for someone else.

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    1. "don't gab ad nauseum when the climb is easy for you but not for someone else."

      Well that rarely happens, so not a problem!

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  7. How many months is it since you posted about not talking while riding? Welcome to the club.

    This is how old riders know so much about the sport and the machines. Beyond your own experience you have all the experience of your club and all the stories they have gathered. Then you have the experience of their kids growing up riding and racing. Time expands and fills with bikes.

    GRJ is right about the golf. Except that our competitive spirit and our self-absorption is more fun than theirs. And every ride does not end at the clubhouse bar.

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  8. I would love to join some sort of group, but I don't race and I don't train. Hard to find a group that just wants to peddle leisurely around the neighborhood for the fun of it.

    Hmmm, maybe I should start one?

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    1. Start one! hoping your in the Boston area...

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    2. There are loads of groups like this in the Boston area! There are the Bicycle Belles. The Women's brunch rides. And the author of this blog is starting a 3-speed picnic series.

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    3. A 3 Speed Picnic Series? That's freaking Genius. Old bikes, low(ish) speeds and Bangers and Cheese! I've driven farther for less.

      Spindizzy

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    4. Any similar groups in Los Angeles? I'm in the Toluca Lake area.

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    5. I know they had the Sunday Chic rides for a while. You should get in touch with Eva Lewington via her blog or on twitter.

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  9. I have such conflicting feelings about this! On the one hand, I've always preferred to exercise alone - running and hiking, specifically. It's relaxing for me to zone out into my own little world. I worry that I wouldn't like having to talk through a ride.

    On the other, I do crave the community that a lot of people seem to find through cycling. It's hard sometimes being the only (sporty road) cyclist I know. It's this thing I spend a lot of time doing but don't have anyone to talk about it with. But then, as someone mentioned above, I know I'm too slow for any of the local group rides, and in any case I'm not sure how one even goes about finding a group when one doesn't know any other cyclists. The only ones I can find via google are large, fast affairs or ride-your-cruiser-to-the-beach affairs.

    Not sure where this leaves me?

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  10. Great topic.

    Cycling has been one of the best parts of my life since the day I first managed to get up on 2 wheels. There is so much about bikes and riding bikes that makes me feel nice that just being around the silly things helps me relax and connect with some of the stuff I like best about myself. I think that's part of the reason conversation and friendship comes more easily for me in that part of my world. I feel more confident and and assume people are probably going to like me. That can only help, right? Art has the opposite effect on me, the more I do it the more I understand why people fling themselves from trains.

    I had to go get a real job last fall after working for myself for 6 years, it's a field I know a little about but required me to get up to speed with SO much technology that I would never have been exposed to in any other situation. The whole endeavor would have been almost too overwhelming to consider except the joint is all covered up with bikes and bikers. Mostly racers. The anxiety I would have normally had in that situation was just not there. I wanted to be there and absolutely knew I was going to make new friends. I don't always make friends easily but some of the best ones I have, I have because some bike hooked us up.

    Riding bikes also seems to be one of the better ways of encouraging healthy perspectives on all sorts of things. I've been aware for years that my grasp of whats going on in my life is so much sharper if I've been riding a lot but I never knew why. I now think it's due to all of those "My life flashed before my eyes" moments I have. You watch your own bio-pic every time you forget which is the rear brake or decide the gravel prob'ly isn't THAT deep and you're bound to figure some of it out eventually. "Ladeeda, what a lovely da, JOHN BROWN ON A PONY!!! CLANG! Dude, it wasn't HER, it was ME!"

    Bikes can do that...

    Spindizzy

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  11. Although I talk and interact meaningfully with tons of people all day long for my work, in reality I'm kind of an introvert. So when Sunday comes around and I get a day to myself, I'm completely mercenary about my rides. I go alone. I ride and I think. Or not think. I recharge the batteries and I love spending hours wordlessly. My cycling friends think I'm a jerk because of this. Funny thing: I actually do love the camaraderie of riding with others. Lots of laughs. But when I'm getting ready to go out on a Sunday morning climb, I really just want to ride alone.

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    1. I'm with you Allen. Cycling for me is as close as I get to a truly meditative state. It's ironic really, I was a member of a national cycling organisation for many years but never joined a local group. The tribal mentality seems to exist at every level whether it's the tweed or lycra clad. I do feel a connection with fellow cyclists on the road, but only from a distance.

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  12. ironically, I've been on century rides with half a dozen guys, and we barely said a word. :]

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  13. I bet that most folks are closest to those they have sweat with, or suffered with, the most.

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