Photos of cyclists taken in remote areas are commonly shot from behind, the lone traveler heading off to who-knows-where, braving the elements, terrain and alien culture. What’s conveyed is a sense of both adventure and loneliness—like images from a dream quest, perhaps one with no end. From the back the riders are faceless, so they are Everyman—or at least everyone who has enough strength of body and independence of spirit to take on such a challenge. The next frame may have them a speck in the distance; in the following, they may have disappeared over the far and boundless horizon. I can’t help wondering: Who’s
holding the camera? And I hold my empathetic feelings of isolation in check, because most likely this lone soul has companionship—and it’s even odds they’re on their return-trip home.
Paul S. Kramer,
Riders' Collective #19 November 2011
There are so many lessons to be learned in the cycling world, from the trite (as long as you turn the pedals you’ll get there eventually) to the ironic (the lighter the bike, the heavier the lock); from the paradoxical (thinner tires can be less efficient than wider ones) to the technical (wind resistance increases with the square of one’s velocity).
It is this last law that makes pace lines so fast in the flats, benefitting those behind the leader—the one battling air resistance most while the others are pulled along in the wake.
While most cycling truisms have their parallel in everyday life, I’ve found the pace line to be contrary to experience in general—for when life’s road is flat we can manage quite well on our own; where we do need the help of others to forge a path for us is when things are steepest—when we’re going uphill, traveling the slowest.
Riders' Collective #18 October 2011
A comfortable saddle was a big selling point in the early days of cycling, when roads had a lunar-like surface, wheels were as giving as a train’s, and seat designers, judging by their contraptions, were formerly mattress makers.
Gradually, as dirt, gravel and cobblestones were paved over, and pneumatic tires were perfected, seat-springs shrunk in size and number, being finally replaced by a simple top-layer of foam at most.
These slim saddles reduced weight and improved a pedal stroke’s efficiency, so “serious” cyclists would no sooner sport springs than a kickstand.
They say cycling’s not about the destination, but the journey. So why is it rare to see riders journeying in comfort? There’s no honor in blisters, nor bragging rights in sores, so I say, sit back and relax.
Riders' Collective #17 September 2011
I can’t think of any sport that requires all your senses. Most, in fact, need only sight and touch—though hearing approaching cars makes cycling safer, and music makes running less boring.
There’s one endeavor that requires the sense of taste: ultra-distance cycling. In fact, a long ride is really a series of meals, spread out over great lengths, that must be reached by pedaling.
After a few hundred miles it’s hard to find anything appealing enough to keep down, and the right food can make the difference—physically and psychologically—between finishing or not. So taste is truly an integral component of success in this grueling sport.
Just remember to sniff for any spoilage as you pour more sports drink into your water bottle. (Well I guess that’s five for five.)
Riders' Collective #16 August 2011
Last month my bike and I performed an acrobatic somersault, with my bouncing off the top of my helmet for a dismount. The score was a broken neck and a prize of three months in a brace.
Thinking about what it’s going to be like getting back on the bike—and whether I’ll return to cycling at all—I sense that it’ll be one thing to be dodging potholes, and quite another to be doing so with a clear memory of how it felt to smack into one.
While the odds of a swan dive remain the same—if not reduced, since I will be even more vigilant going forward—risk analysis only gets you so far. So it remains to be seen which will win out, science or faith—a rational fear of cycling’s dangers, or an unfounded belief in my ability to avoid them.
Riders' Collective #15 July 2011
Honeymoons are usually planned as an escape from the confines of a relationship—one last fantasy before the reality of married life sets in. Couples doze dormant on the beach without the necessity of negotiation, or they travel as whirling tourists, passing passive and pampered through museums, menus and bridal suites.
Newlywed-cyclotouring demonstrates quite a different dynamic. Rather than avoid conflict in an environment devoid of stress, couples practically invite it, having to persevere together when adversity strikes, and bolster the other when moods are as out of sync as a see-saw.
Instead of putting off the perils of partnership, touring by bike tugs the tied knot to the test—the kind of honeymoon that never is over.
Riders' Collective #14 June 2011
Climbing over a pass after a century of riding, I gladly napped in the gravel on the shoulder until rested enough to push on. One accepts that the pleasures of cycle-touring come at a cost—spectacular vistas require the toll of a climb; quietude exacts an assumption of desolation; miles of pedaling is the price of possibility; seeing rainbows requires riding in the rain.
Many tour groups offer all the amenities of a luxury excursion: gourmet buffets along the roadside each day, and a four-course dinner in your four-star inn each night. But save your money and go bare-bones. That beef jerky at the general store will taste like steak, your sleeping bag will feel like a feather bed, and your pup tent will be a palace under the stars.
Riders' Collective #13 May 2011
I completed a 400-mile, race-against-the-clock event which forced me to cycle 39 hours without sleep in order to finish just within the time limit. There was a vast variety of breathtaking vistas and various small towns with local food to acquaint myself with. But what I remember most is the farm dog that chased me in the pitch darkness...and the tire needing changing only one mile from the end...and the turnoff almost impossible to find in a thick forest fog. And that’s because the most vivid memories are the ones we earn, the events we persevered through—the ones that later, when being recounted to friends, invariably end with, “...and I lived to tell the tale.”
Riders' Collective #12 April 2011
Take a hoola hoop, stand it on its edge, and give it a spin. As its axis precesses, each spot on the rim goes round and round and up and down, like a child galloping on a merry-go-round.
While we normally think of the seasons as cycling like a wheel, the year of a cyclist is like that point on the hoop, as the highs of summer rides descend into the lows of a winter spent off the saddle.
Now we’re at that point where the ring makes contact and rebounds again. For the first time since early fall we are looking up at the coming season instead of riding head down into a bitter wind. And bracing against a cool April shower we’re reminded that better cycling lies ahead.
Riders' Collective #11 March 2011
There are three ways I choose to ride: to aim on how fast I can go, without regard to destination; to set out to cover a route, however long it takes; or to focus on completing a set course within a limited amount of time.
As I cross over the hill of years, these ride styles seem to reflect life choices as well:
I could just speed along, giving up on long-range goals to experience as much as possible in the time that may remain; I can plan for the long haul, deferring gratification for a future that is hoped for but not assured; or I can choose the middle path, staying focused on a clear destination, but, mindful that time is finite, taking pleasure in the journey along the way.
Riders' Collective #10 February 2011
When walking was a newly acquired skill, and we teetered and fell just readying to launch into step, our tiny, trusty trike offered us stability and mobility—a wonderful combination for one whose sense of adventure is far keener than that of balance.
In time, after mastering the awkward motions of walking, our plans began to send us further than our feet could easily take us and we rediscovered the potential in a simple set of pedals.
But as our world widened, car pedals took their place, and our bike became just another toy from childhood.
Now we’ve come full circle, finding the child within us for whom a tricycle was such a source of freedom and joy.
Riders' Collective #9 January 2011
Riding steeply up a New England road, I offered apologies to my flatlander friend for what must have been a foreign foe: Gravity. “Wind is much worse,” he boasted. “It erodes you as it did this once-jagged hilltop.” “But only one way,” I countered. “Later on, it will simply push you along.” “Not always so,” he chimed. “Wind’s fickle and capricious, even taunting at times. I’ve had it change direction and face me again just as I turned back towards home. You can curse the upturned earth while you climb, but you know you have its promise of payback once you crest—and unlike the untrustworthy wind, every mountain can be taken at its word.”
Riders' Collective #8 December 2010
As mornings in the Northeast become darker and colder, with early rides requiring lights and layers, I take to my trainer instead.
With my rear wheel suspended, spinning just off the floor, I mindlessly measure out the monotonous miles.
For some, this stationary solitude is a study in sensory under-load, like a yule log on TV. But not for me.
Free from the dangers of pedestrians, potholes and passing cars, I enjoy meandering down roads of my own devising, sprinting beside perpetually second-placed pros, and pretending that it’s already spring, when I’ll be as free as a bird—or a rat let out of his cage.
Riders' Collective #7 November 2010
When I engage the front door’s dead bolt, or remotely secure my car doors, I do it by habit, without much thought. Not so with my bicycle: I need to remember the lock, bear the burden of its weight (a function of its invulnerability, increasing with a cycle’s worth and the crime rate around it), then find an immovable object to which my bike can unbreakably bond. As I uncoil the cable then shut tight the shackle, I’m fighting the forces of another’s temptation—and when walking away, I look back to see things as they might, betting that theft appears more trouble than it’s worth. How lighter life would be if everyone were able to buy the bicycle of their dreams.
Riders' Collective #6 October 2010
It seems we all wave to passing cyclists as we tool along with friends through the landscapes around us. It is a secret handshake of sorts, an acknowledgment of a bond forged by a common passion.
But since our friendly gesture is often extended to joggers, power walkers, and everyday amblers as well, I think our motivation springs from a deeper source.
The pleasures of pedaling in a peaceful, scenic setting produce a fundamental feeling of well being—one we instinctively share with those we encounter along the way.
(If only these neurons of nicety fired whenever we idled in jammed traffic.)
Riders' Collective #5 September 2010
I spend quite a lot of time looking through travel photographs taken by cyclists—and you’d be amazed at how many breathtaking landscapes include a bicycle in their composition.
We often ride alone, either by choice or by necessity, but we hardly ever feel alone. We’re in constant interaction with our bicycle—braking, shifting, listening, spinning, leaning—continually realigning at our points of contact to achieve a more stable, balanced whole.
So when taking out the camera for posterity it’s only natural to invite our steed into the frame, as one would any other friend. And after the click of the shutter, if it could, I’m sure the bike would insist on trading places.
Riders' Collective #4 August 2010
My most memorable cycling experiences have been pedaling down country roads at sunrise after riding straight through the night. Rolling along in pitch blackness, aiming at the headlight’s spill of illumination thrown ahead, is to experience both sensory deprivation and overload—a curious, hyper-alert dream state. Then, at the first feeble sign of daylight, I imagine what it must have been like for prehistoric man, afraid in the dark each night, not knowing if the sun would ever reappear. They must have felt wonderment each and every morning.
Riders' Collective #3 July 2010
We use bicycles in countless ways for enjoyment. Some choose to explore at leisure, taking it all in; others to compete by giving it their all. For some, the journey is the goal; for others, it’s how far or how fast can I go.
But there’s a fundamental dichotomy in cycling: choice versus necessity; pleasure versus livelihood. Think about giving back some of what cycling has given to you. Support supplying bikes to those in need through groups like bikestorwanda.com, re-cycle.org, p4p.org; wheels4life.org, and worldbicyclerelief.org.
Riders' Collective #2 June 2010
This magazine was launched a month ago, and by the end of May the premiere issue had been viewed by many thousands of cyclists across 57 countries on six continents.
I hope this second issue reaches such a large and widespread audience as May did, and that readers continue to send me such positive comments.
There’s an almost limitless supply of cycling-related content to be discovered on the Web; I hope that you will enjoy reading what I’ve chosen as much as I enjoyed uncovering it.
Riders' Collective #1 May 2010
This is the premiere issue of Riders’ Collective—a cyclist's source for some of the best material on the Web. Here are a dozen stories—about cycling, by cyclists, and for cyclists—from New Zealand, Australia, Czech Republic, Tunisia, and all across America. They cover a wide range of riding styles—and a wide range of writing styles as well. I hope you enjoy reading them.
You can access the Web sites of the featured writers, photographers and advertisers by clicking on URLs in the text, photos and ads.