Thursday, September 7, 2017

For The Love Of Bikes

For a long time I laughed at the idea that fatbikes had value. I kind of scoffed at the claim that riding one was fun, that they opened a lot of different avenues for fun. I remember, on multiple occasions, making comments about how they're overrated and another stupid invention that would die out and that anyone riding them probably has too much money and too much time on their hands. 

These are all things I've said.

Even after testing a few, even after grudgingly admitting that maybe they have a place in the bike industry, even after having fun, I was still stubborn and kind of grumpy about it. I just didn't get the point.

I wish I could claim that I gave them a fair chance before deciding all of that. I really wish I could. But I can't. I made this uninformed, really dumb assumption that fatbikes were lame and then I stuck with it because... Because of what? Because I'm a jerk? Because everyone needs something to hate on?

Honestly, it's a funny thing. My change of heart didn't come overnight. I wasn't suddenly less of an asshole downhiller who hated change and I certainly didn't immediately embrace the culture surrounding fatbikes. 

I think what changed was my perspective on bikes as a whole. I've preached a lot about acceptance inside of the bike industry and inclusion, but I still kinda held those weird biases and grudging assumptions. 

What shifted for me was a slow realization that two wheels are rad and anything and anyone on two wheels is cool. 

It was this system of beliefs that sort of softened and then melted away the more time I spent on two wheels and the less time I spent talking about it. I got a beach cruiser for my birthday last year and then literally picked a city bike out of the garbage. That's what I trained on last fall, mostly... Seriously. I put that trash bike to work and when the weather got too cold, I put it on a trainer. At that point, I was just riding anything I could get my hands on and then my good friend Jonah hit me up about Growler and their new carbon bike. They called me and asked if I'd be willing to help them promote the bike and I sort of laughed at the irony that now I'd get to promote something I was vehemently against at one point, but agreed. 

I don't think I understood what the bike was going to do to all of my misconceptions. I was certainly more open to the bike and to spreading love and acceptance, but I had  no idea what I was getting myself into. And then it showed up and suddenly, I had all of this access to places that previously, for six months out of the year, were almost completely inaccessible to bikes. The idea of that to me was huge. And the more I took it out during the cold days and the further I rode it, the more I understood why this was a thing. I mean, anyone who love bikes enough wants to ride bikes year round and in the sand and in places that bikes don't really do well. But fatbikes are sort of the go between and when I opened my mind, I learned that there were a lot of skills-related aspects to it as well. I'm a terrible rider in the wet stuff. I've blown it pretty consistently in wet riding conditions and struggle to handle anything that's not silty, dry moon dust. But fat tires... Fat tires and no suspension will teach you how to ride a bike. Your brain has to figure out how those side knobs are gonna tuck into that icy or snowy turn and you have to compute how you'll stay up in softer stuff with enough speed but not too much, you know? It teaches a rider how to predict what mud is going to do, how a wider footprint is going to slide and stop. It also made me feel like a champ --  I'm not gonna lie, some of those technical and rocky climbs I've always struggled with were easy peasy on that rig. I mean, having a lightweight bike helped a lot, but when we're talking about 36 inch wheels, that's practically a monster truck. That confidence helps. Confidence always helps. And as I built more skill and improved my ability to read the differences in what these fat tires are doing and what those smaller tires would do, I got better at reading myself. Our brains adapt to demand -- the more we use them, the better they'll work. And jumping from a regular city bike to a solid MountainBike and then to snow and ice and sand and my usual local trails on a fat bike, my brain was on overload. And for me, that's interesting. It made everything more interesting. More of a challenge, more of "can I hit that, will I make it" question? And yeah, that makes riding more fun. Feeling those differences, sliding around some turns, feeling trails in new ways... It's almost like learning to ride again. 

The thing about fatbikes is that they're fun. I mean, I'm not doing backflips on it or even riding the usual downhill tracks, but they're a different kind of fun. Simpler, I guess? They're more of this "let's get on it and go out and see what happens" sort of fun, and that's what's fun about all bikes. Fatbikes helped teach me how to just roll with it, that not everything is a training ride or a race or even an over-the-top speed chase with friends. It's this sense of freedom in that we're not limited by stuff that used to shut riding down completely. Snow? Mud? Super sandy and cactus-filled trails? Nah. We can ride it all and the scope of what we can explore gets even wider.

Fatbiking, trash bikes, beach cruisers and pretty much anything are a few of those things that you don't even know you're missing until you try one and then you can't imagine how you didn't realize what was missing all along, you know? At least... That's what they are to me. They represent the best parts of riding a bike: two wheels, no limits and a whole lotta laughter.

I feel as though much of the bike industry is a bit too focused on the next best thing, the latest and greatest and even the best-fitting or best-functioning kit or gear or ________. It's not. Sure, innovation is great, but when it comes to adapting to a changing market, ultimately, we either adapt or die. People are tired of the rat race. Humans are exhausted with the burden of living. I know because I'm one of them. I get caught up in the bullshit, in the bills, in the broken car and the medical problems and the boyfriend nonsense and the worry about whether or not I'll be able to buy groceries next week or next month.

But it fades away the moment I throw a leg over my bike. It all disappears when I ride hands free across an overpass with a looming storm and the wind is ripping through my hair. Nothing is more present and more real than the moment my lungs feel as though they're bursting and my legs can't stop spinning. That is freedom.

The freedom to escape into something. A thing that is good and pure and magical. A thing that is healthy for us and healthy for our planet. A thing that makes us smile and want to spread our wings. The freedom of leaving at sunup and arriving home only after the streetlights have come on and the stars are beginning to show... Or not. The freedom of not being limited by day or night or cold or heat. The freedom of two wheels underneath us as we experience our own mortality, our own humanity.

A bike doesn't protect you during a high-speed descent. It won't save your life when you miss a turn or a car misses theirs. There is no sound dampening, there is no insulation against the weather, the smells, the sights of life. There are no guarantees.

To walk that fine line is to take our existence into our own hands and release it into whatever may come as we make a pact with the universe that yes, we acknowledge this risk. That yes, we're exchanging safety for something far greater and far more beautiful.

No comments:

Post a Comment