At first, my cycling world was the length of the gravel driveway. After I rode up and down it countless times and gained experience, my parents allowed me to move up to the sidewalk. While retired neighbors watched from their porches, I raced my friends along its stretch of concrete until we knew every crack, diversion and driveway. At the end of the summer day, the grey concrete was marked at either end with long, black skid marks. As the sun dipped behind the row of houses, parents hollered “dinner” and we had one last final sprint for the garage.

As I grew older, my limits were again extended. Our skills increased, we gained confidence, we raced around the block, stopped to check out anthills and garage sales. We were constantly discovering. We could escape into our own world where we had independence and freedom. On our bikes, there was a sense of liberty. Exploring the world broadened our horizons and developed our maturity.

The bike took me everywhere.

Our experiences weren’t unique but perhaps they were rare. Despite living in a large, diverse city, few of my classmates had seen much beyond our gentrified neighborhood. After class, I was riding through the suburbs and into the countryside.

The bike continues to take me to places I never imagined I would travel. And, even the local routes I ride evolve daily, never becoming mundane. Within the silence of a dormant forest in the winter to the electric buzz of a vibrant coastal town in the midsummer our senses are constantly engaged in a diversity of contrasting stimuli. The emotion I felt on a bike as a young boy hasn’t dissolved with maturity. It’s what keeps me riding.

The peripatetic life of a professional cyclist can be wearing as we spend hundreds of days away from home a year. But it is also a thrilling continuation of the adventure I began as a boy. The cyclist learns to adapt to changing environments, accept differences in cultures and speak foreign languages. We progressively see the world with greater understanding. Everything that was once foreign becomes familiar.

Riding took me across borders even when I was a young boy. My parents loaded up the van with my friends and our bikes and drove us to seemingly exotic places like Buffalo, Thetford Mines, Cleveland, Montreal to ride or race. Some of the teenagers loaded in the van had never gone beyond the outer limits of Toronto. We saw places few of our classmates of friends would ever see. The thrill of the journey, the race, the ride, the adventure, left us elated as we returned late on a Sunday night to Toronto.

On the bike, friendships grew stronger. The experiences contrasted those on the school grounds, parks or mall.  We learned how to navigate traffic, read maps, fix punctures, all the while relying on our limited resources and each other. The friendships developed as an adolescent are still some of the strongest in my life. As we grew we began traveling across the ocean to race in Europe in youth races, analogues of the pro races we had followed closely in the print media.

Although the physical strain of racing is wearing, its mental stimulation and emotion keeps us young. In 1996, I rode my first Olympics. I was 20 and still a boy. In the lead up to the Olympics, I raced and roomed with my childhood idol, Steve Bauer, who would end his career after the road race at the Atlanta games. Despite the age gap of 16 years we got along well. Through the races, we chatted like I did with my high school mates. Despite having the obligations of an adult the bike had allowed Steve to retain a boys’ enthusiasm. At the dinner table and on the start line, the spark of exuberance for the bike, which ignited his long career remained.

Training with teammates I still feel the same juvenile joy and thrill, and I know they do. In late January, under heavy fog a group of veteran professionals left Girona for a long ride. The 10 of us rode for nearly six hours, time which passed unnoticed. With experience we’ve developed a rhythm to the rides where the tempo is consistent and fluctuates only according to the terrain. Confident in our abilities and wise about our weaknesses, egos vanish. We may be rivals at races but we are also a group of friends. We socialize, we push each other when we need to work harder but the rhythm isn’t broken.

The ride is still about the adventure, the camaraderie and the sense of accomplishment. Whether it’s a trip to the end of the block, or across the Alps, the sensation is the same. Like the mothers calling their sons in for dinner as they ride around the block one last time, we now arrive home to our wives who’ve been patiently waiting.

20 thoughts on “Around The Block

  1. Hi Michael,

    I think back to the excitement when I first climbed on my early Sears two wheeler. I’m now 50, and over the years have ‘matured’ on my bike… still retaining that youthful enthusiasm.

    Thanks for the two wheel inspiration!

  2. Imagine 6 hours on any other form of transport… life draining.

    As I watch my son train with his mates for his first race I can recall every ounce of joy that cycling has given me.

    As I read your blog I can start to articulate and appreciate ‘la volupté’ from my desk….

    Really evocative writing, thank you.

  3. I still feel like that when I go out with friends and clubmates, forget about my problems and enjoy the day dreaming, the chit-chat, the work and fun a cycling sortie provides. And it is with the same pleasure that I take my daughter riding or watch her ride her bike with equal joy.

  4. What a lovely story. I couldn’t agree more about the enthusiasm and freedom that you feel on the bike. I think that relation between younger and simpler times and the bicycle is something we all as cyclists can identify with. Thank you.

  5. Nice, but just wondering…

    Does your ex-pro wife really sit around “patiently waiting” for your return?

  6. The joy of cycling in all its forms so elequently put.
    As a 68year old I can identify with all the phases he has enjoyed to the present, child hood riding on the farm, racing kids along the lanes, 15years in competion. I can assure him that the 70 mile trip I made with some friends today encompassed all those attributes which drew me to the bike 60years ago – Freedom, companionship, friendly (not always) rivalry, a sense of achievement and that post event feeling which cannot be explained.

  7. Refreshing words from a pro. On 7th sept 2009 at 61 yrs of age I suffered a brain haemorrage whilst doing hill reps on a short climb near my home. It was not my time, I survived and after many weeks of recovery got back on the bike. Sometimes on a good day the tears will start to trickle down my cheeks, tears of gratitude and joy at being a cyclist and all cycling has brought to my life, and getting a second chance! How lucky.

  8. A truly fantastic piece of writing, cycling gives me time for myself and I too always feel like i did as a young lad when I do.

  9. Thank you for writing this lovely article. It captures the the pure essence of riding a bike. I want to go an climb on mine now even though it’s 21:30
    Good luck for the rest the of season GO TEAM SKY.

  10. Nice job Michael. They say that riding a bicycle is almost the only thing which can give you the same pleasure and excitement at age 60 as that which you felt at age 6. Here I am at 73, polishing up my bicycles in eager anticipation of putting away my ice skates and getting out the bike again.
    Hurry up Spring in Manitoba. Thinking back to those younger days, I will try not to finish up in a holly bush whilst trying to make a U-turn.
    Keep entertaining us with your writing and riding!

  11. Great article, Michael! I fondly remember those “exotic” trips to Thetford Mines, Buffalo, St. Catherines, etc. Wonderful memories.

  12. My wife and I are in our 60s, OK I’ am more into our 60s then my wife. We still love riding our bikes with friends and club members. Nothing better then riding the county side in the spring, seeing the new born animals and their mothers watching over them. Our bikes will keep us young forever.

  13. Hey Michael, that is a great article that resonates with me every time I get on my bike. There really is something special about the freedom and pleasure I get from riding around the corner, to the next town or across the country side. Keep up the great writing and enjoy your season.

  14. You never forget how to ride, and I believe you never forget why you ride. Once I get on the bike all the experiences from the first rides as a child to the tours of the continent as an adult come drifting back. The beautiful simplicity of the bike that’s there in the first tiny bikes to the full carbon I ride now makes cycling one of the most deeply satisfying experiences. And I enjoy reading about it almost as much as I enjoy doing it. This was another great poetic evocation of the joys of cycling. Thanks.

  15. I really enjoy your writing Michael, I know that your dad and I although in our seventies, still feel the way you do and are constantly grinning during rides as we relish the wind on our faces and the freedom the bike gives us. I’m sure that when I am finally restricted to using a walker, I’ll still be able to get on the bike and regain my youth for an hour or so.

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