Scott Mercier: Why do we ride? That’s a fine question
Scott Mercier, who represented the U.S. in the 100k Team Time Trial at the 1992 Olympic Games, is writing a cycling column for The Aspen Times. It will appear twice monthly during the riding season, and monthly in the offseason. Mercier had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services cycling teams. He has raced and ridden on five continents and currently works as a financial advisor in Aspen and lives with his family in Willits. Mercier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the coming months and years, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on all things bike-related. It will include stories about rides, people, races and places. I love riding bikes — I hate fixing them — but I love riding them!
If you’re reading this column you have also probably been bitten by the bike bug. Or maybe you’re curious about bikes and the odd group of people who ride them. There are few groups subject to as much ridicule as people who ride. We wear goofy, tight-fitting clothes that leave little to the imagination; we speak in a strange vernacular; we waddle when we walk; we incessantly talk about bikes; and we often act like we own the road.
Cyclists brave close encounters with vehicles, dogs, rocks, logs, cacti and we expose ourselves to the elements of Mother Nature, from the searing, high desert sun, to the freeze of a winter inversion. Many of the men — in fact all of the elite men — even shave their legs and have the imposing physique of a Russian ballerina.
So why do we do it? What is it about riding a bike that is so addicting? Well, for starters, we live in a special place to ride. If God wanted to create a utopia for riding bikes, his template would be the Roaring Fork Valley. We are blessed with smooth, lightly trafficked roads. The valley is also graced with a diversity of terrain from the rolling hills of Missouri Heights to the slight inclines of the Rio Grande Trail, the steady climbs to Ashcroft or the Maroon Bells, the painful ramps of Prince Creek, and the Hors Category monster of the Pass. For mountain bikes we have the technical, bone-jarring Government Trail, the downhill trails of Snowmass, the flowing trails above the airport and miles of trails up and down the valley. And, of course, we have the Rio Grande as a sanctuary free of motorists to transport us nearly anywhere we want to go.
And let’s not forget the views! We truly have it all.
Maybe we ride because riding a bike is so much fun? With the wind whistling in your ears and the sun on your face it can be reminiscent of the freedom you felt when you first got your bike as a kid — the freedom to explore and expand your horizons.
There is also the adrenaline rush of a white-knuckled descent. The serpentine descent off Independence Pass is a thrill like no other.
But on the other hand, I have never suffered as much as I have on the bike; biblical levels of suffering where your head, heart, lungs and limbs are screaming with pain. There are few things more painful than hanging on to the wheel in front of you well beyond your breaking point. I will frequently pull myself inside out just trying to grab a Strava personal record or trying to hang with some of the younger riders in the valley. And crashing is part of the sport — there are riders who have crashed and those who are going to. Bouncing along the pavement in tight-fitting spandex at 30 miles an hour or face-planting a cactus — guilty on both counts — is not exactly a good time. So maybe our psyche is just wired to suffer?
Maybe we ride for the social aspect? Starting a road ride with an espresso or unwinding after a great mountain bike ride with a cold beer are ingrained into the culture of the sport. Time in the saddle with friends, family and strangers is time well spent. Some of my greatest conversations have been had while in the saddle of a bike. But, on the other hand, I have spent countless solitary hours alone in the saddle with nothing but my thoughts to entertain me.
Maybe it’s the exercise and fitness? I will readily admit that the fitness aspect of riding a bike is addicting. When the hours of work and watching every calorie you put in your body all come together and you can float on the pedals you transform to an almost euphoric state. But of course it was countless hours of suffering that got you to this fleeting state of euphoria.
The truth is, there is no one answer as to why we ride. We ride for all and none of these reasons. The road or the trail beckons like the Sirens of the Odyssey. We simply ride because life without a bike is not life at all. So grab a bike — any bike — and go for a ride!
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Christina Cappelli described playwright Steven Dietz’s “The Nina Variations” as providing a couple with a reset button, the ability to repeat conversations and say something differently and see where things will end up this time.