Brain Fart: I Hate Road Biking

I have a confession to make: I hate road biking.

It’s strange to say it, that I hate any form of riding a bike. And to be clear, “hate” is too strong a word… “dislike” is probably more fitting. Whatever you call it, I just can’t see why people would choose to do it simply for fun, in their free time.

Yes, I do it a lot, in the form of commuting, which probably contributes to my feelings. I engage in battle with cars enough—keeping vigilant for carelessness and aggression and inhaling their fumes—just getting to and from work on the weekdays, that I can’t imagine deliberately going out for more on the weekends. My weekends are for the woods, with my honey and my dogs. (Neither of whom want to ride on roads either.) Sometimes it does look like fun, flying along on some ridiculously light and fast machine with the grace of a bird. But the empty, long, smooth stretches of silky asphalt just begging to be flown over? Those only exist in car commercials. The reality has potholes in surprising and inconvenient places, with sand and gravel scattered on top, and is populated with the aggressive beasts mentioned above.

Of course I still end up riding on the road for things other than commuting. It’s great to go to an event at which parking is tight via bike, roll right up to the front door, and be inside before the car-dependent have scrounged up change for the meter. Same goes for the grocery store and other short local trips. The traffic on a certain busy street near my house is often bad enough to make us reconsider any trips that can’t be done by bike, and has been even worse lately with construction projects. (Any of you in the northeast know the saying: “We have two seasons here, winter and construction.”) And I do enjoy these trips. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a hot car in traffic on a beautiful Saturday when you should be out enjoying it.

But on just about every longer ride, including my ride to work, there’s at least some time spent in pure suffering without much of a reward. The road seems to stretch on endlessly, intense and furious pedaling only produces a sedate snail’s pace, and time seems to warp seconds into hours. There’s nothing to aim for, no skills to practice, nothing to hold my attention and get my adrenaline going (except the cars of course, in a negative, angry way). When I’m riding alone, I find myself going slower each time, looking at the edges of the woods along the way and not much caring about the surface in front of me. It’s just too dull. When I happen upon coworkers biking in, the competitive instinct kicks in (or is it more of a herding instinct for survival?), which results in more suffering as I either feel some sort of obligation to set a decently fast pace, or struggle to keep up.

Nevertheless I do choose to commute by bike most often. There’s a lot of appeal in being warm and dry, listening to NPR or Democracy Now or a recording of last night’s practice, being able to carry as heavy a lunch as I want, plus laundry and maybe a mountain bike for an afternoon ride, and getting to wear normal clothes for a change. But the reality of driving to work also includes enough traffic to make the trip only 15-20 minutes faster, needing to stop at the gas station and put a strain on my bank account, and leaving some invisible but deadly gasses in the atmosphere. Biking to work often feels like an epic struggle in which I am a mere foot-soldier. But fortunately, I do get a reward, eventually: riding in the woods.

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