It’s early morning, 5am. It’s still dark and the air is cold. A few bites of an energy bar and I’m off to battle the rolling hills, rain and the skunks and other little critters creeping around the narrow roadside shoulders. Sound familiar? Not to me. I don’t do mornings. Never had and probably never will. But many cyclists do. What makes us different? What fuels some of us to rise early and others to sleep in and ride later? Why do some of us choose to race toward a finish line, while others tour along perfectly content with passing scenery. How bad do you want that personal best? How bad do you want to win? More importantly, why? I used to think I rode for fun, adventure, the physical challenge, the sense of accomplishment, the camaraderie, and for my overall health and well-being. To help control my stress level, weight, and my allergic asthma. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Well, not my entire story. There’s one more reason I have spent my life training, riding, building bikes, and touring. My Ego. Yes, my BFF and I have traveled the world together, through thick and thin, wind and snow, from the Rockies to Iceland. So much time and so many miles, that I began to take him for granted. Until, one day recently, on a long 90 mile “seatless” tribute ride, when I saw him for what he really is and left him behind. Well, tried at least. He was a tough one to shake off my wheel. At times, when he was out of sight, I felt terribly alone and exhausted. I never realized just how much he fueled my efforts, until he was gone. It was actually frightening at times. After a long while, I became more comfortable with being truly alone and pushing myself forward by sheer will, belief in my purpose, and memories of why I started to ride in the first place, way back when. Suddenly, things got much simpler both on the road and in my head. Is this Soul Work, I wondered. My years of meditation, both on and off the bike, were telling me this was my true nature. Wow, enlightenment. Wink, wink. Very cool. I rolled back to my car in the dark at the end of that long, chilly 12 hour day. I, the Standing Cyclist, had cycled standing up without a seat/seatpost for 90 miles. I was flying high, feeling free and loving life without my old friend. As I was gearing down and locking my bike up to my roof racks, a New York State Trooper pulled up to check on me. I explained what I had done and it blew his mind. He asked more questions and I provided the answers, with speed and excitement. As he drove off, I realized I wasn’t alone on the dark roadside shoulder. Yep, you guessed it. My ugly BFF was back. Ah life, a work in progress…
This past week I had the opportunity to go back and review an interview I did during my Pittsburgh to DC Standing Cyclist Mesothelioma Challenge Event in September of 2010. One section in particular stood out to me. At one point I stated that "we don't need to be afflicted with something to get involved and make a difference". I've since played that section over in my mind many times, to better understand exactly what I meant (I had just completed a 320 mi "seatless" bicycle tour on a single-speed, fixed-gear bike, for the cause and was a bit fried to say the least). I've revisited this subject with several supporters since and have decided to blog about this topic to add clarity and depth to my point. When it comes to supporting non-profit organizations, we tend to get involved because we ourselves or someone close to us has suffered from a related challenge. I believe this to be an important reason behind our actions and it should be encouraged whenever possible. But there are other, more subtle, reasons to get involved. I would like to encourage everyone, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, to consider the strangers you encounter on your life's journey and their challenges. Open your mind and hearts and consider how they inspire you. Imagine how you can get involved and make a difference in their lives, in your own unique way. Like the young person with a prosthetic leg you pass on the street. Perhaps you can get involved with CAF (the Challenged Athletes Foundation), a wonderful organization that helps physically challenged athletes pursue their passions. Consider the article you read about the visually impaired mountain bikers who stay on-track by reading the sounds reflecting off passing objects. You may be inspired to Google - blind mountain bikers - where you will discover the World Access for the Blind, an organization that hosts a special event called Mountain Biking with the Blind, that you can contribute to. You don't need to personally know a challenged individual or physically connect with a cause to "feel" something or to "do" something. Often, these random connections and amazing people I meet in passing are my greatest inspiration and fuel my adventures. Let's strive to open our eyes and see past our own lives. Then...get on your bike and ride! Make a positive difference in the world around you.
- Cycling Up 70 Percent on London's Bike Superhighways (streetsblog.net)
- Livable, Bikeable Pittsburgh: The Streetfilms Tour (streetfilms.org)
- The bike snob's guide to cycling tribes (guardian.co.uk)
- The True Spirit of Standing Cyclist (standingcyclist.wordpress.com)
Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life. Some of us shred, some meander, others camp. For true self-propelled fanatics, it doesn’t much matter which flavor is favored. In the end, we are all simply cyclists. Through the years, I’ve enjoyed labeling myself a downhill mountain biker, bikepacker, racer, adventure cyclist, roadie, bicycle tourist, and most recently…a Standing Cyclist. A riding style I sometimes catch heat for practicing. For those of you who do not know me personally, and do not follow my Standing Cyclist web site, this may sound a bit confusing. To set the record straight, let’s start with the basics. I had been riding since I was 9 and loved every form of the sport. I rode hard and frequently and I was bulletproof. I rode for the personal rush and reward of it. For me, it was a self-oriented activity. It was a rush, a freedom, and all about…me. Then, in my late thirties, I began to lag. My heart and lungs were working overtime, with not much to show for it. Then came my first attack and the brick wall behind it. I was soon diagnosed with Allergic Asthma and my wheels slowed to a halt. Many months, pounds and meds later, I was totally wrecked. A pathetic echo of my former self. After about two years of doctor appointments, “poor me” syndrome, and damaging side effects from powerful asthma meds, I hit bottom. On the bounce back up, I knew I had to do something special both mentally and physically. I turned to natural mind/body remedies and focused back on my true passion of cycling. It was always my best medicine. First, I tried to ride as I always had. In a seated, hunched over position. Between my weight gain and lung issues, I literally couldn’t breathe well enough to propel myself forward and still avoid an attack. As a seasoned product developer, I tapped my experience and intuition and began modifying my bike. Nothing helped until…I removed my seat and seatpost, and raised my handlebars. This opened up my diaphragm and allowed me to use gravity more to my advantage. A few miles led to ten miles which later led to overnights and eventually international bicycle tours. I just kept standing. Many pounds less, with a rock solid positive attitude, I became The Standing Cyclist. Somewhere along the way though I realized I was no longer the same cyclist, or person, I was before my diagnosis. I wasn’t enjoying the rush and attention I was receiving while out on the road, saddleless. I was changing. I found I was now riding more for the pure experience rather than for the achievement and bragging rights over beers and pizza. I no longer tracked my miles as carefully as I tracked my attitude, road relationships, lessons learned and the sharing of my asthma experiences with children and adults with similar challenges. I became more self-aware, grateful and like many other “bouncebacks” I decided to redirect my energy, from my own ego, to the needs of others. I began riding to raise awareness and funds for special causes such as Stand Up To Cancer and the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. I founded www.teamstandingcyclist.com to encourage other cyclists to train for, participate in, and even organize bicycle fundraising events. Now I could redirect the attention I was receiving, while training and touring in my standing position, to more important pursuits. I had found my new niche and I felt, and feel, better than ever. Through it all, I still admit, it’s all fueled primarily by my raw, child-like love of a bicycle. Any type of bicycle. The icing on the cake is doing what I love for causes that can benefit from how I do it, and that is the true spirit of Standing Cyclist. For me, it just doesn’t get any better than that. Peace.
- Copenhagen plans bike superhighways (grist.org)
- Bill would give bicyclists three feet of space -- or five (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Knoxville cyclist looks to the South for new riding guide (knoxnews.com)
- Bringing Bicycles to the Big Screen (iheartpgh.com)
2010 brought us several new developments in cycling. Advances in electric bike tech and suspension systems have led to more options for two-wheel enthusiasts. A lesser known movement is the seatless or standing design. As a seasoned “seatless” bicycle tourist (www.teamstandingcyclist.com) and product developer, the are two designs in particular that interest me. The Elliptigo features an elliptical style propulsion system, much like the exercise equipment used at your local gym, which is appealing to many runners as well as cyclists. The other style is called the Dreamslide. This cycle looks and functions more like a traditional bicycle, but offers an innovative drivetrain with independent cranks and a coupling system with variable lever arms. From an engineering viewpoint, both styles appear progressive but have been met with mixed reviews. The pros include zippy handling, less fatigue and reduced back and knee stress during extended use. The cons circle mostly around the missing seat, a “silly” riding profile, limited off-road capabilities, reduced reliability and high relative cost. I would recommend forming an opinion based upon your particular riding style. If you are a long haul bicycle tourist, hopelessly attached to your perfectly worn twenty-year old Brooks leather saddle, these machines may not be for you. However, if you appreciate technological advancements in cycling mated up with new and exciting ways to work your legs on two wheels, you may have found your future rig. As for me, the Standing Cyclist, I see value in both tradition and progress. Is seatless a revolution or simply an oddity? I think you know where I STAND on the subject.
- ElliptiGO for City Commuting or Exercise Outdoors (treehugger.com)
- The most popular cycling stories in 2010 (eta.co.uk)
- Going all terrain with the Hanebrink electric bike (gizmag.com)