Monday, October 17, 2011

Peasant Riding: An Invitation

“The Americans never use the word peasant, because they have no idea of the class which that term denotes; the ignorance of more remote ages, the simplicity of rural life, and the rusticity of the villager have not been preserved among them; and they are alike unacquainted with the virtues, the vices, the coarse habits, and the simple graces of an early stage of civilization.”

--Alexis de Tocqueville

This is the way I ride my bike: like a peasant. I aim for simplicity, and even rusticity--the fresh air of the country (to be found, for sure, in the city) and the rustle of trees over the road, the society of acquaintances associated with the village. The virtues I seek an acquaintance with? Self-reliance, hardiness, strength, bricolage, to name a few. The necessarily attendant vices? Miserliness, impatience, mistrust of the new(fangled)... I'm sure I'm missing many others. Coarse habits we have aplenty: Excess drinking, public urination, the stench of sweat. The simple graces, which I confess I'm still aiming for: An easy pedal stroke at high RPMs; a consistent line and pace in a group ride; a demure changing from sweaty and skin-tight clothing after a ride; a welcoming attitude toward strangers.

The early stage of civilization we aim for? England or continental Europe in the middle of the 20th century. An idealized version, to be sure, with no world wars or polio, no intra-club discord, flat tyres, rolled tubulars, or concussions. But a culture where commuting and training and riding-to-the-race ran together into riding somewhere. Where winter was the season not for boredom on the trainer inside, but for sloggingly spinning (or spinningly slogging?) a fendered fixed-gear in the snow. Where your racing bike + fenders and racks = your bike.

So I ride like a peasant, in the city, in the Information Age. I commute. Resistance on my training ride comes from hauling the kid-trailer. Or the kid. Or both kids. Or the dog. I sneak out in the morning or late at night, so as to have clear roads, clear mind, and a clear moment in the hectic schedule. I ride with friends; if they're faster, I struggle; if they're slower, I ride on the dirt or grass and let them ride on the pavement. Or I spin like mad. I do training rides to a bar (and recovery rides home?). I change out of my lycra (or at least pull on some warmup pants) when I get there. I get dirty with glee on a cyclocross course. I fiddle with my equipment constantly--but with secondhand parts. I have little patience for "data" (but it's so tempting for the going faster). I race, to challenge myself. I commute, for fun, thrift, and exercise. I ride like a peasant. Join me.