I came across The Question the other day. You know, the one that pops up in various forms in questionnaires and discussions among people who ride: How long have you been a bicyclist?
I’m never sure how to answer that question. What makes one a bicyclist, instead of just a person who rides a bike? In the alternative universe of my mind, I have some vague guidelines for what makes me think of someone as a cyclist. My little rules seem to involve some nebulous combination of experience, skill, equipment and whatever else I’m in the mood to include on a given day.
So when I tell someone I’ve been riding for 18 years, I’m counting only the time that has elapsed since I bought my first decent bike as an adult, and then started commuting to work and learning about singletrack on weekends. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right.
What about all the years I spent as a kid getting around my hometown on a bike—riding to school, my dad’s store, friends’ houses, and the city swimming pool every summer afternoon? What about all those boring evenings when I’d tell my mom, “I’m going for a ride,” and then spend an hour or two aimlessly pedaling around after dinner?
What about all the times as a teenager when I climbed to the top of the hill outside town just so I could scream back down it on my old Raleigh 10-speed? (I’m still grateful to my friend Don for never running over me when he’d chase me down to clock my speed on his car’s speedometer.)
Those things should count too, shouldn’t they?
Maybe we’re not really “cyclists” until we start asking ourselves existentialist questions about when we became cyclists.
Or until the first time we pull on a pair of Lycra shorts containing a big gob of chamois butter and then say, "Whoa! What would happen if I farted right now?"