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Dear Frank: Testing the bond

Dear Frank - Riding together
Frank Strack
29 Dec 2015

For many, riding a bike is about space, freedom and getting away. So what happens if your other half wants to tag along?

Dear Frank

My partner has shown an interest in taking up cycling, but I actually like riding alone. What do the Rules advise?

Name withheld

Dear Anon

Cycling, as you already acknowledge by your question, means many things to each of us – freedom or escape being a common thread among them. 

Most of us learned to ride a bicycle as children, delighting at the freedom to escape from the zone defined by the distance we could walk. It was a simple thrill to push on the pedals as we zoomed along, hovering just above the ground with the wind in our face. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that aeroplanes were invented by cyclists – riding a bike was already as close as we would ever get to flying.

Many of us still experience this basic freedom, if on a slightly different level. It gives us relief from our complex lives, where most of us feel we have little control over the forces that influence us in modern society. Work and family, however rewarding and fulfilling they may be, demand an enormous amount of time and energy. Cycling affords us a simple world where the cleansing power of suffering restores our minds, bodies and spirit. We return ready to face the world once again.

If I had a singular complaint about cycling, it is that I don’t have the opportunity to do as much of it as I’d like to. Time is a fixed commodity, and if I spend a few hours on my bike it means I spend a few hours less with my family and friends. I don’t like my friends terribly much, so that doesn’t bother me so, but I do like my family and every time I steal away for a ride, I’m asking them to make that sacrifice as well (assuming they like me and aren’t secretly relieved to see me off for a few hours).

As much as freedom is a common thread in what we find appealing about cycling, another is that we find frustration in that our families don’t understand us as cyclists. They don’t appreciate the sacrifices we make. They don’t appreciate the need for another bike or new wheels or handmade tires or why we need a new jersey or shoes. Don’t you already have a black bike?

Personally, I made a point of choosing a partner who also rides – I couldn’t spend my life with someone who doesn’t intrinsically understand this hugely important part of my life. She doesn’t ride as much as I do, but she understands the appeal to go spelunking in the Pain Cave and drop the flashlight. She understands the overwhelming feeling of
eager anticipation when gazing down from an airplane window at a twisty ribbon of road clinging to a mountainside. 

These are things I am grateful she understands about me. Without this, an enormous part of me would be a complete mystery to her. When we ride together, we are escaping together. For that brief time on the bike, we are outlaws, fleeing together from from the stresses of work and life.

I can’t tell you how to handle the situation with your partner becoming interested in cycling, but this isn’t a sport or a hobby, it is a way of life. Part of our responsibility as Velominati is that we guide the uninitiated (Rule #3). Guiding someone through the sport is an enriching experience for both the student and the teacher. To deny someone entry into this life is little short of cruel.

Tim Krabbé, in his seminal work The Rider, wrote about people observing a bicycle race from a roadside cafe: ‘Non-riders: the emptiness of those lives shocks me.’ By guiding your partner, you will not deny yourself the escape from work and family, but will find a new way to share this experience with the most important person in your life and allow you both to understand each other more fully. 

Also, a spoiler alert on putting them off the idea of riding: they’ll figure it out, and it will cause a rift. They are likely cleverer than you think.

Frank Strack is the creator, and curator, of The Rules. For futher illumination see velominati.com and find a copy of his book The Rules in all good bookshops. You can email your questions for Frank to cyclist@dennis.co.uk

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