Why do we ride? This is a question many of us have most likely asked ourselves somewhere along the trail. The complexities of this question will vary depending on the individual rider and their past experiences on two wheels. Before we get into trying to answer this question, let’s go back to a day that I would suspect 90 percent of us remember. The first day we learned to ride a bike! Learning to ride a bike has always been a rite of passage in our culture, and the joy it brings is hard to match. I remember vividly the first time I realized that dad was not holding on to the seat anymore and I was cruising unassisted down the street. There was an anxious feeling of fear that was quickly replaced by a sense of freedom I never felt before. Once I got a taste of this freedom, I never looked back again.
Some of us are content riding the neighborhoods with friends and family on the weekends. Others are driven to find new adventures off road that lead to the discovery of single-track mountain biking. Some exalt in pedaling for miles and miles on their road bikes. Still, most are content to leave this childhood ‘hobby’ behind once the driver’s license hits their wallet.
That was never an option for me. No sir, I was bitten by the bug and was hooked for life. For me, riding became an extension of who I am. It became a way for me to escape the routines and feel calm even if it did mean careening down a mountainside at breakneck speed. Some argue that riding bikes, especially of the mountain variety, can be dangerous and poses a risk to your personal safety. On the surface this statement is true, but the answer to why we ride goes much deeper than that.
So then, why do we ride? The answer takes me back to the first day dad let go of the seat. We ride because it brings us joy! I am happy when my feet are planted firmly on the pedals, my hands gripping the bars, and the noise of the wind rushes by my ears. We ride to reconnect with nature! My preferred type of riding is mountain biking because of the shared experience with the natural world. I value my two-wheeled experience in nature and know how important it is to my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Your senses become attune to your surroundings as you rip through dense forest on a ribbon of lush single-track. It’s quiet. You’ve forgotten about your breathing as you unwind all of life’s problems into the repetition of each pedal stroke.
We ride for the challenge of it! Challenges come in many forms along the trail, and we have all experienced our own set of triumphs throughout our riding history. I have encountered many challenges in my long history of riding. I can remember the first log I popped over successfully without falling. I remember the first time I shot off the lip of a makeshift ramp, launching me over the creek in our backyard. Bittersweet memories of climbs that made me feel like my lungs were going to explode, casing my first gap jump only to get pitched over the bars, and struggling to clean epic rock gardens, just to name a few. Time after time we come across these challenges and for some reason the passion to get up and try again remains strong.
We ride to commune with friends! Along with riding to experience the natural world, we ride to spend time with friends. Whether it is with an always-reliable riding partner or an unfamiliar group you join spontaneously mid-ride, there is a shared love of circles turning circles that exists. Getting out for a solo ride also holds a special place in any biking enthusiast’s heart. Most will tell you that these solo rides are where you find that true sense of how your body, bike, and trail are all interconnected. There are personal limits to riding a bike, but age doesn’t seem to be one of them. So get out outside with friends, get involved with the biking community, and ride!
At this point in the column many of you are probably asking what does this have to do with Richmond. Well, Richmond has had a recent surge in its riding population and this community has ‘stretched its legs’ to promote all types of riding and positivity on the trail. Richmond Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts and the James River Park are leading the way to get more people involved, both young and old.
My riding has taken me places I never imagined, and each experience on my bike is different from the next. I am happy to call Richmond home and do 80 percent of my riding in and around the River City. I have also been fortunate to have the opportunity to develop a youth mountain biking program through Virginia Outside, and my passion for this program grows every day. It brings me immense joy to share the passion of mountain biking with a new generation. Furthermore, it is important to me not only to teach these youth the skills needed to be successful on a bike, but also how to pay it forward, teaching young people how to sustain the beautiful trails we ride.
Sometimes answering a ‘why’ question is not easy. Some answers are drawn from naiveté, some from previous knowledge, and others are in the eye of the beholder. My answer is based on past experiences and my love for all things two wheeled. All this writing has given me a restless feeling in my legs. I am going out to ride!!! Hope to see you out there on the trails.