I suppose it is a measure of how much bicycling is still a fringe activity in the U.S. that the most commonly asked question of someone who rides is “What kind of bicyclist are you?” as if you’re meant to choose a team. The multiple choice options are generally something along the lines of: recreational, commuter, racer, fitness, “avid,” etc.
I hate that question. No one in the Netherlands gets asked that question, because there riding a bicycle is embraced as an ordinary part of life. Here, if you’re an adult on a bicycle, well, you’d better explain yourself. Preferably by choosing one of these little icons so we understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and can place you in your proper box.
The thing is, none of those boxes fit.
My real answer to this question is: observant. I am an observant bicyclist. No, I’m not talking about noticing natural beauty in my surroundings or being alert to potential dangers (although both of these are true). I mean observant in the religious sense. I am a practicing bicyclist. I am devout.
Before you scoff or assume that I’m exaggerating for emphasis, think for a moment about what religion is, the purpose it serves for people of faith. At its most basic, a religion is a basis for understanding life — both one’s own experience and the possible reason (if there is one) for existing. It’s a way to make sense of the world, and of one’s experience moving through it. Most of all, it’s a way to interact with our core selves, to make contact with the quintessential spark that makes it so obvious when a living creature is inhabiting her body, and when she’s left it.
Fundamentally (no pun intended), religions exist to connect us to and help us understand life — both within us and around us.
All of those things come to me and move through me when I’m on a bicycle. I make sense of my world by riding through it. When I am mired, confused, struggling through the difficulties of my daily existence like so much sticky pudding, I get on the bike and pedal my way clear.
It is as natural for me as breathing, the most simple and mundane of activities, and yet I guard that time on the bike with a ferocity I cannot explain. It is sacred. It is for me and me alone that I ride, and you are not invited into that space.*
Nor will you ever take it from me. The very idea of being forced off-bike turns me savage. I resent intrusions, demands that I sacrifice this one thing I do for me. This one thing that makes sense, in all the world, and that — in the moment, at least — comes closest to making sense of the world.
If (more likely when) I flee this country, it will be as a refugee. No, that’s not a metaphor.