“I used to be a runner, but even when I was in my thirties my joints would hurt. The guy I was going with told me I should take up biking. It was fun, and my joints didn’t hurt. He kept after me to buy bike clothes—black lycra and all of the rest—and then toe clips, and then a better bike. Then we got married and biked longer and longer distances. And here we are, riding a hundred miles a day with PAC Tour.”
This response to my question “How did you get started biking?” is typical of the answers I get from many cyclists. Endurance bicycling is an activity they take up when for some reason they have to stop another aggressive sport. Once initiated into cycling, they discover a new range of features that they thoroughly enjoy and which take them ever deeper into this newfound activity.
“When my kids were half-grown,” another PAC Tour companion told me, “I started running. Then I noticed a sharp pain at the top of my head—only after I had been running—so I decided that it wasn’t good for me. The owner of the bike shop where I bought a good bicycle told me about randonneuring. I joined the local club and started doing long rides. I learned how to ride all night and do multi-day events. I’ve even done Paris-Brest-Paris.”
This final comment, I have to admit, impressed me. P-B-P is a 1200 kilometer (750 mile) event that is the most highly respected cycling activity of its kind. It dominates its version of hard-core cycling much as the Tour de France is the world’s most famous road race. Only once have I done this kind of ride (and that was twenty-five years ago). It was called BAM—Bicycle Across Missouri—St. Louis to Kansas City and back over Labor Day weekend, 540 miles with a time limit of 61 hours from start to finish. Although I have not been attracted to rondo cycling, I fully understand the hold that it can take on people who are infected by the bicycling virus.
“I used to be a swimmer,” someone else told me over another PAC Tour breakfast. “When I moved from Seattle to New York City, I couldn’t find a pool I liked with hours that worked for me. Some of the guys I knew in Seattle had bicycled, so I bought a bike and started riding in Central Park.
“Someone told me about Team in Training. I went to a meeting and didn’t think I’d be interested in training for 100- and 150-mile rides to raise money for cancer research and prevention. The speaker said that a free registration to one of Team in Training’s big events—El Tour de Tucson—was taped under some one’s chair. And it was mine. I decided to train for El Tour and I loved the event. So here I am, a committed long-distance cyclist.”
Cycling enables many people to continue an endurance sport when for some reason they have to give up another kind of aggressive activity. They are “second vocation” cyclists. Some of these cyclists acknowledge that they miss their “first vocation” sport, but are grateful that cycling enables them to continue strong, performance-oriented, endurance physical activity.
Most of the cyclists with whom I talk also indicate that there are aspects of cycling that they really enjoy—the strong community of like-minded people, the challenges of matching body and machine, and the pleasure of experiencing new territories as their cycling sport takes them places.
What my conversations have not yet explored, however, is another, perhaps more difficult, question. “Why do you do any kind of endurance sports? What is there about this kind of extreme physical activity that commands your attention? On my next PAC Tour event, maybe this will be the focus of my “field research.”