The mellowing of an aggressive cyclist

Second in a series on bicycling my way through 2014

Crossing I-205 on the Marine Drive Bike Trail

Crossing I-205 on the Marine Drive Bike Trail

When I started my blog in 2014, it was easy enough to describe one of the identifying descriptors I would use: religious historian. I intended to write about a wide range of topics in American religion, thus continuing work I had done during my career in academia.

Choosing a descriptor for the blog’s second focus was the problem. Bicycling, yes; but what kind of cyclist am I? What kind of cycling would I write about?

Competitive? Although I have never raced or ridden time trials, I do like to hold my own with any group with which I’m riding. Even though my family laughs at me when I say I’m not competitive, this descriptive term doesn’t seem right. It suggests racing rather than the constant hard-charging that has been my style.

Serious? This word suggests giving constant attention to cycling—to its technology, techniques, history, and literature. Again, the word fits. Cycling is important to my intellectual life and to my bodily activity, enough so that serious fits well enough that it would be a better choice than competitive. If only it had more bite to it.

Avid is another word that often appears in descriptions of the kind of cyclists with whom I ride, but the word has always felt insufficiently serious. Avid cyclists are spirit-filled, enthusiastic, ready to head out for a ride, but I have never been able to use that word with any degree of comfort. It has seemed superficial. An unabridged dictionary suggests another reason not to like the word avid. Its first meaning — “craving eagerly : desirous to the point of greed”—doesn’t describe the way I feel about cycling.

So I chose aggressive, by default rather than by careful analysis. The word has one advantage, that it catches people’s attention. The word is brash, pushy, hard-edged. Aggressive describes the way I have always felt about climbing steep grades and keeping up the pedaling cadence at the end of a day of hard cycling. Aggressive includes focused attention, impatience at impediments, and the determination to keep going, no matter what.

During 2014, however, this word has been losing its luster. The negative side of aggression seems more prominent than I had realized. One reader recently suggested that this word will turn off the very readers who interest me, especially older cyclists who want to keep on riding even as their energies and abilities diminish.

Another reason why aggressive seems like the wrong descriptor is that my ability to ride long and hard is diminishing. My doctor, a cyclist himself, tells me that this is inevitable for someone my age. “No matter how disciplined your training and determined your attitude,” he explained, “you’ll keep slowing down; so get used to it.” He said it gently and with understanding, but it’s still hard to take.

But during 2014, a third factor has arisen that makes it necessary to think about a different term: my inner push and self-confidence have wilted. In recent years I had already modified some of my ground rules, stopping earlier in the day because I knew that I was less resourceful than in earlier years.

With my wife’s death earlier in the year, however, I have become aware how much my mood and manner were supported by her love, loyalty, and trust, and even more by the way I had come to depend upon her response as I told her about the riding I wanted to do. Now that I’m only half of what I used to be, the aggressiveness has lost its punch.

So, if aggressive no longer fits, what descriptor should take its place? Midway through 2014, I toyed with the phrase open road cyclist, even posting a blog on what the phrase means. More recently contemplative has come up as a contrast to competitive. The one term describes a readiness to ride in all kinds of places under a wide range of conditions. The other term indicates the bookishness of everything I do, including cycling.

For now, Aggressive Cyclist will continue on the blog’s masthead, but sometime during 2015, when the metamorphosis is complete, a new descriptor will take its place. Which will it be? Open Road? Contemplative? Or another characterization still to come? Let me know what you think.

Desert Sign

6 Responses to The mellowing of an aggressive cyclist

  1. kevinmayne says:

    It can only be “assertive” – determined to cycle as only you want!

  2. Bill says:

    “CYCLIST!” at whatever age or ability is a good enough word for me. All of the other descriptors depend upon who I am riding with and the context of the ride. I wouldn’t like to be referred to as just a “bicycle rider” regardless of my age, ability or equipment.

    • Bill, thanks for your comment. Your suggestion reminds me of a passage in a book I read a couple of years ago in which the author makes a strong distinction between cyclist and bicycle rider. When I get home from my holiday travels, I will look up the passage in order to remember how he distinguished between the two. His use of the word cyclist, without modifiers,is consistent with your statement.

  3. jacbikes says:

    Keith, the adjective “aggressive” has always sounded – well, too aggressive (much like the “purpose driven church” sounds too driven!) I also dislike “avid” because it is used so much for so many hobbies/interests that it seems trite & too casual, or superficial as you say. For myself, I prefer the term “ardent” which expresses both my ardor for cycling & my pursuit of it in a strong & determined way. I also like your title description for this blog entry – “mellowing” – but that may feel a bit too laid back for you! Whatever the description, it’s good to enjoy the different stages & experiences of cycling – both as we experience different weather, terrain, and types of rides, and as we move through different stages in our own lives – physically, emotionally, intellectually, & spiritually. Happy cycling – aggressive, assertive, ardent, contemplative & mellow – in this new year!

    • I think I chose aggressive specifically to avoid avid. Another approach is to not use an adjective, but simply the noun. I would then be listed as historian and cyclist. I will write more on this some time, but I don’t know when.

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