Cycling FAQ

My philosophy of biking can pretty much be summed up as follows:

“When it’s good, it’s really good.

 When it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.”

Isn’t it hard?

No.  Waking up to an alarm clock every day, even to go to a relatively pleasant job, was hard.  Feeling that my work, which occupied about half of my waking hours, was meaningless or worse, that was hard.  Working at an NGO, or a farm, or somewhere else that requires dedicating a log of energy to making the world a better place – that sounds hard.  I just push my pedals all day long, mostly thinking about whether or not I should stop at x to eat, or at y to take pictures.  After about 4PM, I just wonder if z would be an ok place to pitch my tent.


Doesn’t your X (/ don’t your Ys) hurt?

Surprisingly, no.   My two most common afflictions are a burned tongue (from eating too fast) and a busting belly (from eating too much).  Alcohol-related afflictions include freezing headaches and occasional hangovers.  As for cycling-related stuff, I think I lucked out.  Some say that you ought to get your bike frame custom-made, or at least custom-ized, so that its dimensions match up properly with your own.  I did pretty much the opposite: I bought my bike on Craigslist from a German guy six inches taller than me.  While this has resulted in me looking like a bit of a goofbag while riding, it hasn’t caused any physical problems.   (Yet?)

During the first few months, I did experience some “posterior tenderness” on days when I rode more than about 80km.  Now I can ride 100km a day for a week, or 200 on a single day, without any discomfort.

While riding in my previous life, I would often have knee pain after rides of 10km; now I almost never have any at all.  I guess it was because my saddle was too low, then, or perhaps my leg muscles just weren’t developed enough.

When pedaling up mountains, sometimes I feel a little strain in my lower back.  That’s about the worst thing, but it (so far) vanishes when I’m off the bike and isn’t really that uncomfortable anyway.


Isn’t it boring?

Sometimes, but I welcome boredom.  Or at least I try to.

The opposite of boring is fun, right?  Well, the Italian word for fun is “divertente.”  Ever since I learned this, I’ve been haunted by a certain doubt: when in search of fun, what is it that I want diversion from?  What’s so bad about being bored?  Why should the state of not having anything in particular to do so unpleasant?  Isn’t that the fundamental state of a human being, once food and shelter are taken care of?

Pascal wrote that “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone,” and I mostly agree.  Think of how easy life would be if we knew how to be content with boredom.  Then we’d only “need” the things we really need.  We’d have much less reason to fight over resources or to design and build machines that poison the earth.

Thus, I’d rather struggle against my aversion to boredom than against boredom itself.  Stare it in the face, figure out what it’s all about, conquer it, and what not.  One day, maybe I’ll be able to say with Taegun Lee, the chairman of the Korean organic agriculture R&D firm 흙살림: “Just breathing is happiness enough for me.”

Also, to take a less philosophical approach to the question: yeah, riding a bicycle for hours on end can be boring, but it’s probably not more boring than working at a computer or running on a treadmill.  It’s certainly better than travelling by cars, buses, trains, and airplanes, all of which to varying extents block your view of your surroundings and limit your freedom to explore things that pique your interest.

Finally (most importantly?)  it’s lots of fun too!  You never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll see, what kind of awesome street food will pop up in your path, or what sort of adventure you’ll find yourself in the middle of.


Isn’t it lonely?

I’m often alone while cycling, true, but as corny as it sounds, that’s not the same as being lonely.  Living in a society that appears to have gone mad – simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, ninety percent of people waking up every morning wishing they didn’t have to spend the rest of the day at work, everybody passively consenting to consuming hundreds of advertisements that they know are full of lies, clothes selling for several hundred dollars – all of that felt very lonely and isolating to me, even despite the presence of friends who felt the same way.  Cycling doesn’t solve any of these problems, but it lets me live without being totally immersed in them and, to some extent, without feeling complicit.  Someday I hope to do a better job of addressing them directly.

And, of course, I meet new people all the time, and even get to cross paths with old friends now and again.


Isn’t it dangerous?

a)      RE: Dangers of cycling: See Mr. Money Mustache’s post, “Bicycling: the SAFEST Form of Transportation

b)      RE: Dangers of strangers: I have been sheltered, fed, comped, helped, and otherwise cared for by more people than I could possibly recall.  I’ve been threatened by zero.  I figure that even if someone robs me of, say, $500 (not that I ever have that much on me), I’ll still come out ahead.  Hell, they could even steal my bike, my phone, my laptop, and my camera, and after replacing them all with upgraded models (using ebay and craigslist, of course), I would still have had an awesome year for less than $5k.

c)       RE: But still:  I guess, technically, the answer is still yes.  There’s always the possibility that someone will simply kill me.  So be it!  That danger exists in a very real sense in the USA, where several friends and family members of mine have been held at gunpoint.  I don’t know where on earth it’s possible to be completely safe, and I don’t want to spend my life worrying about it.


Isn’t extended travel expensive?

My first year on the bike cost me precisely $4,323.  That works out to something like $11 dollars a day for food, for a roof over my head (unless I choose to sleep under the stars), for fun, and for everything else I need.  That’s less than car payments, less than some monthly gym memberships, less than a bad coffee habit, and definitely less than an affinity for fine spirits.

Oh, and I spent about $1,500 gearing up – bike, tires, clothes, camping necessities, etc.  Expensive, yeah, but I have hardly dropped a dime on gas, plane tickets, or bus tickets since.  Biking seems to me to be the cheapest form of travel.

To be fair, there’s the opportunity cost of not being at work, making whatever low five figure salary.   Then again, the opportunity cost of having a five-figure salary is that, for an entire year, you’re not allowed to cycle around the world.


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