…but you can buy a bicycle.
That statement will resonate a lot differently for a lot of different people.
Some may see it as a sarcastic response to a cliche saying.
Superficially, that’s accurate.
To some it won’t evoke even the smallest amount of humor, but rather find it perplexing and dismissible as a nonsensical statement all together.
To a certain few it will make perfect sense.
To those who just cracked a smile, that probably means you’ve ridden a bicycle at some point in the last five years.
To those who find the statement more of a philosophy rather than simply a clever saying, then you, my friend, must certainly be a cyclist.
And you know that at any random gathering of fellow cyclists, all of you would stand up to make toast to said statement.
“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a bicycle.”
Bicycles equate happiness.
It’s that simple, isn’t it?
In some regards, yes, it is that simple.
But I think anyone who has ever owned a manually powered, two wheeled machine will agree that along with a sense of freedom and youthfulness you are buying a lot more as well.
No, I’m not talking about the helmet, glasses, gloves, Lycra shorts and myriad accessories that often accompany the purchase of a bike. I’m talking about the intangibles. I’m talking about the things which have no price tag.
Anyone who has ever owned a bike will agree that in addition to the happiness that comes with the thrill of pedaling fast down big hills – wind in your hair and shit-eatin’ grin on your face – you’re also buying a lot of headache and heartbreak.
In addition to that feeling of freedom that you haven’t felt since those adolescent days before you passed your driver’s permit – when getting to your friend’s house, or the pool, or the mall meant pedaling your Trek 820 across town – with the purchase of a new bicycle you’re also guaranteeing yourself a literal and figurative pain-in-the-ass.
For all of the joy that accompanies that euphoric feeling of silently cycling a secluded country road on a crisp autumn day, you no longer love bikes the first time you inadvertently fail to dodge a pothole and suddenly find yourself stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire and no repair kit.
Or perhaps you find yourself cursing yourself for having a repair kit but no pump.
You suddenly struggle with buyer’s remorse the first time you get stuck out in the rain.
Or when the chain keeps falling off every time you try to shift into a lower gear in the middle of a steep climb.
Or every time you have a car nearly hit you or run you off the road.
Or the first time you go over the handlebars.
There’s no question that a bicycle can bring insurmountable joy and a feeling of youthfulness which you haven’t experienced since you were ten years old, but it’s also true that bikes can cause an unbelievable amount of stress, annoyance and anger, the likes of which you haven’t experienced since you were ten years old and your mom wouldn’t let you spend the night at your best friend’s house because it was a “school night” even though it was snowing out and you just knew school would be canceled in the morning.
If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who has ever gone on a bike tour.
Sure bikes can break down or get stolen even if you’re just going on a cross-town ride, but imagine how much more can go wrong on a cross-country ride.
Or a cross-continental ride.
Imagine all that can go wrong on a two-hour ride.
Now imagine what it must be like to go on a two month ride.
Or a two-year ride.
Imagine what it’s like to carry all of your possessions on two wheels for five to ten hours a day, over mountains and across deserts, in the wind, rain, snow, heat, dust and traffic.
Imagine what it’s like to camp in a tent and bathe in a frigid river every night for months at a time.
Imagine what it must be like after making it through the first day of your first bike trip – after waking up early and pedaling by 4:30 a.m. to avoid the Baltimore traffic, and after three flat tires, two broken spokes, one epic crash and an ass so sore you realize you never want to risk going to prison – you then find yourself a bit terrified when faced with the looming question: “WHERE THE HELL AM I GOING TO SLEEP TONIGHT?”
The first day is always the hardest.
Well, the first day is usually the hardest.
Sometimes the hardest.
OK, there’s a lot of really shitty days on a bike tour.
I’ve had broken frames. Broken spokes. Broken rims. Broken derailleur hangers. Broken forks. Broken cables. Broken racks. Broken hubs. Broken headsets. Broken helmets.
Luckily I have never any broken bones.
I’ve experienced headwinds in Kazakhstan that were so strong that I had to pedal in the lowest gear simply to go downhill.
Ridden in blinding sandstorms in western China as police forced all other vehicles off of the road.
Climbed for days to get over high mountain passes in Kyrgyzstan.
Ridden thousands of kilometers on rough, rocky, dusty dirt roads in Central Asia and South America.
And had days where it felt like death would be a more pleasurable alternative to the agony of pedaling any further.
I often wonder why I put myself through it.
In fact, on a bike tour you have time to wonder about a lot of things.
After a while the redundancy of incessantly pedaling becomes almost therapeutic.
Eventually the entire process becomes meditative, and it’s only in those moments of physical fatigue and mental weakness – when your psyche lets down its guard and you allow the physical pain and discomfort take over – that it becomes wretched.
It’s only when you focus on the present discomforts – the added drag of a headwind, the lingering pain in your heels, the sound of your wheel rubbing against your fender, the steep grade of the hill, the swarm of horse flies that refuse to stop circling your head and dive-bombing your face as you slowly climb yet another bloody hill – that you find yourself miserable.
Sure the heat is sweltering, and the climb just won’t end, and you’re thighs feel as though they are going to explode, and the road is absolute shit, and each car that passes deposits another thick layer of dust on your already dirt encrusted face, but in your mind you’re worlds away.
In your mind you’re planning out the rest of your life. You’re dreaming up business plans. You’re thinking about a girl. You’re reminiscing past trips and dreaming up future ones.
In your mind you are anywhere but there. Anywhere but in the moment, in the misery.
And your bicycle is the vessel that carries you to all of these places. To all of these states – both physical and mental.
The bike is the machine that takes you on such a journey of misery and bliss. Highs and lows. Literally and figuratively.
Your bike – the same vehicle that was your means of freedom to roam the neighborhood streets for so many seemingly endless childhood summers – is the same the same vehicle that now provides that freedom of roaming more exotic locales.
The machine that carries you to class, around town, cross-country, across countries.
For me it’s the only thing that can take me on exciting adventures in distant countries far from home, while simultaneously transporting me back to the big hill in my childhood driveway, the bottom of which countless ramps were built and knees were skinned.
So yes, it’s true. For some, at least.
You certainly cannot buy happiness. But you can buy a bicycle.
But buyer beware, happiness aint the only thing that comes with a shiny metal frame, two wheels and a chain.
(written by Co-Founder of Louisville Bicycle Tours, Austin Render).