The sting of sitting out one ‘cross season isn’t so bad.
Words and photos by Robert Grunau.
I bunny-hop the curb onto the sidewalk and turn onto the gravel path that will carry me away from the rows of single-family homes and into quieted woods in the middle of Seattle. Generally this is the way I take home, and though technically illegal—I see no signs on this portion of the park telling me not to ride here—it is just one of the best ways to get to or from work, which is where I’m headed now.
August is nigh and my Instagram feed is filled with pictures of friends—digital and physical—riding their way to fitness for the upcoming ’cross season. The photos fill me with a hint of longing, not for the work or intervals, which is too much for me at this point, but for the comradery that comes with consistently riding with others whose company you enjoy. They are getting that, and I’m considering a season on the sidelines. This will be my first year in the last six where I won’t take to some kind of start line for muddy drifts and quick dismounts. I’m only missing it a little.
This is the potential downside to a life filled with bicycles: burn out. See, I ride bikes, work on bikes (it kinda pays the bills), write about bikes, and use(ed) them for transportation, and now I feel like a little break.
Today is the first day in over a week that I’ve made the seven-mile commute on a bicycle from my apartment to the shop I manage, a small service-oriented one in a quiet neighborhood of Seattle. It wasn’t always like this. For six years straight, through all seasons, I rode to work, and various other places without my wife. “I will still ride my bike to work, even though I have a car now,” I told myself. This has not proven to be the case.
It is cool in the shade of the trees, the heat less oppressive; turned down to a nice riding temp. It has been long enough since I’ve gone through here that I’ve forgotten how fun it is. There are nice chicane-like turns. A few roots at the top of little dips, allowing for some air time and increased speed. The speed doesn’t make me want to race, but it does remind me that riding bikes used to be fun, and—more importantly—that there is still more fun to be had.
I told myself that I wouldn’t become one of those shop employees who was just over it. You’ve encountered the type—the mechanic who barely looks at you as he takes your bike. The same one who shakes his head with disapproval as he shifts through your gears, before delivering curt answers about what’s wrong with your favorite bike. I managed to hold that off, but now, after years of dealing with customers who think what’s wrong with their bike is the manufacturer’s fault and manufacturers who think it’s the customer’s fault when a part breaks, plus the ups and downs of small business and you have a recipe for bicycle industry burn out.
Now, I want you to know I blame no one for this but myself. Lest you think I’m attempting to make the argument that customers have made it this way. I’ve done this to myself, with a myopic gaze, blocking out everything that wasn’t related to cycling. Maybe those are the headwaters of the stream I’m fighting against. There’s just this one simple thing that keeps me going however: bikes are just fucking fun.
The adult in us—who has to worry about paying the bills, keeping non-riding family happy, that has to find that balance between family time and me time—has a tendency to get bogged down in all the trappings of growing up. It is there where we can sometimes loose the thread, forgetting that sense of freedom a bicycle brought. Like when I could first venture around the block alone before I was ten. Then a couple years later, using a bike to explore the city I grew up in, riding away, miles from the eyes of any adult that could hold us responsible for whatever shenanigans my friends and I got ourselves in to. These are the things I’ve forgotten in my rush to become a faster racer, a better bike handler, or more lean, adventuresome version of myself. I lost the fun of bicycles.
The trees clear and I come into a meadow with the sun beating down. I hit a section where the trail splits. Go right and I head uphill into the neighborhoods I normally ride through. Stay left and I drop down for more loose, wonderfully driftable gravel before a slow uphill slog through the park to join up with the green way that will take me past the tourists outside Kurt Cobain’s old house and a little further to the shop, where I build wheels, talk to suppliers, and get bikes to our customers, which, in the end, is my favorite part; seeing people stoked on bikes, even if I’m not entirely at that point myself.
I will be sitting this ’cross season out. But I will be on the sidelines, watching others race hard, or race slow and cheering for my friends who are waiting for me to hand them a beer as they pedal past. It’s good to take a little break sometimes. Watching all of that go down will get me excited again, not just to race, but to make the time to get out more than once or twice a week, find some new routes, and deepen some friendships. Besides, someone has to stand by that corner with case of cold beers; it might as well be me.