A Bike Ride, Philosophically

My BikeFest event ‘Cycling Through Samsara’ is a few weeks away! At 9am on Sunday, August 17, we’ll do a few minutes of yoga as a warm-up, go on a 20-mile ride, end where we started and do another half-hour of yoga to stretch and cool down.

This is the fourth year I’m hosting the ride. I’m an advocate of both yoga and bicycling, so designing a ride for Pittsburgh’s biggest bike festival makes sense. Riders in previous years have asked what “samsara” means, and here I describe the significance of this ride to me.

I bike this route, or a close cousin of it, whenever I’m biking solo. There are sections where I’m sharing the road with motorized vehicles, but much of it is on the Eliza Furnace or Three Rivers Heritage Trails.

This tacking back and forth between motorized traffic and trails conjures a sense of being in the world, but not of it. Everything around us is changing, even us. Passing through it all on a bike grants us an expansive view of things, even while we’re coasting through it.

Samsara’ is defined as the cycle of birth and death. Most journeys conclude right back where we started, but there’s always a change, in us and in the place we originated. We're different when we return, and where we return to is different.

Most of this ride is level or slightly downhill. Then a 3/4 mile uphill road presents itself, and there’s a sudden need to push. This is a nod to Tom Hodgkinson’s book How to be Idle

In this self-proclaimed loafer’s manifesto, he summarizes fishing as “very long periods of inactivity broken by a paroxysm of excitement when the fish bites.” Hodgkinson deems this ideal: “This way of working—long periods of doing nothing followed by a sudden frenetic burst of activity—is just how an idler likes it. Anything but the tedium of regular and sustained application.”

It’s a chance to practice living well: coasting and enjoying life, interrupted only by challenging and exciting projects. ‘Cycling Through Samsara’ is a microcosm of what I would consider an ideal lifestyle and mindset.

Finally, we ride along many of Pittsburgh’s rivers, and pass over them four times. We’ll also be visiting a lookout on Washington’s Landing that offers a great view of the Allegheny. This gives us time to appreciate the rivers in a way few people do. 

“Rivers, and the inhabitants of the watery element were created for wise men to contemplate, and fools to pass by without consideration.” —Sir Izaak Walton.

This quote is from The Compleat Angler, a philosophical treatise on fishing published in 1653. It’s an anti-material, pro-comtempletave tome that we need now as much as ever.

Like his spiritual descendents Emerson and Whitman, Walton practices contemplation and observation. Bicycling is an almost ideal mechanism for this to happen. We’re free to ignore the values that make us feel guilty in our free time. Bicycling allows us to drop the notion of work and doing, and shed what the world of doing has in store for us. It’s a revolution, small but personal.

I’ll see you at 9am on Sunday, August 17 in Highland Park. I’ll be to the right of the fountain. Check my website or Facebook page that morning before you head over, as severe weather will cancel the ride. Helmets required, because I want you to live well and as long as you can.

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