Robin Williams was crazy about cycling. Nuts about it. He had an astonishing bicycle collection and an equally admirable stable of notable cycling buddies like Lance Armstrong. Lance idolized Robin. Robin idolized Lance.
But the late great comedian and actor who committed suicide in 2014 was also one of the guys, looking somewhat anonymous under a helmet and behind glasses during those times he would show up on Sunday morning group rides in the San Francisco Bay Area for a long spin that started by going over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Williams knew he was lucky to have bikes in his life.
“It’s the closest you can get to flying,” he was quoted as saying.
Before tight and bright spandex ruled the cycling community, there were blue jean cut-offs, Chuck Taylor Converse high tops and bandanas atop heads instead of helmets. Cycling gloves? Puh-leez. Before that, it was street clothes with top hats, dresses and suits.
No matter what type of clothing someone wears, cycling brings many lessons to young riders way too immature to realize they are being schooled in life experiences — freedom, independence, exercise, transportation, efficiency, competition and mental health — that will serve them well many miles down the rolling, twisted path.
Independence and freedom comes early to young riders. Biking with your elementary school friends allowed you that initial spark to pedal to the local candy store and spend that pocket changes on sweet treats. You dreamed. Maybe you biked to forbidden places. You got gross and farted and made long belches all on bikes. You learned what it was like be with your peers and away from the stern looks and reaches of parents.
It was on those banana seated three speeds with baseball cards affixed to spokes by clothespins to resemble the tick of a motor and such the bike became your first personal mode of human-powered transportation.
Though most tend to shy away from the bike during adolescence when visions of motorized transportation take up residence in the still developing brain, the bicycle can be a primary mode of travel throughout life. Not as prevalent in rural areas like the valley (though there are serious bicycle commuters here along with those devoid of a drivers license), they make perfect sense in a city with the expenses and headaches associated with car ownership from parking to snarling traffic. You don’t event have to own a bicycle. Use a ride share program.
The bicycle is a ridiculously self-powered efficient machine. Even Apple co-found Steve Jobs thought so.
“What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds,” he once said.
Bicycles take up less space then cars. When paired with the right bicycle, it’s like the man and machine are one, and perhaps that’s where Williams came up with his analogy of flight.
Flying or not, the heart-healthy bicycle is also wonderful exercise. Easier on the knees then running, cycling provides an incredible workout. It can help with weight management and strengthens quads, glutes, calves and hamstrings. It also aids in bolstering core muscles like abs and back. Low impact cycling also improves coordination, balance and posture.
Then there’s the competitive cycling. During those high-top days, high school sports rarely had cycling teams, and that would have been road cycling. High schools now offer mountain bike teams and clubs, as well as road options. Cycling competitions for all ages abound with everything from summer series to cyclocross events. Here in the valley we see Olympians showing up to citizen races, racing right alongside us. It’s inspirational.
Topping the list of why we ride should be mental health. Spinning those wheels works wonders for the brain. Thoughts ebb and flow like the tide. There is peace and serenity along with splendid isolation. Cycling changes perspective. Going slow opens up the senses to the world. Pedal by trees, homes and horizons that otherwise are a blur while driving. Find unmarked pathways into the woods that can dead end or lead to wide open expanses and miles of dirt to explore. Appreciate that al fresco lunch stop or picnic even more while out on a spin. Become immersed in the fall colors.
Though cycling is close to flying as Williams once said, it also grounds you, giving you a clarity in dealing with the turbulence that comes with life. Stick with it.