The Three Elements of a Quality Bike Ride

2 Jun

In his 1974 philosophical novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig observes, “Quality cannot be defined. If we do define it we are defining something less than Quality itself.” So, as I attempt to define what a quality bicycle ride is, I am likely to miss the bullseye. However, I do hope to at least hit the target.

There are three aspects* of a quality ride. First, a quality ride begins with the rider. And I divide the rider into two parts. Most important is the rider’s state of mind. And this is the brilliant thing about a quality bike ride, the state of mind can change in the course of a ride. A near-miss with a reckless driver can shift a sunny disposition to one clouded by fear and anger. Attitude can shift gears just as easily in the other direction. As a ride progresses bad moods can become good ones. But the important fact is that it’s the state of mind at the end of the ride that determines whether it was a quality ride or not. So, just because you’re in a lousy mental state doesn’t mean you should skip a ride.

The second part of the rider that goes into a quality ride is his or her physical condition. Don’t underestimate yourself. A good goal is to ride your bike a little further, a little harder, a little faster than you think you are capable of. Not a lot. Just a little. Surpassing your expectations generally leads to a quality ride.

Bee hives in flower field taken on bike ride of 3 June 2010

But you need to be realistic. Taking a vigorous, hill-laden ride when you’re not in the best of shape often leads to a dreadful experience. If you have a cold or an injury, you’re likely to find the quality of any ride less than top-notch.

This does not mean you have to be in tip-top condition to take a quality bike ride. Not at all. You simply need to match your physical status to the ride. That also means challenging yourself when you are in good shape. If you take lazy rides when you’re able to push yourself harder, the quality of the ride will suffer.

Despite Lance Armstrong’s book’s title It’s Not About the Bike, the second aspect of a quality ride is the bicycle. Certainly, it does not have to be a state-of-the-art bicycle. But it has to fit your needs. If you take a mountain bike and slap on some road tires, you won’t enjoy a ride as much as riders using road bikes. And, likely, they won’t enjoy having you as a partner because they will have to pace themselves much slower just to keep you in sight in their rear-view mirrors.

Likewise, riding around a city, even a highly rated bike-friendly town like Portland, Oregon, can be a low-quality experience on the wrong bike. The thin tires on road and touring bikes can turn any average potholed urban journey into a terrible ride. A nice mountain bike or hybrid is a far better choice for city riders.

That brings me to my third and final ingredient of what’s in every quality ride: road surface. For mountain bikers, the more uneven, rocky, rooted, and wretched the trail, the better. One of my favorites is Black Rock near Falls City, Ore. It’s a well-maintained mountain bike riding area with an array of trails to choose from for your skill level.

But more than three-quarters of my bike miles are racked up on country roads. A good, smooth surface can add immeasurably to a quality ride. A rough surface is not only potentially dangerous, but can be so distracting that you don’t get to do anything except worry about the next rut in the road.

Matching up a person in the right frame of mind and appropriate condition with a good bike on a decent road can only lead to a quality ride.

* I have excluded weather in this essay. First, because you can’t do much about it. And, second, I think weather is actually related to the first part of the rider, that is, state of mind. In the right situation, inclement weather can be the perfect inducement to a quality ride.

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4 Responses to “The Three Elements of a Quality Bike Ride”

  1. Kids Bike Seat June 3, 2010 at 2:42 am #

    Thanks for good post.

  2. Ken G. June 3, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    Great point about the rider’s mindset. I once suited up for a bike ride on a beautiful day and had barely made it off my block before turning around and going home. I just didn’t feel right to be riding that day — chances are I’d been guilting myself into taking advantage of the weather even though I’d rather been doing something else. Fortunately, I realized it before too long.

    • meh2meh June 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

      Exactly. Sometimes the quality ride is the one not taken. (A notion, I think, Mr. Pirsig would appreciate.)

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