Canadian Cycling Magazine
On cycling’s risks and great rewards
Mark Kingwell on cycling’s risks and great rewards
Mark Kingwell first felt the cycling bug as a teenager living in Winnipeg. Initially, losing weight was the motivation. But, as he spent more time in the saddle, cycling became an obsession. He fell in love with the Sekine road bike he received as a Christmas present. Every day, except in the dead of a Manitoba winter freeze, he would ride to and from school.
How obsessed was Kingwell? The day of his high school graduation ceremony, he just had to squeeze in a ride. “I got hit by a car,” recalls the
University of Toronto philosophy professor. “My bike was crushed.
Luckily, I was not hurt too badly, but it was goodbye to the Sekine.”
This accident did not deter Kingwell from getting back in the saddle. Since, his passion for cycling has remained a constant in his life. Throughout the years, he has enjoyed both racing and recreational riding. He’s owned many bikes, from a 10-speed Raleigh to a luxury Peugeot. He has cycled the hills of New Hampshire, the streets of Amsterdam and Scotland’s Isle of Skye on a rainy day. These days, the philosopher and author rides a hardtail Opus mountain bike, its knobby tires perfect for navigating the streetcar tracks and commuting in Toronto. Before covid-19 struck and he started teaching virtually, Kingwell often pedalled from his Cabbagetown home to the University of Toronto campus.
“Before the lockdown, I was using my bike to commute. It’s not the greatest route, but I would often cross over the Don Valley and go on the trails. That is some really great cycling. And, some days, if I got ambitious, I would go down to the Lake and continue east on the Martin Goodman Trail,” he says referencing the city’s popular route along Lake Ontario.
In 2020, Kingwell published Onrisk. The story of his teenage bike accident features in the work and links to the philosophical discussion on risk. “If you hop on your bike, you are taking on a whole series of risks,” he explains. “We all take many other risks every day, especially during the pandemic, just leaving the house is somewhat of a risk. I didn’t want the book to be just about covid-19 and the pandemic. I wanted to think about how we negotiate risk and the sort of thinking behind our decisions when we assume risk.”
Risk, Kingwell stresses, differs from danger. “Risk is what we accept, whereas danger is something that may or may not be avoided,” he adds.
Despite the i nherent risks he accepts every time he settles into the saddle, Kingwell never has second thoughts. Today, in a way no different than when he was a teenager riding in Winnipeg more than 45 years ago, the benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks.
“It is so therapeutic to feel the wind in your face and just get outside,” he says. “It automatically puts you in a contemplative state. What I love most about cycling is the combination of thrill and vulnerability. You are often going fast and are exposed to the elements outdoors. On your bike, unlike your car, there is no unused speed. You are going as fast as you can. That is such a great feeling.”
“I wanted to think about how we negotiate risk and the sort of thinking behind our decisions when we assume risk.”