Bicycling (South Africa)

It Doesn't Have to be PERFECT

- – Mike Magnuson

I’m 55 years old now, and after two hip replacemen­ts – one of which happened only a few months ago – you can bet I’m back on my bike and fighting hard to become strong again; but where I live these days, the roads are almost uniformly flat, arranged in precise grids that German immigrants laid out in the 1800s. A really exciting ride involves the opportunit­y to make a slight steering adjustment once every five kays instead of every 15. Obviously, I exaggerate. But deep down I know the greatest cycling roads on the planet don’t exist where I ride. I should be depressed about this, but I’m not.

A dozen years ago, when I fancied myself a bike racer, I lived in a region with endless hills and curvy roads with crumbling chip-and-spray surfaces. You could ride for three full hours without encounteri­ng a single motor vehicle, and the roadside attraction­s consisted of trees, weeds, and fields, punctuated by the occasional tortoise, deer, or stray dog. In a word, it was paradise.

I had a racer friend back then who mocked me for my desire to ride long distances on these blissful, desolate roads. I would jabber about some epic trek I was contemplat­ing – 150 hilly kilometres, just to get a pie and a cooldrink at a ramshackle petrol station surrounded by canola fields! – and this guy would affect a rather insulting speech impediment, with the tip of his tongue pressed against his lower teeth, and say, ‘Pedal, pedal, pedal’. By this, he meant I had a less-than-optimum mentality. According to him, I should save my matches until the starting gun fired at the next race. Long rides like that, he said, only tired people out and slowed them down. To this day, when I plan epic rides, I refer to these as ‘doing stupid shit on my bike’.

I’m not getting any younger, and the roads where I live don’t cause my soul to burst into song. But what am I supposed to do? Not ride? After I had two major operations expressly so I could ride? It’s always easier to say that the riding is better on the hilly road, the mountain road, the dirt road, the gravel road, the road along the coast, the road along the river, the road through the vineyards, the road without a stop sign, the road that never ends, even the road so straight you could ride 20 kays on it without steering; but in the end, the best road is always the one we’re riding.

To wit, as long as I’m on any road and able to pedal, pedal, pedal, I’ll be where I want to be.

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