A great deal is being written about introversion and extraversion (not “extroversion,” as some seem intent on calling it) in today’s common culture. I suppose it is somewhat predictable that all sorts of labels and generalizations are being made about this rather complex topic, and I don’t want this little essay to fall into that error. However, I have been thinking a good deal lately about the way I experience utility cycling so differently from my time behind that “other wheel” in my car, and how it always changes and challenges me to be on my bike more than in my automobile.
The change aspect has to do with the way cycling around town relaxes and focuses my mind and body. When I drive, I often do so because I need to cover a fair amount of mileage in a short amount of time. This allows me to get more done in a given day. In itself, this isn’t a bad thing.
However, when done regularly over time, it feeds the “production at all costs” mindset that introverts often find very draining. The time it takes to reflect, synthesize, and create gets overlooked in a “24/7” work world. Often, mere repetition or providing easy fixes rather than substantive compassion or thoughtful responses becomes the accepted outcome in the automated, high-efficiency society we have evolved (if evolution is the right word here—I have my doubts). Many of us on the introverted side of the scale find such a life very hard to endure, let alone enjoy.
That is where the “challenge” part of cycling comes in for me. Perhaps most people would think the challenge in biking is largely a physical one or having to do with safely moving in and around a fairly cycle-unfriendly environment like Salem. True—that can be a bit taxing. But, it also good for one (mostly) and gets some of the pent-up stress out through physical exertion and problem solving as I go from start to finish of a journey.
No; the real challenge in urban utility cycling is really about the choices I make generally in how to live as an introvert interacting with a society spinning ever more out of balance. Due to the time it takes, the pace it requires, and the fact that bikes must clearly bow to the centrality of autos in our culture, I find cycling always challenges my tacit participation in and acceptance of the cultural norms and expectations around me. In addition to being good exercise, fun, and often very relaxing, in its own way utility cycling is a very counter-cultural act.
Driving can be very enjoyable, as well. I still take the occasional Sunday drive in the country, exploring parts of the Willamette Valley and the Coast I’ve not seen before and soaking up the scenery through the seasons. But, there is a great difference between the feeling I get in the car and that found while biking. Driving is the norm, the expected thing, and carries with it the character of what has come to pass for “real life” in our day. Modern motoring is about comfort, power, autonomy, convenience, image, individualism, and isolation from the environment. This is not counter-cultural today. Biking, in its mundane splendor, is surprisingly revolutionary. What is more, it is revolutionary in a delightfully under-the-radar way.
The interaction with movement, nature, other people, and time itself is substantially more subtle, articulate, and humane while in the bike saddle. True, it is sometimes less comfortable as well, but in the main that is not what one takes from the experience. Instead, there is a delightful rhythm of pedaling along and feeling part of the passing scene and yet not confined to it. One observes—and is observed—but is also connected to the observed reality. In a far greater way than when traveling by car, I feel a "both/and" quality to transportation on a bike. I often feel I am better able to deal with the greyness and ambiguity of real life when I have been traveling more by bike—and this is critical in the work I do. It is a case of one’s physical self altering one’s psychological/spiritual being for the better.
The challenge found in utility cycling requires I take seriously my own particular character and needs rather than accept the standards, pace, and expectations of the society around me. As an introvert, I can bike to the sound of a different drummer (if you will) far more easily than drive that way. You might say that it is a kind of spiritual discipline for me. It interests me that the thoughts I have while commuting around town are often not too far from those that arise when contemplating scripture or after a time of prayer.
Cycling appeals to a great many different personality types—as do all things most true and basic to the human condition. I know a number of people whose affection for biking has nothing or little to do with the kind of reflections I am making here. But for the mindset I have it is a real blessing to experience the change and challenge of bicycle-time in our harassed, connected, and extraverted world. If there are any others like me out there, know that you aren’t alone…we have a place and a value even if our nature is not to grab the spotlight about it.
So, keep on pedaling!