Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Pleasure of Utility Cycling

I was recently making my leisurely way home from the office, noticing the changing neighborhoods and landscape along the way, and realized how happy I was cycling. That struck me. I don’t feel that way driving to and from the parish church; rather, I just want to be where I am going. But cycling is a different matter. I find I allow for more time, and I take in the world around me. When it is raining, the journey is usually a bit more interior, true—but in other types of weather I am genuinely interested in the environment, the people, the life through which I travel.

The French have a word that describes this, albeit for pedestrians: saunter. Sauntering is not just to pass through: it means to take in, to learn something of what it means to live in a place, to soak up the environment and appreciate it and the people there.

Utility cycling makes a form of sauntering possible. Unlike some cyclists, I don’t travel quickly on my way, head down and straining. I move through the topography with a lot of intentionality, varying my route slightly all the time, exploring here and there, greeting people and not infrequently talking with them. The bicycle becomes more than a means of transportation—it actually becomes a way to participate in our world, which is really a low-key act of resistance to the passivity and isolation so common today.

I'm interested in having a conversation on this topic. How does your cycling journey compare with your auto experience? How much does cycling cause you to saunter? What is the impact of cycling on your sense of neighborhood or community?


  1. I find that "sauntering" (as you call it) is one of the best ways to learn about the local culture when I'm traveling. A few years ago, I started traveling with my bike, and I've been truly amazed at how it has enriched my experiences.

  2. I've never had exactly the sort of experience you have with a folding bike, Chris, but I have toted it to various nearby towns for some alternate-location urban cycling. I always learn a lot about a community this way. Cheers!

  3. I love to saunter on either of my 2 Bicycles. If I rode too quickly, i'd miss all the beautiful Landscapes of Mid Wales, waiting to be discovered. I see Road Bikes fly past me, yet it doesn't bother me at all, that I adopt a more leisurely pace.