Smooth as satin, flawless beauty conceals a strength as hard as steel.  Graceful angles deflect slightly backwards as if to yield to the wind.  It is anticipating motion even while standing still.  Rugged enough to tolerate the extreme forces that will be exerted upon it, it remains vulnerable to carelessness and neglect.  It stands an inch tall for every pound it is heavy.  It transmits energy, yet absorbs shock.  Ribbons of steel, crossing each other in regular succession, radiate outward from a nucleus forming a network of lines like the cleverly woven trap of a spider.  These stands of steel catch the sun and cast a shimmer of light in a circular spiral at either end of this well oiled machine as it rolls effortlessly forward.

It's owner is called a racer or a touring cyclist.  To the uninitiated, it is often difficult to distinguish one bicycle rider from another.  Further elaboration on the differences between a racer and a tourer can be illustrated by comparing Scott and Roger.

Scott in an embodiment of youthful energy and mental toughness.  He dresses in sleek Lycra that clings to his body like a second skin, revealing more than it conceals a lean, neat figure with muscles taut like a well trained thoroughbred.  His smooth, clean shaved jaw matches the sleekness of this clean shaven legs, which are as smooth as chrome steel.  It's as though he wants to slip through the air as effortlessly as a bird on wing.
Scott will spend many arduous hours on a bicycle during the week training for the upcoming weekend's race.  The race, whether it be a time trial, criterium or a road race,  pits one rider's strength,  prowess and grace on a bicycle against another's.  All minds concentrate on the inevitable attack and the ensuing chase.  The course lies before them, from which they must not deviate, while an interested crowd of spectators cheers them on.  It is a game in which one will win and many will lose.  Through the combined efforts of his teammates and individual strategy he may well me be the first to cross the finish line and win the privilege of wearing the winner's yellow jersey.

Scott uses his bicycle to achieve a sense of speed. His penchant for speed defies a fear of death.  Riding in close formation of a pack, his mind must constantly span the actions of the riders around him.  He is always on the lookout for the excessive turn or sudden braking of an unwitting rider caught off guard in tight curve.  He always has in the back of his mind an abort path for the unexpected spill of a rider in front of him whose front wheel momentarily touches the rear wheel of another bicycle.
Scott's adversaries are not only his fellow riders, but time itself.  His placing on the team and for the season will depend on how well he can compete with the clock.  He knows he will eventually lose the battle.  Each succeeding year makes it more difficult to sustain the speed he once achieved.
Roger dresses in a more casual vein.  After being on the road for several days, he can often be seen wearing a tee shirt stained with juice from an apricot or spotted with a few dried drips of an ice cream cone consumed during one of his many rest stops.  His shorts are not the traditional black skin tight ones but are baggy khaki colored shorts with an abundance of pockets.  He is anything but aerodynamically clean.  His legs match his face which sports a three-day old beard, a condition brought on by a lack of electricity at the previous night's campsite.  His bicycle is loaded down with pannier bags carrying a universal assortment of creature comforts from an electric hair dryer to a small folding backgammon board and all the other “necessary” items as well.

Roger will spend many hours each day pedaling at a leisurely but deliberate pace.  Time and speed are of minor consequence to him.  His only concern is to reach a suitable campsite by nightfall.  He perceives his mode of transport not as a means to an end, but an end in itself.  Though he feels a sense of satisfaction after arriving at this destination eventually, his source of pleasure and lingering memory will be the journey itself.

His sense of adventure propels him onward along paths new and unfamiliar to him, through rolling farm country and flat prairie land.  He revels in the challenge of a steep mountain pass.  The summit of the pass rewards him with a panorama that  leaves him with a sense of wonder.  He also finds himself to be a source of wonder.  His bicycle helps befriend him to local townspeople and the Winnebago bound travelers he meets along the way.  Many a conversation will begin with polite inquiries of “Where are you from?” and “Where are you going?”  He greets their inquisitive eyes with friendly cheer.

Adverse elements of wind and rain only serve to heighten his senses.  The warmth of a fire never feels so good until after riding fifty miles in a cold, constant drizzle.  An unrelenting headwind can make him appreciate a deep, peaceful night's sleep.  Something about being on the road makes him savor the evening meal.  Even Dinty Moore beef stew tastes like gourmet.

A sense of rhythm pulses upward from the pedals through his body, making the bicycle an extension of himself.  He avoids the fast moving traffic of the interstate, preferring to travel as a slower speed along old highways and side roads seldom used.  His bicycle has become a vehicle by which he more fully experiences the world around him and he takes delight in the discovery of sights rarely seen by those who choose to travel in the fast lane of life.

(C) Copyright by Robert Ahl.  All rights reserved.