Friday, August 12, 2011

The Measure of a Man

We frequently hear of ways to measure a person’s worth – by their adherence to principles, by their faith, by their actions, by their actions under stress or at war, by the way they treat their mother or their spouse or their children or their dog, by the way they dress or shine their shoes, or the way they show up on time, or the way they keep smiling in the face of adversity. I suppose all of these have their place in considering the underlying character of an individual, but I have another way of looking at it. I like to measure a man by the way he rides a bike.

Well, now that I think of it, it isn’t so much how they ride a bike, but how they ride a bike in a group, and even better over a number of group rides. When you ride with a group of people, you get a strong sense of who they are, and not just who they are on a bike, but who they are as humans in both their strengths and their weakness. I think you get to see just what someone is made of and maybe for the same reason that you get the measure of a person when you go through something stressful together. I think, though, that going through a car wreck or a hurricane or a jewel heist is a more compressed or one-time version of that stress and some people shine when they might not otherwise. Riding a bike often results in putting you under pressure, and it does so regularly in some groups, and then the good and bad become elevated or more extreme. I suppose a group ride is a bit more like a marriage, with some easy times, some hard times, some really really hard times and somewhere an underlying idea that you can stop showing up when it's not worth it anymore.

As a result, you have the chance to see how people react to stress and pressure; not only their own, but others’ as well. You see what happens when they are strong and you are not, and vice versa. You see what happens when they run low on food, or energy, or time. You see what happens when accidents or mechanicals occur. When the wind blows or it rains or snows or the sun is baking everyone. When these things happen, you see the good and bad in people. You see those who look after others, you see leadership, you see selfishness, you see thoughtful and un-thoughtful actions.

Even when the ride is rolling along and no one is under pressure, you hear what people have to say. You hear comments about sex and money and business and religion and politics and other people and sex. Or you notice people not making comments about one or more of these things. You hear about plans and goals and intentions in life or sport or business. You hear about successes and failures in these same arenas. And you hear reactions to all of these things happening to other people. I hasten to add that I don’t mean to sound like every group ride is a rolling philosophy session or time on a psychiatrist’s couch. Some rides take place with nothing more meaningful than a discussion of bikes and fitness, or breakfast and passing gas. But when you add up day after day, or weekend after weekend, and in particular when you add up year after year, you really get to know the people with whom you ride bikes.

I ride, sometimes, with a group of guys who have proclaimed on their jerseys, "Non siamo qui per fare degli amici. Siamo qui per girare!” Which translated means, “We're not here to make friends. We're here to ride.” And maybe today, just like 20 years ago when those guys started riding together, it was true, but along the way, you can’t help making some friends, and you can’t help taking the measure of a few of those riders.

And to bring this rumination to a close, I have to confess it was inspired by considerations of one of those riders - the eternally strong Sam J. He recently had the opportunity to do me and my family a good turn, and he did so in spades. And while I am deeply gratified by it, I am not surprised. I had taken the measure of this man a long time ago. While we rode bikes.


  1. This is fantastic. It captures so many of the sentiments I have about riding, and the people I ride with. Kudos.

  2. as a response, I see TMR through the prose of Walt Whitman: