Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

13 March 2015

The Moveable Feast Of Bicycle Racing

Recently, I mentioned Ernest Hemingway in one of my classes.  Not a single student had heard of him, let alone read any of his works.

I have very mixed feelings about that.  On one hand, I'm appalled that they'd gotten to college without knowing about one of the most famous American writers.  On the other, I'm not so sorry, as I've gone through periods of absolutely loathing him (the man as well as the work) for the all-but-complete absence of credible, let alone substantial, female characters and the testosterone-soaked world he created and image he projected.

Then again, there is an economy and precision in his language that few other writers have equaled--and which, ironically, makes him easy to parody.  And for all that he glorified masculine pursuits, few writers have shown war-weariness from a combatant's point of view as well as he did.  

Whether I've loved or hated him, there is one work of his I always loved:  A Moveable Feast, which was published posthumously.  Even after having lived in Paris and enjoyed a few extended visits in the City of Light, I am still moved by his descriptions of his life there.  Also, I always had the sense that if he ever let his guard down as a writer, he did so in writing that book.

If he was capable of sighing, he did it in that book.  In particular, he expresses regret--and seems almost apologetic--in talking about one topic about which he couldn't write: bicycle racing.

One of the things that all of those English teachers never mentioned while they were ramming The Snows of Kilimanjaro and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place down the throats of my generation was that, while in Paris, he became a big fan of bicycle racing and that he was an active cyclist through much of his life.  A friend of his, Mike Ward, introduced him to it after giving up betting on horse racing because, he said, he'd found something better in bicycle racing. 


Hemingway similarly became enamored of two-wheeled pursuits after turning his attentions away from the trotters.  Given that he wrote stories about hunting and fishing, which he also loved, it's no surprise that he would want to write about bike racing.  But, as he recounts in A Moveable Feast:

"I have started many stories about bicycle racing but have never written one that is as good as the races are both on the indoor tracks and the roads."

 He gives one possible reason why he couldn't write a story he liked about racing:

"French is the only language it has ever been written in properly and the terms are all in French and that is what makes it hard to write."  

Still, he is glad to have been introduced to the sport:

"Mike was right about it, there is no need to bet. But that comes at another time in Paris."

 Maybe it's time for me to read him again.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Uh, Ernest, of course. Where did I get Henry? Was I thinking of Henry Miller?

  3. MT--Henry Miller was also an active cyclist until late in his life. And he lived in Paris (actually, Clichy, which is just a few kilometers from l'Arc de Triomphe) at just about the same time Hemingway was there.

  4. boggles my mind that they don't know Hemingway. I thought this was required reading in high school?

  5. Anon--It was when I was in high school, too. Maybe we're old!