Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

27 November 2018

The Original Sports Technology?

Last week, many of us gave thanks for one thing or another on the American holiday dedicated to expressing gratitude by engorging one's self with food.

Some of us were grateful for family and friends; others, simply to be alive. Then there are those who were grateful to stores for opening an hour earlier than they did last year.  You know what they say:  Early bird gets the bargains.

Well, all right, I don't know who said that.  But a fellow named Tom Taylor and I both gave thanks for...you guessed it...the bicycle.  Of course, we are both happy that a thing that gives us so much pleasure was ever invented.  He, however, gives another really good reason to be happy that the Draisienne, or whatever you consider the first bicycle, was invented.



You see, Taylor is, a mountain biker and involved in other outdoor sports.  At least, that's what I gather from what he says.  And he lives in Moab, after all.

In his article, he said the bicycle was "the original sports tech."  What he means is that, as far as we know, cycling was the first sport or leisuretime activity based on a product that required a certain amount of industrial capacity to produce.

As he explains, you don't need shoes to run and, "a branch falls from a tree, you find a pebble on the ground, and now you can play some form of cricket, or hockey, or baseball or golf.  Yes, you can make a better golf club and ball, but you can play regardless."  

He has a point:  Some of the most accomplished players in the "ball sports" learned how to play with nothing that resembles proper equipment.  They might've just rolled up whatever they could find to make a "ball" and, if sticks or clubs were necessary, twigs, branches or 2x4s from the junkyard stood in.  Naturally, some such athletes played barefoot until they signed their first professional contracts.

It also goes almost without saying that they played in the absence of any formal leagues, or any other kinds of structure or rules. For that matter, they sometimes didn't play on anything resembling a playing field or court.

I am talking about no less than Pele and Sammy Sosa.  Also, any number of hockey players used rocks or other things for "pucks" and anything that could be used to swat served as their hockey sticks.  I even read about one world-class player--I can't recall which, at the moment--who didn't even have skates until he joined a semi-professional league:  He and his friends would simply glide around on the ice on their most slippery shoes.

Now, we have often heard of champion cyclists who came from humble backgrounds, whether the family farm or a gritty indstrial town.  One could say that, for such reasons, a cyclist can't come from the same dire poverty as a football player from the favela because it takes more money to buy even the cheapest bicycle than it does to fashion a ball or stick.  Even if a budding young racer has to borrow a bike from a relative, friend or neighbor, simply having that kind of access signals less deprivation than not having a playing ball.

All of this might explain why no Grand Tour (or other major race) winner has come from an undeveloped country, while marathons and other running races are routinely won by competitors from places like Ethiopia and Jamaica.  This explanation makes sense, at least to me, when you realize that many European and American cyclists are also runners (and I'm not talking only about triathloners).  As Tom Taylor says, you can learn how to be a runner without shoes.  But it's pretty hard to learn how to ride a bike if, well, you don't have a bike.

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