At first, Ciro Santilli was just cycling to work with an extremely shitty bike he bought on a second hand shop. He knew nothing about bicycles, and the seat was way, way too low, the seller should be prosecuted for selling that to him. Ciro later understood that this was even a woman's bicycle with a low top tube! That's what you get for being so cheap.
But then at some point he bought another slightly less cheap touring bicycle, but this time from a much more trustworthy source: a colleague who was leaving the company and moving out, and this one was actually reasonable. It was the right size to start with!!! And so at some point, out of boredom, Ciro started to adventure out of town on weekends to neighbouring villages, and it just felt so good.
Ciro had started by taking his laptop-computer on his backpack, and stopping at a cafe on some nearby town where he would do some coding over the weekends. Especially during winter, drinking tea with a cake as a break during bicycle ride was the best thing ever. In one place, there was even an electric heater that you could sit in front of. But at some point, those rides start being too short, and you start doing longer real rides without your computer. And since those take more time, you generally don't feel like staying on a far place for a very long time. So you end up creating the "real ride" category and "a small ride to get somewhere nice to code" category clearly split.
He had had the "cyclists high" version of "runner's high". A light euphoria in your head, or a pulsating feeling of pleasure in your legs and lower torso. This reminded Ciro of:
except that it is not as intense, and does not destroy your life.
Like other drugs:
  • it is addictive
  • you will have some bad trips, e.g. went the wrong way on a highway and are afraid you are going to die crushed by fast cars, got flat tire on 1 hour ride and have no repair kit, destination cafe is closed and you are hungry, wind got so strong you can barely ride, half an hour in you find out that it is way colder than what you expected.
    But for every such experience you survive, you learn something to reduce the chances it will happen, and it later feels great to completely master a situation you had suffered previously with.
    Ciro has also come to crave the need to go back to every bad trip spot, with better planning and circumstances, and make it feel amazing, to get the feeling that he has mastered the spot.
  • you will have hangover after a long amazing ride
  • the high become less intense the more you ride, and turns into something you have to do to just to feel normal. And that keeps you fit forever :)
Cycling just gives you an amazing sense of freedom! Ciro likes to imagine himself as a migratory duck when he is riding his bike on cold or wet days.
The prospect of being able to reach nice new places keeps the experience fresh for a very long time.
Ciro likes to decide location on a whim on the day prior. He checks the wind to try and ride parallel to it, and then let's his mind wonder, until an image comes up, some some nice place Ciro was to once. And so the next day, he goes in that general direction again.
Each time you try to find a new cool location, and sometimes you just stumble into amazing stuff without knowing about it. Ciro likes to keep open to new experiences. Keep your eyes open, and if something looks curious, just check it out! Talking to locals for tips is also a great way to find new stuff.
One thing that Ciro often feels is rather excited on the way out, and lightly afraid of going futher at each step because of the return. And during the return, there is a greater feeling of worry and resignation, as you are more tired, you've seen what you wanted to, and you just have to get yourself homehow, often going back through paths that you know better. This reminds Ciro of the ending of the film In the Realm of the Senses (1976), in which the sex obsessed couple plays a strangling sex game, and the man says that it hurts too much when she stops strangling him, and so she strangles him to death. She also cut his penis and carried it around in a bag afterwards, but that not relevant to the cycling analogy.
It is funny, but sometimes this gives Ciro the same feeling that he had as a child playing 2D exploration RPGs such Pokemon and Final Fantasy VI as you explore the wild: Ciro can often hear the FF VI overworld soundtrack, or imagine that a Charmeleon is hidden just around the corner of this new towns he's never been to before. Because in the places you live and have walked a million times, you know there is no magic. But in a new place that you're visiting for the first time? Anything is possible there.
The main difference from video games is that the real world is much much more detailed and diverse, and the freedom is much more real. Also you can't just walk into any house or field like in the games, and there are more empty or repetitive areas that can sometimes get boring since they weren't hand designed. And if you die on a car crash there are no continues.
Another type of game that comes to mind are survival games and roguelikes, where it feels amazing to learn things that actually mean the difference between life and death, and conquering the environment. But also permadeath.
It also gives Ciro the magic feeling of awe that he had as a child when walking around his beloved hometown of Santos, São Paulo, Brazil in the sunshine. And sometimes the feeling of excitement that he had as a child before getting gifts for Christmas. Ciro then once watched a YouTube video where ex-heroin addicts describe the feeling of taking heroin (orally, TODO can't find the video anymore, I think it was this guy) exactly like that: the anticipation of getting Christmas gifts, and he instantly understood.
Ciro also likes to pick random gravel from time to time. He believes that his style of route choice reflects Ciro Santilli's self perceived creative personality: Ciro likes to go where few other people go. And he only needs to go there once to be satisfied, not master and speedrun it afterwards.
Ciro avoids riding at night of course. But when it happens and you are prepared with the safety lights and the route knowledge, it makes for some of the most memorable rides of your life.
As you start cycling, you can feel the endorphins levels rise little by little, and your mind go deeper and deeper into slumber, getting close and closer to the ground, until you reach a point where you feel like you are part of the road. Trainspotting (1996)'s overdose scene comes to mind: www.youtube.com/watch?t=66&v=_IDJpB9de3E
It is amazing how you feel much less cold and hunger when cycling, to the point of being dangerous: always carry some chocolate bars in case you hit the wall! This is especially true at the beginning of the addiction, but with increased drug tolerance and knowledge/awareness/preparation, this starts to feel more normal.
As a friend of Ciro once said: you start to become like a wolf, who knows every cyclable little road in a 30km radius around your home.
As of 2020, Ciro is at that "should I buy a more reasonable road bike" moment. Let's see how it goes. If he does, cycling trips with the bike on a plane are likely.
As a software engineer, trying to repair a mechanical system like his bike reminds Ciro very strongly of how the physical engineering is brutal. Millimetric changes can make huge differences, it is mind blowing! Good lesson to have in mind.
Another thought that often comes to Ciro's mind is that bicycles are not regular possessions because they break a lot. Rather, they must be seen as a kind of transportation tax that you have to pay to feel amazing riding them rather than feel crappy riding a bus or train.
One interesting feeling that Ciro gets from cycling is that it is an intermediate between walking and riding a car. Ciro felt this especially strongly when he lived near work, at a distance that you could either walk or cycle. When you walk, you can just see so much more of the surroundings, it is astonishing. When you cycle, you just go much faster, and you attention is much more towards the front, so you feel surroundings much less. On the other side, cycling allows you to feel different things. E.g. in wider open areas, there isn't much detail to see anyway, so you can better feel those areas on the faster speed of the bike. A similar feeling applies to how pedestrians feel like flies when you are on a bike, just like you must feel like a fly to car drivers. Ciro later learnt that a person of similar literary ability to his, Ernest Hemingway, had a famous related similar quote:
It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them.... Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
Although Ciro does not run because of his itchy legs issue, he finds it interest to contrast cycling with running, notably:
  • cycling has a much higher setup time or wearing appropriate clothes, unlocking your bike, and of course, bike maintenance
  • running allows you to go into many more small paths that are not accessible by bike, thus offering a different sense of freedom. You can't go as far however.
So maybe the ultimate sport would be to cycle to a good cross-country running location and then run over there?
Ciro's natural work-time rhythm as of 2020 in his shitty Kross bicycle (2017) was a 60/70km ride every 3 days. Or a 35/40km ride every 2 days. Or one longer 100/120km ride every 4 days. Less than 35km does not count as a ride. His average speed on anything above 70km and relatively flat is always 20km. Always. Ciro once read that that one hunt every three days was a common Paleolithic practice. Cycling is obviously a substitute for hunting.
Video 1. Running Vs. Cycling | Who Is Faster - GCN Or GTN? by GCN (2017) Source. Talks about the interesting Bingley Harriers & AC "harriers vs cyclists" race held annually in the UK, in which you can either run or cycle! The course attempts to balance rough uphill terrain where runners get an advantage, with less rough downhill where cyclists have an advantage.
Video 2. Final Fantasy VI (SNES) Overworld theme. Source. This is what cycling feels like!!! The song is known in the West as "Terra's Theme" and it was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, who composed the entire game, and other entries of the Final Fantasy series.
Sometimes, these are more than just mechanics, but also have deeper life analogues. The title of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance comes to mind. Sometimes they are just mechanics.
With more philosophical metaphors:
  • when your bike breaks, that provides an unique opportunity to learn how to fix it: try to fix your own bike before taking it to the shop
  • if the wind is blowing against you on the way out, it will likely blow behind you on the way back. But remember that the other way around also applies.
  • always take one extra clothing layer than what you think you will need in your back pocket or sport bag, especially when time is changing fast in Sprint and Autumn. The weather on the road outside of town can change very quickly!
  • if you took a turn, and it feels wrong, stop to check the map, and possibly backtrack to safety. When it feels wrong, it usually is a bad idea, e.g. roads where cars are too fast/too many. But if you take a wrong turn and it feels right, then follow it without fear and see what it leads to!
  • don't carry a speedometer on your bike. Analysis can be done afterwards on Strava. The only measurement that matters is "how awesome am I feeling right now?". Live in the moment instead of checking your speedometer every 10 seconds.
  • cycle when you body calls it out of addiction, not out a goal that you've made up that must be reached
With less philosophical metaphors:
  • learn how much water and food you need to take for a trip. Otherwise, you will bonk at some time, when you least expect, it happens very suddenly.
    And then you better hope to God that you can find a food shop nearby. Luckily this was the case for Ciro's first and only bonk so far.
    And besides bonking all out, being tired and hungry makes you make stupid decision, especially where traffic is involved!
    Food is safety. Light is safety. Time is safety. Calm is safety. Chocolate bars and candy cannot count as lunch food, only delay lunch. A sandwich with ham cheese and salad is food. A bag of M&M's with a can of soda can bring you back from the dead.
    When you are not in familiar grounds, take twice as much as you think you might possibly ever need. Hofstadter's law.
    You will also learn that, surprise surprise, carbohydrates that you ate one or two days before a ride stay stored in your liver and muscles, and also greatly affect how quickly you will bonk, thus the concept of carbohydrate loading.
    Video 1. How Not To 'Hit The Wall' Or 'Bonk' – GCN's Guide To Fuelling While Cycling by Global Cycling Network (2016) Source.
    And surprise surprise: heat can also make you bonk! Who would have thought!
  • correct saddle hight is fundamental, your legs must be almost fully stretched at the bottom position
  • it is impossible to reach the correct tire pressure with (cheap?) hand pumps, their only purpose is to fill up a flat tire so you can get home after a long ride. But a track pump.
  • clean and lube your chain. The speed benefit is instantaneous and mind blowing. It also greatly improves gear shifting.
    This also prevents the chain from rusting, because the lube takes up the place where water would stay, and the muck makes it harder for water to evaporate.
    This is the most common bike maintenance mistake you see on the streets: people with that high pitched overly dry chain noise.
    Video 2. How To Get A Perfectly Clean Chain by GCN (2016) Source.
  • when a piece on your bike breaks and has no clear name written on it, you can try to identify it Google images
  • the more you watch YouTube maintenance videos without haste, the more you end up learn random new stuff that unexpectedly saves you later
  • if you took a turn, and it feels wrong, stop to check the map, and possibly backtrack to safety. When it feels wrong, it usually is a bad idea, e.g. roads where cars are too fast/too many
  • public place with lots of people are bicycle parking Hell, because due to anonymity and the large number of distractions, it becomes exponentially more likely that someone will fuck you bike somehow, e.g. by dropping it on the ground. Always search a bit for a reasonable place to park, and avoid overcrowded parking spaces at all costs.
  • gear change matters
    • when you get on your bike to start riding, start riding slowly and gradually switch up pedal forces and gears. Things may have shifted in a weird position as it gets kicked around in parking. Ciro managed to bend his derailleur like that!
    • spin to win, AKA learn to user your gears
    • it is not shameful to ride on your lower gears on a hill. You can actually go surprisingly fast with them, and conserve energy for later. Learn when to use each gear ratio.
  • learn to identify your suppliers:
    • www.wiggle.co.uk/: in Europe, this is best place to buy clothing from, and also good for some bike parts. It is the most organized website, and contains non-generic shit which Amazon is full of.
      For bike parts Amazon is also worth looking into however. Bike parts a bit different from clothing because you have to make sure that stuff fits, so you hopefully know exactly the part name before before buying it, and therefore website organization is not as crucial.
      Wiggle is however guilty of shameless: discounts that happen more often than not
  • always take your lights off the bike into your bag when you park, anywhere, and for any amount of time, even if a quick stop. Drug addicts are everywhere, always ready love to steal and resell them.
  • sometimes you do something stupid like going into a really muddy path, and it is really fun, because you've never been there in your life. But then your bike gets really dirty, and your feet are wet and freezing, and you promise yourself you will never do something that stupid again. But then you do it again in a different location, because it was too much fun. Once more unto the breach just comes to Ciro's mind every such time. Embrace this.
  • Google Maps download offline maps. This works very reliably, you can select the area you want to download. The only downside is that Google maps can't reliably show a route offline, and it does not contain national cycle route routes. Or those features are impossible for a software engineer to get working after trying for about 2 hours.
  • OpenStreetMap on browser with cycling layer: www.openstreetmap.org/#map=5/49.582/1.934&layers=C This is the best visualization of cycling routes I've found so far, contains both National Cycle Network and National Byway and a few others, and they are shown extremely clearly. But as a website it doesn't reliably work offline
  • the OsmAnd app for Android is the best offline free-ish OpenStreetMap viewer I've found so far. You only have to pay after reaching 5 region downloads, and it is very cheap if you want to do so. The cycle route view is not amazing, the routes are not so clearly marked and mixed with very similarly colored big roads, but with a bit of effort you can make them out. No routing though
  • I've heard Komoot can keep a predefined route (possibly auto planed) reliably offline, but haven't used it myself. I was not able to see National Cycle Route clearly marked anywhere on it
Sometimes you get annoyed to death with your bike not breaking or changing gears perfectly as you would like, and the people at the bike shop never do the job well enough.
The problem with bike shops is that the employees are already swamped with work, and they don't get paid any extra for doing more work.
As a result, paradoxically, they are often happier, and respect you more if you are trying to get them to help you to fix your own bike!
Also, for the same reason, they don't have the time to go for a quick test ride after a fix to ensure that the bug was actually fixed.
So they ignore things that would obviously be huge ridability benefits (although they might not be obvious to newbie customers), for which customers would gladly pay more money for.
But you start to learn how to do stuff yourself and it feel amazing when you finally get there (after infinite trial and error).
Ciro dreams of a bike shop that actually calls you for the appointment and then teaches you how to fix the thing.
So the best strategy is to have a backup bicycle, and when your main one breaks, you just try to to the fix yourself. That means:
  • identifying the broken piece
  • watching YouTube videos of how to do the job
  • buying a replacement and any missing tools on Amazon
  • giving it a shot
Then, if you fail to do the fix, that is OK, just take it to the bike shop, with the piece you've bought, and ask them to do it for you. At least this way you did not waste a golden opportunity to learn!
Ciro had a small accident in 2021. It wasn't ultra serious, a few cuts, but could have been worse. Here's a post mortem.
Ciro was going to cycle 120 km between two locations he had never cycled before. Ciro had cycled this distance before many many times, so he thought he could do it.
What went wrong:
  • on both ends were cities, larger than those Ciro is used to
  • on the start, was a port city. You do not want to cycle in port areas, ever! Lots of trucks, narrow side-walks, bad road, danger danger!
  • on both sides, endless suburbia. This means you have to check your map every 3 seconds to know which little stree to turn, which is very hard without a way to attach your map to your bike. Ciro had his on his pocket. You lose a lot of time like that!
  • there wasn't a lot of sunlight at the time of the year. Not criticial, but still, less than ideal.
  • during the ride, part of the "well documented and safe cycle route" was closed off for repairs. It was unclear what the best alternative would be. Ciro went down a path, but it turned to be horrendous countryside, he had to pull his bike over fences
  • by then, Ciro was tired and a bit late. He had only eaten sweets all day long. They give you calories, but there's always something missing in them.
  • Ciro arrived at the very very large target city, and it was getting dark, and it was rush hour, lots of cars. This was already back on the official bike path, but even those paths are torduous in suburbia
  • also, Ciro was meant to meet his wife later, and he was in a rush, worried that she would be worried about him
  • at one point, Ciro took the wrong turn for a few hundred meters
  • he realized, and turned back
  • when coming back, now extra impatient because o the wrong turn, the place he had come from was actually one way street for a very short while until the right turn, so Ciro went against the correct direction...
  • a car came. It was relatively slow, because the road was slight uphill for the car, and a turn. The slight downhill also meant Ciro was going a bit faster than he realized
  • Ciro tried to go into the sidewalk anyways to make sure he was clear off the car (he was already). When he tried, the wheel stuck, and he flew forward, hitting a wall slightly
This was a perfect example of how many small things add up to an accident.
You have to know when you are tired and hungry and impatient. This is where huge danger lies.
Stop at a shop, eat, sit down. Darkness is not that dangerous if you have lights.
Take a train outside of large cities if needed. Crossing large cities is not something to be taken lightly. You need calm and time to do so safely.

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