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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tao and the art of Mountain Biking

I have been getting some books about Taoism out of the library. Why? I have had this hairbrained idea to write an article about mountain biking and Taoism. I’m sure there are links between the two. In fact, there *are* links, and it’s been fascinating trying to link a passion (biking) with a philosophy that has always intrigued and appealed.

Writing the article proved to be difficult though. I can’t seem to capture in words the links that seem so clear in my mind. I fear that one would have to be an experienced master of Taoism in order to sell the case properly without sounding like a complete pseudo-hippy muppet.

But I do like the way that my sporting passion has linked me into some other expansion of experience. Too often biking is one dimensional. You ride. You talk. You think. And all about bikes. Where to ride, how to ride, what kit to ride with, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. In Italy it was paramount – I had one intellectual conversation in five weeks of riding and guiding. And that conversation was with a couple of doctors, about the ethics of abortion. It was pretty heavy, but using the brain for something other than calculating gear ratios was a godsend.

Toaism seems always to have been hovering at the edges of my awareness. My father travelled to the Far East a lot when I was a kid, and he brought back a couple of the main books, The Tao Teh Ching and the ________. I read them without understanding (probably the best way to approach Toaism).

The Tao of Pooh and Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Riding were also read as a teenager. And now I have been reading more deeply into the subject. It is fascinating and I get a warm feeling when I realise that through my biking, I have been lead to something else.

Mountain biking is a Toaist pastime, if you let it be. When you flow over technical singletrack, you are using wu-wei, use of skill without skill. What does this mean? It means you have accumulated knowledge and experience to the point where you no longer need to fight and wrestle and push the bike through a section, you simply go with the flow, and let the bike roll through the path, perfectly balanced.

When you come to a tough new section of singletrack, using wu-wei you call upon all your previous skill and mastery. When you are working well on the bike, any new obstacle can be tackled without too much stress. We know what that feels like. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it leaves you with a true feeling of satisfaction. That is the mastery of a tao.

It sounds blindingly obvious, but this is but one example of a fundamental Taoist principal being related to biking.

There are many more parallels, the yin-yang, the “thirty spoke wheel”, following a path. And for all the slackers, the Taoist achieves something through the act of doing nothing. Sitting on the sofa and thinking about biking is suddenly a good thing!

Facetiousness aside, I’ve discovered that as a mountain biker I can take many of the Taoist principals and apply them to my riding. It’s not some religion, it’s a way of thinking, and it even allows me to make some of my rides into meditations. I finish them feeling somehow more whole and more appreciative of, well, everything.

You may think – hell, you probably think – this is a load of old crap, and why not just ride the bike? Absolutely fine.

Even I think that it’s a little hippyish, and feels like I am trying to artificially fit one hobby into something else. Whether the Tao Biker really exists I am not sure, but even if he doesn’t, I am wiser. And this wisdom came about from the joy of biking, and the crazy ideas that you get when out on the trail.

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