Despite its name, there is some actual writing in The Quotable Cyclist: Each chapter of starts off with a little essay. There’s also a prologue to the whole thing, which is what I’ve reprinted here, along with one quote from each chapter.
All my life I’ve searched for ways to explain to the real world what cycling means to people like you and me. All my life I’ve failed. First came incoherent, whooping words of pure joy as I almost accidentally discovered the exquisite flight that comes when you finally combine balance and self-propulsion. There were the awkward words of an adolescent wearing funny shorts and trying vainly — in both senses of the word — to convince a parade of girls that bikes were cooler than cars. There were the financial negotations with confused, angry parents after I spent a summer carrying bricks up scaffolding to earn tuition money then blew everything I had on a Schwinn Paramount. Just last year I found myself fumbling for the right words to show my uncle the deep flaw in his question: When would I be done with cycling and start writing about something?
And all the times in between, probably much like all your times. A writing (not riding) mentor once told me that, no matter what, I should never try to describe a sunset or an orgasm. When I try to express the beauty and spirituality and grace of cycling I sound like a guy hosting an infomercial for sunsets.
When I began this book, I imagined it as a way for us to reach across the gap, to touch the other side and let them know how it felt to be one of us. I imagined that the sheer scope of the project — love, hate, speed, adventure, disaster, glory, desire, freedom and all the rest — would be enough to build the impossible bridge. That might happen, you know, and it would be nice. But — as isn’t uncommon on a long ride — after this one started, something became more important than the original intent.
These nine-hundred-plus quotes — from more than four hundred pro and amateur racers, recreational riders, writers, mechanics, poets, politicians, scientists, coaches, actors, philosophers and even a few real people (as I once heard noncyclists described) — form a kind of communion for the initiated . . . a celebration and a love song to cycling greater than any single person could create alone. It’s all in here in this chorus of voices, everything you and I can never say about cycling not only to the world but also to our world. I’ve never found anything that speaks to me so clearly yet so eloquently about what it means to ride, to train, to love a bike, to thrash your body and dream of greatness while understanding exactly who you are.
Now, see, there I go again. Sunsets, half price. You’ll just have to read the quotes to see what I mean.
“I love the bicycle. I always have. I can think of no sincere, decent human being, male or female, young or old, saintly or sinful, who can resist the bicycle.” —William Saroyan
“We were just having fun. I always liked that line. It’s true — that’s all we were doing in the late ’70s. People think there was some marketing genius behind the development of mountain bikes, but we were just having fun.” —Joe Breeze
“Sometimes the road was only a lane, with thick hawthorne hedges, and the green elms overhung it on either side so that when you looked up there was only a strip of blue sky between. And as you rode along in the warm, keen air you had a sensation that the world was standing still and life would last forever. Although you were pedaling with such energy you had a delicious feeling of laziness.” —W. Somerset Maugham
“The bikers rode past. They were moving so fast. Hills were nothing to them. They had light bikes, expensive ones, and the climbs were only excuses to use the great strength of their legs.” —Rick Bass
“It’s not the fastest rider who wins a downhill, it’s the one who gets to the bottom in the shortest time.” —Greg Herbold
Speed, Sprinting and the Noiseless Rush
“I’m fascinated by the sprinters. They suffer so much during the race just to get to the finish, they hang on for dear life in the climbs, but then in the final kilometers they are transformed and do amazing things. It’s not their force per se that impresses me, but rather the renaissance they experience. Seeing them suffer throughout the race only to be reborn in the final is something for fascination.” —Miguel Indurain
“At the beginning stages, it is definitely the total physical development that is important. Later on you develop more mental concentration, mental preparation to maintain the physical capacity. Next you develop the spiritual. —Eddy Merckx
“It doesn’t get any easier; you just go faster.” —Greg LeMond
“Men invented war so they could be among themselves. In peacetime, they have bike racing.” —Gabriele Rolin
Winning and Losing
“I am not a bad loser. It is probably a fault. Rarely do I feel down after losing. But I take the victories very much in my stride as well, not being able to enjoy the moment of success as much as others. My aim has always been to be a good professional. When I sit down and try to work out my atitude to winning and losing, it comes out thus: I am not a bad loser, it is just that I prefer to win.” —Stephen Roche
“The way you learn is, you go around a corner and crash. Then you know that’s too fast so the next time you go a little slower.” —Ron Kiefel
The First Ride
“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.” —Mark Twain
Riding With Style
“My biggest fear is that they will confuse me with another racer.” —Claudio Chiappucci
“I finally concluded that all failure was from a wobbling will rather than a wobbling wheel.” —Frances Willard
The Tour de France and Other Great Races
“The whole world has become much more interested in security. There is so much misery in this world that everybody looks for peace and quiet. The Tour de France refuses security. It involves and needs the concept of facing pain and defeat. Sacrifice is partly responsible for the Tour’s popularity. Sacrifice is part of cycling’s legend, certainly part of the Tour’s legend.” —Jacques Goddet
Legends, Myths and Champions
“On the outside, Merckx appeared calm but inside he hid a tormented and worried soul. In the middle of the night before a big classic, he would awaken to heighten his bicycle seat a millimeter or correct the inclination of his handlebar before returning to bed totally appeased. This dictator was an angel. This sphinx was an ecumenical and taciturn human being that destiny refused to spare.” —Philippe Brunel
Paid to Pedal
“I dedicate this victory to God, my mother, my family and those who pay me.” —Chepe Rodriguez
“The world lies right beyond the handlebars of any bicycle.” —Daniel Behrman
“A bicycle hides nothing and threatens nothing. It is what it does, its form is its function.” —Stewart Parker
Everything is Bicycle
“To possess a bicycle is to be able first to look at it, then to touch it. But touching is revealing as insufficient; what is necessary is to be able to get on the bicycle and take a ride. But this gratuitous ride is likewise insufficient; it would be necessary to use the bicycle to go on some errands. And this refers us to longer uses . . . But these trips themselves disintegrate into a thousand appropriative behavior patterns, each one of which refers to others. Finally, as one could foresee, handing over a bank note is enough to make a bicycle belong to me, but my entire life is needed to realize this possession.” —Jean-Paul Sartre
A Vehicle for Revolution
“Few articles ever used by man have created so great a revolution in social conditions as the bicycle.” —U.S. Census Report, 1900
Women in Cycling
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel . . . the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” —Susan B. Anthony
“I think the most ridiculous sight in the world is a man on a bicycle, working away with his feet as hard as he possibly can, and believing that his horse is carrying him instead of, as anyone can see, he carrying the horse.” —George Bernard Shaw