Cycling gives me a place to connect when nothing makes sense Cycling is especially good for people with long-running knee problems or health issues. I've been able to do everything I've wanted to, but a clamor of what-ifs were often in the back of my mind.

Just like life, riding my bike doesn't always make sense. But that's why I love it

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


For a little bit of joy these days, NPR is taking some time to celebrate the things we are really into, the stuff that keeps us going beyond the news. For NPR's Bill Chappell, that means hopping on his bike and pedaling out into the world.

BILL CHAPPELL, BYLINE: I'm a reporter for NPR, so it's my job to make sense of things. That's not always easy. But when I sat down to think about this essay and why I love cycling, I ran into another challenge. I seemed to make the most and the least sense when I'm riding my bike. On a bike, my brain disengages from stress. Life settles down to simple rhythms. My feet are spinning. My wheels are spinning. But my mind is calm. Throw in a good podcast or music, and I'll be gone for hours. On a nice long ride, you start finding new layers of yourself, new bursts of energy. That's when I feel like my body's actually incinerating little stresses I've accumulated. And when we published this essay on NPR's website, it turned out I wasn't alone. People from around the country got in touch to say what cycling means to them, people like Gaby An-Nes and Ben Justick.

GABY AN-NES: It is just pure magic, how any problem seems to evaporate at the beginning. And when you finish your ride, you have the right answers or the courage to face it.

BEN JUSTICK: For me, cycling is more than just great exercise. It functions as a form of therapy.

CHAPPELL: And for me, riding a bike is kind of necessary. I've had knee problems since I was a little kid. In fact, I'm missing a fairly important ligament in my left knee. A surgeon took it out around my first birthday, along with a tumor that had grown under my kneecap. That meant I learned to walk in a full leg cast. One leg grew a little shorter than the other, and I was self-conscious about the special shoes I had to wear. But on a bike, I was just like anyone else. And my doctor told little kid me over and over that riding a bike would build up muscles and hold my knee together. Mostly, it's been fine. I've been able to do everything I wanted and even some stuff my doctor didn't want me to - basketball, tennis, skiing. Sometimes a little chorus of what-ifs with start up in the back of my mind. What if I got really hurt and just kind of wrecked myself?

I'm not sure if this is a feature or a bug, but I learned to basically turn the volume down on that noise to block out what could go wrong. It's a good strategy for life. Focus on what you want to happen, not what you don't. But it's also something I think about when I wonder, why do I do the things I do? I admit to doing some kooky stuff on my bike, passing a Camaro in the left lane on a steep hill in the dark, riding through deep snow on a 20-mile hill trail, sprinting downhill so I can coast across a wide creek, legs straight out, hoping I have enough speed to carry me across the water. In a way, it seems right that ridiculous things should happen on a bike. It's one of the most impossible of human conveyances. Everything else we use to get around pretty much makes sense. But for years, scientists actually had no idea how or why a bicycle really works on a fundamental level.

My love for cycling started in high school when I used money from a summer job to buy a Nishiki Century. I spent hours reading cycling gurus like Sheldon Brown and Grant Peterson. When I watched the Tour de France, I became a fan of Jens Voigt, the German rider who's famous for making himself ride incredibly hard. And if his legs complained, he yelled at them.


JENS VOIGT: Shut up, legs.

CHAPPELL: My legs are doing OK. I like that riding a bike keeps me healthy, but I love that it gives me a place to depressurize. Leaning over my handlebars, I've come to terms with setbacks and made plans for the future. It's where I realized I should propose to my wife. It's where I mourned my mother after she died of ALS. And now it's where I think about my own kids. Like I said, I'm not alone. When we asked other cyclists to talk about what it means to them, here's what Leigh Kramarczuk (ph) said.

LEIGH KRAMARCZUK: When I first read your essay, I was two days off of tearing my ACL, which happened on a mountain bike doing something that could be called crazy. But, really, it, was just this fluke accident that made no sense to me.

CHAPPELL: The physics of bicycles may still be a mystery, but lots of things in life don't make sense, and they don't always have to. You've just got to keep moving.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's Bill Chappell on his love of cycling.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.