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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Rider 

Gord gave his passing approval to Tim Krabbé's The Rider, and having read it, I'm shocked.

I'm not shocked that Gord approved. I'm shocked at how good the novel (we'll discuss that designation in a moment) is.

First, let me direct you to the insightful review of the book on Rapha's site, which I found thanks to Mr. Ross. That review is written by Matt Seaton, himself the writer of a brilliant memoir of amateur bike racing, The Escape Artist. That's not what I want to write about here, but I'm assuming you've read that bit.

Now, where were we? Seaton's review emphasizes the insights into cycling that the book provides, and they are considerable. The book was first published in 1978, but nearly every detail is perfect. Bike racing hasn't changed, even if bikes have gained four cogs and lost five pounds since then.

What I read out of the book was a meditation on the nature of civilization. Krabbé juxtaposes cycling with society repeatedly, because cycling is a Hobbesian mirror-universe to civility. Bike racing, although it has its own laws, ethics, and etiquette, is a zero-sum game played out with many losers and few winners; it is a venue free of "the corruptive influence of civilization."

I think that Krabbé's theme is that cycling is the sort of game civil people put on for for fun. What kind of people would do this sort of thing as a pastime?

Of course, bike racing allows a rare purity of physical expression, and that's what keeps cyclists returning for more suffering of one type or another. And now I think we're back at flow again. Oh dear, I'm looping. Ten Thousand Hours!

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