Bicycle Diaries: Risky business?

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14.4.09

Risky business?

or
rite of passage?


Folks who don't roll wonder why I risk my life daily on the seemingly mean streets of The Windy City. Taking a slightly masochistic pleasure in their concern, I usually respond by recounting the three times that I've been doored. Then I wrap up with something like, It ain't so bad ... all y'have to do is keep your eyes and ears open. I frankly don't see myself as a big risk-taker. Ride a freak bike or a brakeless fixie if you really want to be risky.

That being said, urban biking - even with a helmet, mirror, and lights (front & back) - is not without its risks. So why do 1000s of otherwise sane people do it? Deirdre Fernand may have an answer. Writing in The Economist's Intelligent Life Magazine, she explores the allure of extreme sports. Certainly urban bikers don't encounter the same dangers as those wacky folks who bungee jump, free-run, or BASE-jump. But what they do share is that in taking risks they are not an aberration
The aberration is those of us who are slumped on the sofa of life. If we remove risk from our lives ... we never find out our strengths and weaknesses. We stagnate.
Finding yourself by confronting and overcoming life's dangers used to be a necessary step on the road to adulthood. Pre-modern societies required adolescents to pass through an often dangerous rite of passage before being considered full members of the community. But in Western societies today, paranoid parents, touchy-feely educators, and insurance companies spend a lot of time removing risks from children's lives. Fernand believes this is a big, big mistake. She cites Mark van Vuyt, professor of psychology at the University of Kent.
In evolutionary terms it pays for young males to compete in excessive risk-taking. If they thought something was too risky and didn’t do it, they wouldn’t distinguish themselves and wouldn’t get female attention.
The good news is that, despite this nanny state of affairs, folks are confronting and overcoming life's dangers. It's not that they're all doing it to get chicks. Rather, they do it to test themselves and, G-d willing, to finish every day with the satisfaction of surviving to roll another day.

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