In 1907, philosopher and mystic Rudolf Steiner put forth this hypothesis that we live our lives in seven-year cycles. The first three cycles, up to age 21, are when the body matures and our personalities are formed. The second three cycles, to age 42, are when we become aware of and part of society. And the third three cycles are when we begin to develop clarity and spiritual maturity. As every seven year cycle concludes, we experience shifts in our being, our way of perceiving the world. Standing at the cusp of my ninth seven-year cycle, emerging from the exceptional isolated weirdness of Covid life, I have been thinking a lot about this. I feel much different than I did seven years ago. And a whole lot different than the seven years before that. So, maybe Rudolf was onto something.
Birth-7 years old. Nothing at all matters. Everything is awesome. If it had wheels it was magic, and the most important thing in the world. When I was three I allegedly painted dad’s green Austin A7 with a fetching pastiche of bright red finger paint, and a yellow Tyke Trike was my first foray into what would become a lifelong affair with bikes. There followed in short order a scooter that I remember mounting with the seat from dad’s BSA Bantam and then ripping down the steep hill on our block only to have the seat fall off, leaving me dragging behind it. Dad was impressed at my inventiveness, relieved to find the missing seat from his Bantam, and amazed that I had managed to flay the tops of my bare feet but not the soles. When I was five a real live bicycle entered my life. 20” wheels. Metallic blue. It could fly. I swear it could.
8-14 years old. Things begin to matter. Material desires emerge. A yellow Raleigh Mustang with ape hangers and a sparkly blue banana seat. I felt swindled. All the cool kids were getting Raleigh Choppers, which were essentially bad ripoffs of Schwinn Stingrays. The Choppers had these wannabe Hurst-style shifters on their top tubes that mangled the genitalia of many a young boy, the frames all broke spectacularly, and after a while the Mustang didn’t seem like such a bad call. Skids for days in the wet green grass of the back paddock, jumps made out of scrap lumber, and the unmistakable ringing thrill of coaster brake arms failing at speed. By the time I was 12, the Mustang succumbed to the myriad brutalities visited upon it, and I fell into the world of BMX. That was a half-hearted and thoroughly forgettable dalliance truncated by my growing fixation with internal combustion.
15-21 years old. Things matter more. Material desires coalesce alongside the rush of puberty and an irrational sense of invincibility. Failing to learn a single lesson about discipline and money during this period of life, I barely made It out of high school, worked three different jobs for a year following graduation, and moved from New Zealand to the US with a vaguely formed idea of being a motocross racer. That identity got crushed hard (along with the beautiful gas tank of my Husqvarna 250) when I cased the doubles on the back straight of Baylands Raceway while battling for last place in the 250 Novice class. Dirt bikes were expensive, racing them was really expensive, and California seemed filled to the brim with people who had an enviable combination of discipline, talent and income. I lacked all three. But the guys I was working construction with were all ditching their dirt bikes and getting into these newfangled mountain bikes, so …
I feel much different than I did seven years ago. And a whole lot different than the seven years before that. So, maybe Rudolf was onto something.
22-28 years old. Everything matters, but what matters most is going faster. Full of life, but short on common sense. Good lord, what a blast! From hiking boots and bullmoose bars to Sidi cyclocross shoes and shaved legs. From working construction and going to college at night to working in bike shops and getting paid 10 cents a word to write for California Bicyclist magazine, falling facefirst into the addiction of mountain bike racing. A seven-year headlong adventure without any safety net. Late night road trips to races in the mountains, sleeping in the dirt under the stars, subsisting on coffee, ramen and burritos, always running out of gas, barely making it back in time for work on Monday, constantly penniless, laughing the whole time. Diamond Back, Diamond Back, Bridgestone, Yeti, Retrotec …
29-35 years old. Everything matters, but there are consequences. Mountain biking was changing massively during this seven year cycle; 1993 to 2000. I had a fortunate front row seat, got to ride all the new everything, and for reasons best not gone into here, I reacted to much of this newness by spending most of the decade riding and racing singlespeeds. I should note that the one-speeding is not what defined my athletic glass ceiling. But still, the athletic writing was on the wall (or the ceiling). Not only were there scads of riders who could hurt more and ride faster than me, there was a whole new school of riding beginning to evolve, and an emergent skillset and bravery that I could only marvel at.
36-42 years old. Different things begin to matter. Somewhere in this cycle were first realizations (with apologies to Robert Earl Keen) that maybe the road might not go on forever, and that the party might in fact end. Fifteen years of racing bikes and living without health insurance or any sort of money in the bank was beginning to leave its mark. A ruptured Achilles tendon during the inaugural TransRockies race was the signal from my body that it was growing tired of my constant disrespect. If I wasn’t going to be diligent and disciplined with my athletic pretensions, maybe was time for me to slow down and be less self-abusive. This would prove to be easier said than done. Riding hurt most of the time, and I was getting slower. These were harsh realities to face.
43-49 years old. Different things take over. Crater a relationship, burn a career, lose a father, ride less, gain weight, lose self-respect. On the flip side, become a father, grow emotionally, realize that there are many ways to find joy in life and that pain is relative. Riding less than ever, adulting a whole lot more, displacing carefree recklessness with duty and obligation. This was late in life for me, and I had skated by without really having to be responsible or pay attention to anything else for such a long time that it was seemingly impossible to find some balance, to find a way to get the adulting done and still find time to shred. These were the hardest years, and the bike sometimes felt like a cruel judge. But at other times, it felt like the only thing keeping me afloat.
50-56 years old. Nothing at all matters. Again. Finally. From the nadir of my late 40s, I fell back in love with bikes. Not in the obsessive manner that defined my 20s and 30s, but in a calmer, more appreciative way. No longer striving to identify as mountain biker, or even cyclist, I’m just stoked to ride. Wherever, however. Slow, fast, short, long; whatever the day allows. I still laugh with surprise when I can get the front wheel to push just the right amount in a loose corner. I still smile when I can get a wheelie to stick for more than a few pedal strokes. I still suuuuck at jumping. I have a new bike. It is yellow. It is awesome. I am slow. This is totally okay. I have ridden more in the first half of this year than the entirety of the year before, and the year before I rode more than the previous year. I lack the intensity and conviction to fake it as a racer anymore, but my back and knees don’t hurt. These are good signs. Maybe I am finding balance. Or maybe I just gave up fretting about it. I haven’t finger painted any cars lately, but I am not ruling out the possibility. Sign me up for another seven years.