Sunday, September 09, 2012

Recreational Exercise Retrogrouching

This Sunday morning, like most mornings in my urban neighborhood, it is difficult to walk anywhere without noting the significant number of folks riding bicycles. We, in Rochester, New York, are extremely fortunate (for the most part) to have a community infrastructure that is very supportive of bicyclists, especially those who are commuting.

Retrogrouch, Grant Petersen.
I have, however, noticed a shift among the majority of bicyclists in my community that mirrors one I observed (and survived) in the local running community a few years ago that continues to this day. It would seem that it is now in vogue to bicycle, not in a pair of shorts with sneakers and a t-shirt, but rather decked out with tights, form fitting spandex shirts, as if riding in the Tour de France. Stop by a local 5k and you're likely to see even the most pedestrian of "athletes" participating, similarly attired with GPS systems, hydration belts (yes, for a 5k!), and the running fashion accessory of the moment (at one point it was forearm sleeves and later, skorts).

It would seem that even the most wholesome of recreational activities of the past, such as riding a bicycle and jogging are now being turned into money-making endeavors where advertisers and specialty stores are building and developing wares for purchase that, while "cool," are not necessarily vital to performance. And are not necessary to enjoying the pure experience of the activity. While I commend the people who bicycle at a leisurely pace through the streets of River City, I struggle with the need for them to do so dressed like Lance Armstrong's less fit doppleganger.

While sitting in the doctor's office a few weeks ago I came across an article in the June 2012 issue of Men's Journal magazine, "Biking's Philosopher Crank", which gave me a term for how I feel about this, "retrogrouch." The article, written by Kolby Yarnell, focuses on bicycle builder Grant Petersen's personal movement to return to less complicated practices (diet, equipment and clothing) for bicyclist. 'The idea behind all of this, Petersen (the original "retrogrouch") writes, is to get people to 'enjoy bikes again, the way you did as a kid, before you got so serious.' He calls his disciples Unracers." The entirety of Yarnell's views on bicycling are further explored in his recent book Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike, which I unfortunately have not yet to have had the opportunity to read.

I would propose the same sort of backwards design philosophy might benefit the recreational running world, too.

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