What We Really Need

I had an epiphany. And this was not just any epiphany.  It was an epiphany about bicycling.

It seems that as I get older, I have epiphanies all the time. Those lyrics to that Michael Jackson song from the 80′s — the other day when I was walking the dog I finally figured out what he was saying. Sha-mo!!! The essential flavor ingredient in my favorite ‘secret recipe’ dish from the best restaurant in Los Angeles — it came to me last week when I was waiting in line at the bank. Spicy smoked paprika!!! How an observer simultaneously experiences accelerated and decelerated time while crossing a black hole’s event horizon — it hit me like a slap in the face while brushing my teeth before bed, watching the foam from my mouth drop into the sink. Quantum gravity!!!

Yeah, stuff like that.


Call it what you want. Awareness. Realization. Vision. Epiphany. That instant when your eyes widen. Your stare fixes on something that is both right in front of you and a million miles away. Your mouth drops open. Your lips make a big O. If you were in a cartoon, it’s the moment when the lightbulb appears above your head. These ‘cognitive incidents’ can happen at any time. And, when they do, the effect is profound. They can provide an answer to a recent quandary or something that has alluded you for years. Regardless of what you believe concerning the nature of epiphanies — the momentary opening of a window to our shared consciousness; inspiration from The Creator; a brief connection to energy from a parallel universe; your brain sparking from the effects of a Starbucks quadruple espresso shot venti mocha latte — these moments of understanding can help us solve problems both large and small.

When it comes to cycling, if you ride a bike long enough, you will experience an epiphany.

My epiphany was about needs. Our needs.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow’s seminal work in psychology, the Hierarchy of Needs, defined a set of basic human needs: physiological (air, water, food, clothing, shelter, reproduction), safety (personal and financial security, health and well being), belongingness (friendship, intimacy, family), esteem (respect from others, self-esteem), and self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential). Maslow theorized that humans move through this set of needs as they develop, making cognitive and emotional progress as they satisfy the most basic physiological needs to attain the transcendent attribute of self-actualization. Sound familiar?

Cyclists aren’t (much) different from most humans. We have needs just like everyone else. Our needs can also be described in a hierarchical set:

1. Safe places to ride


Cyclists and cycling communities cannot thrive without safe places to ride. Bike lanes, bike paths, and multi-use off-road trail systems are perhaps the most basic of needs for cyclists. Add to this funding from the government and private sector for bicycle-related infrastructure design, construction, and maintenance; law enforcement agencies that are trained to effectively interact with cyclists in a non-threatening, collaborative manner; and a legal system that is capable and willing to protect cyclists and their basic human rights while they engage in their chosen form of efficient transportation and peaceful recreation. Safe places to ride are both a need and a right.

2. Bike clubs not race teams


The vast majority (99.9%) of cyclists are not racers.  They embrace cycling for its physical, psychological, and societal benefits. But, look at the ads in any bicycle magazine and you would think that every cyclist is a racer. The bicycle industry must come to the realization that building bicycles and bicycle marketing campaigns for those cyclists who aspire to be racers — and designing those bicycles within the narrow parameters set out by competitive cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) — further perpetuates the elitist stereotype that plagues competitive cycling. Of the top 10 most popular sports in the world, soccer (futbol) is No. 1 with 3.5 billions fans worldwide. Golf is No. 10 with 390 million fans worldwide.  Cycling doesn’t even make it into the top 20. Why? The cost of a soccer ball in Haiti: 21 cents. The cost of a Trek Madone 7.7 anywhere: $7,239. Go figure.

3. Function over form


Once cyclists make the cognitive shift from “bicycle = recreation” to “bicycle = transportation”, a vast new frontier of experiences is opened to them. Seeing the bicycle as a mode of transportation makes it an essential part of any society. You can find bicycles in every part of the world; from downtown New York City to the middle of the Amazon rainforest. In many countries, owning a bicycle provides independence and the ability to move between places for business and pleasure. It becomes a thread in the social fabric of the community. And, this is not a bicycle with a full carbon fiber frame, dual-suspension, deep-dish tubular wheels, integrated seatpost, disc brake, and wireless electronic shifting.  This is a bicycle with a steel frame, two spoked wheels, single speed, friction brake, mustache handlebar bicycle — dependable, indestructible, practical. The United Nations estimates that there are over 1 billion bicycles in the world — half of those being in China. Yes, the humble bicycle moves 1/5  of the world’s population. Think about it and make the shift.

4. Democratization


When we ride, we share the road with cars, share the trail with hikers and equestrians, and share the experience with fellow cyclists. Cycling is all about sharing. Democracy is about sharing, too. There is no greater democratic catalyst than the bicycle. Susan B. Anthony credited the bicycle with helping the U.S. women’s suffrage movement succeed. More recently, members of the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen used social media and bicycles to communicate across villages, cities, and international borders. Bicycles can be purchased, but the bicycling experience cannot be packaged, marketed, and sold. It cannot be monetized. To those bike shops that attempt to make money by ‘selling’ seminars to beginning cyclists on basic cycling skills, effective cycling, and learning the rules of the road — be warned! When The Revolution comes, your stores will burn alongside the Big Banks, Wall Street, the Military Industrial Complex, the Bio-Pharma-Tech Companies, and the law firms. The responsibility for teaching beginning cyclists the how’s, why’s, and wherefore’s of bicycling lies solely with the cycling community. Teach as you have been taught. And, do it willingly and for free!

5. Transcendence


The bicycle as recreation. The bicycle as transportation. The bicycle as catalyst for change. Bicycles have the capacity to re-shape the world. But, first we must let go of titles and classifications and strata.  No more roadies. No more mountain bikers. No more triathletes. No more hucksters. No more honches. No more freds. Whether we are on the road or on the trail, we are brothers and sisters born of the same experience. It doesn’t matter how fast we go, how far we go, how many gears we have, how much our bike weighs — we are a collective of like-souled individuals.  Transcendence is the pinnacle stage, the final need that is fulfilled.  It is attained through our shared experience of pushing one pedal down, then the other, until our conscious effort becomes sublimated, fluid, interlaced and woven into a supple fabric — the fabric of a flag, the fabric of a bandage, the fabric of a jersey, the fabric of a people — of cyclists.

So, that was my epiphany. It came to me as I reached the summit of a 25 mile climb.  Looking out over the mountains behind me and the plains laid out far below me, it was the perfect place to reflect on what bicyclists need. What we really need.



About The Author

Aaron MTB Nov 2014 SmallAaron Hanson (a.k.a The Cap’n) is manager of the Southern California Colavita – Children of War Foundation Regional Amateur Team.  A 28-year veteran of the sport and lifestyle of cycling, Aaron has raced both road and mountain bikes, advocated for bicycle transportation funding and facilities at the city, county, state, and federal levels, planned and facilitated numerous bicycle events, and helped several municipalities and counties create viable bikeway master plans.

Aaron has been honored by IMBA, CORBA, Clif Bar, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Ventura, the City of Simi Valley, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate for his bicycle advocacy work.  He has even been on the race podium a few times.

Aaron can be contacted via e-mail at:

(c) 2014

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