Most famous of all, perhaps, was The Time Machine (1895), in which the hero travels to a distant future where human beings have split into two distinct groups. While the book portrays both the Morlocks and the Eloi as repugnant in different ways, the 1960 film version depicts the Eloi as elegant idiots whose minds and bodies have gone soft from generations of idleness.
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Wells was an incredibly imaginative man but not even he could foresee a future in which idleness led not to a reduction in human stature but instead to a corpulent expansion. Nonetheless, the basic concept of time travel continues to seduce us. We long to know the future and wish we could change—or at least revisit—the past.
People who say they have lived with no regrets always strike me as disingenuous. In my own experience there are so many things I would have done differently that I could fill a book with them. But you’re not here to read about my clumsy attempts at romance, career and scholarship; this is a cycling blog. If I could pedal backwards on the Fixed-gear Bike of Life, here’s what I would change:
While living in central Illinois in 1978 I rode my Huffy road bike from my home in Charleston to Paris and back, a distance of 56 miles. That was pretty ambitious for a 13-year-old who had only recently stepped up to a 10-speed from a Sears BMX bike. But I never followed up on that ride. I lived in a small town surrounded by miles of quiet country roads. It would have been a great place to develop as a rider. If I could go back to that time, I would throw myself into the sport and in my teens come to an understanding of cycling that I didn’t reach until my 40s.
As a high school student in Racine, I replaced my ugly Huffy with an sharp new Raleigh Rapide. One of my friends had a gorgeous Schwinn Le Tour and we talked about doing something more serious than just riding around town, but nothing ever materialized. As soon as cars and girlfriends entered the picture, the bikes began to collect dust. I chose to sell mine rather than to take it with me when I moved to suburban Philadelphia in 1988. If I could go back to that time, I at least wouldn’t sell the Raleigh! Racine wasn’t the most bike-friendly town but if my head had been in the right place I could have become a serious rider there. My girlfriend was very athletic and almost certainly would have joined me if I had embraced the sport.
I didn’t own a bike or even ride a borrowed one from 1988 until 2003. That’s unbelievable to me now. Having missed opportunities in the 1970s and 1980s, I should have seen the benefits of cycling during the 1990s. Early in the decade I was back in Wisconsin, living on the east side of Milwaukee. I had a job downtown and usually drove or took the bus to work. A bike would have been just as quick and so much cheaper. With the money I spent on parking I could have bought a very fine bicycle. And by this time I was getting really out of shape.
In 1996 I got married. My wife and I knew we wanted to start a family and I knew improving my fitness could only benefit our future children. I bought a treadmill and some dumbbells. I got stronger, but cycling was still far from my mind. We moved to the suburbs, first Oak Creek and then Hales Corners. I had access to good roads. I also had a new coworker who was a very accomplished road racer. He spoke enthusiastically about the sport, but his tales of 100-mile training rides seemed insane to me. Had I been more receptive, I would have found a willing mentor.
I moved to West Bend in June 2001 and it is at that moment that the regrets stop. Two more years would pass before I bought a mountain bike just to ride around town for a little exercise, but I don’t think I would go back in time to change the progression of events that took me from 2003 to today. I would erase the handful of crashes I’ve had, but the other moments of my cycling career—whether glorious or shameful—probably needed to happen just the way they did to bring me to where I am now.
I like where I am now, and I like the future into which I think I am heading.