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Take Your Partner For A Ride: On Love, Relationships and Bicycles

by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP

     A bike and its rider are a dynamic pair. A bicycle needs a rider if it has any hope of fulfilling its purpose, and a person with someplace to go or the need for speed and a face full of fresh air needs a bicycle. The bike’s moveable parts, when combined with a human being’s mental focus and physical balance, can propel both for quite a powerful - and often scenic - distance. Partnerships – especially between people making a life together in which every important choice one person makes has an effect on the others’ well-being – are a bit like bike and rider. Balance is key, focus required, shifting gears when necessary definitely recommended.

     May is National Bicycle Month - a perfect kick-off for the summer fun in the sun – an ideal time to reflect on the relationship-building character of a form of exercise that counts Albert Einstein – who said that he “came up with the idea” of the theory of relativity while riding his bike – Mark Twain and H.G. Wells among its many famous fans. For some couples, bike-riding has featured prominently in every stage of their relationship and continues to be a touchstone of their togetherness.
     “Biking brought Russ and I together,” states Hope, a 40-year-old mother of 2 living in Brookfield WI. “We were both signed up on eHarmony for almost a year before we were matched up and that was only after I added biking to my profile.” Russell, who has Type 1 diabetes, is an avid bicyclist who rides in the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure - “a series of fundraising cycling events held in 43 states nationwide” that benefits important research efforts as well as entire community of people involved - every year since its inception. “A month into the relationship we went on a ten-mile bike ride together. From then until now, married and with two children, bike riding has become even more important for the relationship as it is a time that we set aside to purposefully spend time as a family. As the family grows and responsibilities become divergent, going on a bike ride is a way to spend time together and just have fun.”
     Melissa and John, an engaged couple who recently bought a house close to a bike path that goes on for miles along on the shores of Lake Michigan, can track a number of important relationship moments directly related to bicycling. They met Frasier’s Kelsey Grammar on a spontaneous bike-ride in Central Park last summer, and one of their early dates involved a treasure hunt around Madison, WI, a town unfamiliar to both of them. Each “treasure” was an obstacle course or puzzle where they “had to do some crazy stunt, like running around a circle carrying your partner on your back while knocking a croquet ball around the outside,” Melissa explains. “This adventurous spirit of taking a risk with someone has been a very strong bonding theme throughout our relationship. Riding our bikes throughout it all has been our metaphor.”
In addition to the many health benefits of bicycling, Hope appreciates that “it forces you to slow down the pace of life and enjoy life more. Instead of seeing scenery whiz by from a car, you get to enjoy the landscape in your own time and on your own power.” Melissa reflects on the parallels between relationships and riding bikes in rough weather or difficult circumstances. “Both facilitate a strong need for clear communication and team work,” she explains, e.g. "You bring the back pack, I'll bring the lock, I know how to change a flat, I have a credit card if we get really in a bind..." It is a connection in cooperation and team work. Knowing that the person in front of you will check back to make sure you're still there, or will make sure the intersection is clear before riding out, or that at least someone has a spare tire - all of this is part of riding bikes, and all this is part of building a relationship. Knowing that your partner has your back, trusting that they're looking out for you, is the foundation of building a strong relationship.”

     We can ride for a cause: Hope and Russ plan to participate in the 25K Tour de Cure this year without the children. Russ also participates in a two-day 150-mile bike ride from Milwaukee to Madison that benefits multiple sclerosis research. We can ride for health and happiness. Whatever the reason, bicycling is a physical expression of that which makes relationships both exciting and sustainable: balance, movement, connection and freedom. The road of life may be bumpy, rocky, smooth or shoot straight up an impossibly steep hill, and our partners on the great ride that is falling in love and creating a home can make all the difference to the quality of the journey.

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