Monday, February 4, 2013

Faith and Mountain Biking

On this eve of the Jewish sabbath, I present an article (1st published last year) regarding mountain bike riding and the laws of Shabbat...

If you are a good Jew then you know that it’s forbidden to ride on the Shabbos – the day of rest. Basically, the Shabbos or Shabbat, symbolises God’s RDO after 6 days of hard work on the construction site of the entire world. So nowadays Jews celebrate this with a day off on Saturday. No work, no play, no chores – just a bit of prayer and peaceful contemplation.

If like me, you are a bad Jew who loves mountain biking then this poses somewhat of a dilemma seeing as how mountain bike races generally take place on the weekend and Saturday constitutes a fair chunk of that time (roughly 50% I am told by some of my nerdier friends who apparently love science).

So then, what to do when the Single Speed National Championships are scheduled for a Saturday morning in late October? My solution was to dress up as a Rabbi and look for some loopholes in the complex and ancient laws relating to Shabbat.

Is that a genuine black vest? You be the judge.

So you’re not allowed to ride on Shabbat. That’s it right? Unless there is a life-threatening emergency, the laws of Shabbat strictly forbid riding in vehicles (or on vehicles in this case) and also forbid mundane weekday activities, which includes cycling…although probably only if you are one of these guys:

…and probably not if you are one of these guys:

The Shabbos laws do not forbid walking (this is why you see so many Jews walking to Synagogue on a Saturday morning) and as a single-speed race often involves some walking up steep or technical pinches** this presents a great opportunity for the first loophole.

While it is true that one should not technically ‘ride’ on Shabbat, if one were to go for a walk, and then incidentally ride perhaps there is a slim chance that God might turn a blind eye to this minor indiscretion.

**No walking actually required at the 2012 SSNATS.

While the laws of Shabbat state that walking (or riding a single-speed as detailed above) is acceptable, they also state that you are only allowed to walk a maximum of 2000 cubits from your home city, and further to this, the measurement actually starts 70 2/3 cubits from your city limits, not from your residence, making for a total walk (or ride) of up to 2070 2/3 cubits from your city limits on Shabbat. Now I’m a bit of a traditionalist so I like to use Greek cubits when making the calculation – if you prefer to use something else, I’m sure that God will appreciate that you are at least having a go:

2070 2/3 Greek cubits = 958m (approximately)

You can see how quickly things start to get complicated when you try and mix mountain biking with religion.

Anyway, moving on – slowly. The Single Speed Nationals were held at the Beechworth Mountain Bike Park and most competitors had accommodation somewhere within the city limits of the town of Beechworth. Consulting the Shabbos Jewgle Map confirms that the distance from the Beechworth Mountain Bike Park to the Beechworth City Limits (which, in the interests of time management, I am arbitrarily going to define as the boundary of the Beechworth Golf Course) is within the stated maximum allowable walking (riding) distance on Shabbat:

Always remember to consult your Shabbos Jewgle Map before walking anywhere on Shabbat.

In fact, the Jewgle Map states that it is only 1729 cubits from the edge of the Golf Course to the MTB Park meaning that you still have 341 2/3 cubits up your sleeve. Your sleeve (being part of your Shabbos clothing) must, of course, be nicer than your regular weekday clothing, not be woven from a fabric which combines wool and linen and would be put on right-hand side first when you dressed in the morning (unless you are left-handed in which case it is reversed). You could be forgiven for thinking that I’m making this stuff up – I wish I was that imaginative – but the rules are all clearly laid out here.

After successfully (kind of) navigating that religious legal minefield (you can see why Jews make such good lawyers) we need to address the issue of prayer and peaceful contemplation which must be undertaken on Shabbat in place of ‘work’, which is forbidden.

Single-speed riders are always espousing the simplicity and zen-like nature of the one-speed bike. They will go on and on ad nauseum (if you let them – I like to just walk away) about how a single-speed drivetrain is simple and quiet (none of that irritating chain-slap or derailleurment) and allows the rider to focus solely on the task of riding. It forces you to ride smoothly and pick good lines so you can keep your momentum high and feel the ‘flow’. For this reason, I’m prepared to go out on a limb and say (as a very learned Rabbi impersonator) that since there is no distracting gear-shifting and because a single-speed bike allows you to achieve a more meditative disposition than riding a regular geared bike, that it’s ok to ride a single-speed on the Shabbos. There is still a fervent religious debate regarding the simplicity of rigid versus suspension forks, and I won’t go in to it now, but if you are interested then it might be worth reading some of the commentary on this topic presented by the ancient Rabbis in the writings of the Talmud.

Now, I realise that I’m not the first Jew to ride a bike…

I bet the Jews on Bikes Motorcycle Club (gang?) have some nifty ways of avoiding the laws of Shabbat. 

There is an actual Jews on Bikes motorcycle club in England who might also be worth consulting if you are looking for some more clever ways to combine being a good Jew with riding a (motorised) bike.
They even have their own souvenirs for sale on the Internet:

The Jews on Bikes Classic Thong makes the Mormon’s Magic Underwear look a bit tame.

How the Shabbat ride unfolded

As the congregation of riders gathered at the start line for the Single Speed National Championships on the last Saturday in October, I rolled up (or walked) content in the knowledge that I was correctly observing Shabbat – cough, cough. Although cold weather and rain were forecast, my faith in God was made even stronger by the blue skies and warm sunshine that we were blessed with. A moment was taken to contemplate the rocky path ahead, strewn with boulders and obstacles, painful climbs and treacherous descents, and I realised that it was only with a firm belief in the love and compassion of the Lord that I could conquer this event.

I urged my fellow competitors to never lose faith whether they were struggling to turn the cranks up a steep, rocky climb or spinning their legs at warp speed on the downhills…or stopping for some sacramental beer at the refreshment shortcut – I will assume that it was Kosher.

The Refreshment Shortcut allowed for some time to rest and contemplate and enjoy a Kosher beverage.

In the end, somebody won the race, much sacramental beer was consumed and the decision to dress up like a Rabbi ended up filling me with a strong sense of the faith that is so often missing in day-to-day life. Along the way I met many characters, one of them – Jeebus was his name – showed some solidarity with a beard to rival my own and sported a t-shirt that cleverly mocked his own beard – or was he mocking my beard via his? I’m not sure but I was certainly filled with a strong sense of ironic confusion. Apparently he has chosen to follow his own path, which means that he doesn’t have to worry about riding on Shabbat but might find the doors to heaven locked if he should ever happen to make it there.

Only one of these beards is real. And only one of these men has been chosen by God.

Until next time, I bid you a hearty Shabbat Shalom, and wish that your faith continue to grow and that your mountain bike races be scheduled on Sunday.

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