Cycling is More Than Just a Hobby: A Story of Recovery and Community Involvement

Maxwell Johnston, an Austin-based photographer, blends his love for cycling and photography to capture stunning scenery and vibrant local events. He is a dedicated advocate for mental health, sharing his journey of recovery and the positive impact of outdoor pursuits. In this article, he draws parallels between maintaining sobriety and sustaining a passion for cycling, emphasizing the importance of community involvement.


Back in early 2015, I made a decision that changed the course of my life as I knew it. I was in the depths of alcoholism and heroin addiction, and could not see a path forward. By good fortune, I was presented with an opportunity to try a different way of life and experienced a rather sudden shift in identity and priorities. While the details of that story aren’t important for this article, that life-altering decision does serve as context for the opinion that follows.

As an individual in long-term recovery and an avid cyclist, I’ve gained a unique perspective, drawing parallels between these two aspects of my life. Throughout the better part of the last decade, I’ve leaned heavily on cycling to supplement my recovery for mental clarity, humility, and overall happiness. Initially pursued as a means to stay fit and chase some adrenaline, cycling quickly evolved into an essential reprieve from the day-to-day grind. Riding my bike became the surefire way to declutter the chaos that tends to cloud my thoughts.  However, I came to realize that my relationship with cycling had been one-sided. I focused solely on what I gained rather than what I could contribute – a lesson learned through recovery.

More Than A Hobby

It’s said that the average shelf life of a hobby is only 16 months. And despite the world categorizing recreational cycling as one of those fleeting hobbies, I’d argue for many, myself included, that it’s much more. It is a passion and a lifestyle, fostering contentment and community while shaping one’s identity and how you show up in this world. Similarly, the same could be said for the individuals that sustain sobriety and find happiness in their recovery. It is not a phase or something that you do, it is a way of life that becomes who you are.

These similarities became more clear in my own life when I shared a beginner-friendly bike camping route in Central Texas. Motivated by a desire to address a gap in published routes near Austin, I was hopeful that this could potentially help others facing the same dilemma. Sharing the route unexpectedly brought a sense of fulfillment in areas of my life that I hadn’t expected cycling to touch. After the positive response from my local community, something clicked. Much like my journey with sobriety, I discovered that in order to maintain the same level of passion for cycling, I needed to give back, just as others had done so freely to me.

As I thought about it more and more, this realization had been the differentiating factor between cycling and all of my other hobbies that fizzled out. Exploring a new hobby is always thrilling. There is rapid progress, novel experiences, and the instant gratification of acquiring new gear. However that progression plateaus, the novelty subsides and the new gear buzz fades. Yes, there are ways to continue to chase these hits of dopamine, but that requires time and money – a luxury most don’t have and often still leads to burnout. In my experience, plugging yourself in the community and sharing your knowledge with others has been the key to harnessing the same level of joy as that first bike ride.

To some, this altruistic mindset comes naturally. These individuals seem to be born with generous spirits; they instinctively know that sharing their joy and good fortune not only enriches other people’s lives, but also their own. Regrettably, I wasn’t gifted with this admirable trait as a human being. I must continually remind myself to prioritize giving rather than taking. And when I participate in acts of service, I gain a sense of purpose and connection to something greater than myself. Ultimately, I am happiest when I feel deeply connected to a community that values my contributions.

The good news is there are many ways to contribute to the cycling community, whether it’s volunteering with your local trail builders, lending out gear, taking a new cyclist out on their first big ride, donating spare parts, volunteering at your non-profit bike shop, facilitating or even just participating in a local group ride. Each person can find a meaningful way to be of service and enrich your local community. Morgan and Travis have put out some great information in recent Dust-Up articles touching on some of these topics. However, I’d like to focus specifically on two areas that I’ve personally found to be my favorites.

Find Your Place

One effective method I’ve discovered to foster that sense of belonging within your community is to volunteer at local events, utilizing any skills you may have. Whether you’re a skilled mechanic, an experienced route builder, a talented cook, or simply passionate about your cycling community, there is a role for all to play in supporting local events. Every person, whether helping with event logistics or cheering on participants, contributes to the atmosphere of your local community, making it uniquely yours.

I’m fortunate to live in Austin, Texas, where the cycling scene is very lively, with a wide variety of events. While there is no shortage of typical races, there are also several grassroots events, most often with a noble cause in mind. These are my favorite types of events and exactly the types of events where the images in this gallery were captured. One was an epic last hurrah from Troublemaker Cycling in East Austin, with a bandit cyclocross race, BMX contest, and wild dance party. The other was a CX Relay Race under the Montopolis Bridge, this event was put on by a few local heroes to fundraise money for reproductive rights in Texas. 

For these events, I’ll bring my camera and try to capture all the different aspects of the event. Interestingly, when I am not there as a hired photographer, the images tend to capture the event’s energy more authentically, at least in my opinion. Afterwards, I’ll either share the photos with the event coordinators or just share a link for everyone to view and download. Admittedly, I don’t get to do this as frequently as I’d like due to other commitments in my life, but it is always a blast when I do.

Share The Stoke

I’ve noticed that certain activities in life are particularly satisfying due to their instant and visual representation of progress. If you’ve ever undertaken a large pressure washing project or used a lawn mower, you know the exact feeling I’m describing. However, due to the gradual progression over years of cycling, individuals may often lose sight of how far they’ve come as a cyclist. This is one of the main reasons I’ve grown to love taking new cyclists out on rides. Similar to working with newcomers in recovery, guiding others to establish a solid foundation is rewarding not only because you can witness their growth, but also because it serves as a healthy reminder of your own progress. While some may find satisfaction in monitoring their Strava stats progress, for me, it pales in comparison to taking someone new out on the bike.

In that same vein, I love being outdoors and riding my bike; it’s the easiest way for me to feel right-sized in the world. The beauty and vastness of the landscape have a unique ability to make you feel small and fill you with awe simultaneously. However, that sense of awe can diminish over time; bringing others out and witnessing their reaction can help rejuvenate that same feeling.

Additionally, there are significant barriers to entry for those interested in more off-road-centric cycling adventures. While most people know how to ride a bike, not everyone will have a bike or the necessary gear to make their first outing as enjoyable as possible. However, I would assume that most visitors to this site either have some extra gear or at least the knowledge to help with gear choices, thus avoiding some of the classic mistakes new cyclists make.


While this may not be groundbreaking information for some of you, it could be precisely what the millions of new cyclists we’ve welcomed in recent years need to hear. If you find yourself experiencing burnout or a diminished enjoyment of cycling compared to before, I urge you to consider actively contributing to your local cycling community. You might be pleasantly surprised by the positive impact it can have on your relationship with the bike. As Christopher McCandless so aptly put it, “happiness is only real when shared.”