Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Why I Love Cycling

When I chose cycling as an adult, after having (I'm sure) similar childhood cycling experiences to many others in the 20th Century, I did so purely as a convenient way of getting to work. I was 18, and within the week, I was expected to start a new job four miles away. I did not have a driving license, nor were there any convenient bus routes, so a bicycle seemed like the best option. I enjoyed it, so I just kept doing it.

As the years have gone by, my reasons for using a bike have remained utilitarian - I use it as a tool to get to work, to do errands, to travel, to get my daughter to school, etc. I never saw the point in cycling in any competitive way. To be honest, I've never appreciated 'sport cycling', although I see how it has driven bicycle improvements. The Tour de France leaves me cold, as in my view it's more about winning than about cycling. To me, sport cycling was, and remains, just a waste of energy. I don't get on a bike unless I have to be somewhere to do something useful or fun, and that somewhere is never a finish line, because I can't see picking up a trophy as a useful or fun endeavor.

But over the years, the bicycle has become, for me, more than a mere tool. My appreciation for the bike - for bicycles in general - has grown. I think people fail to recognize what a fantastic invention this is - it gives us so much freedom and demands so little in return. It's so simple that any cyclist can repair it with just a few tools and a little knowledge. One could (if one would ever want to) leave a bicycle exposed to the elements, then pick it back up after a year and still be fairly sure that the application of a little oil would make it go again. What other machines, in our hi-tech age, can we say that about? Not many.

I laugh bemusedly at the contempt in which many people hold the bicycle, and I scorn the danger they falsely ascribe to using it. I also benefit from the undervaluing that goes along with all of this: would bikes be so accessible without society's contempt and fear? Surely not: anyone can pick up a perfectly sound vintage/classic bicycle for $50 on craigslist. Astonishing! The perfect vehicle, going for the price of a restaurant meal! Those who sell the bicycle so cheaply just don't recognize or appreciate what it is they're giving up. But we who love bikes do appreciate it, as do the world's poor, for whom the bicycle is a freedom machine, allowing them to travel cheaply and to literally broaden their horizons - benefits they might otherwise be denied.

Sure, I sometimes think about how cycling is 'green', how it helps me avoid polluting, how it keeps me fit, how it will help people surmount future energy crises. But those things aren't really 'reasons' to cycle. They are merely added benefits. But when I'm on my bike I really don't care about them: when I'm on two wheels, I'm in that place in my mind where I feel fully in control of my life, performing turns, leans, calculating intersecting speeds and angles of traffic. In a way, the bicycle completes me - when I take my foot off the ground and place it on that pedal, something happens - we fit together, we move, and I evolve into something greater than the bipedal mammal I am when I'm not 'wheeled'. This feeling is something you simply can't get from a car. It has to do with balance and movement, and with the fact that it's all you - not some liquid-fueled combustion engine translating your will into a sort of cheap, embarrassing and unnecessarily overwhelming power.

Cycling, to me, is like a subtle dance whose steps we know intuitively. It's as if the bicycle anticipates in some ethereal way, a being we just might, after a few millennia, become. Or perhaps it's that the bicycle gives us back some sense of the hunter-gatherer 'us': the people we were before our lives were overwhelmed by urban complications and irrelevancies; people who were ennobled by the immediate application of essential mind and body skills in pursuit of the simple necessities of life.

In short, on a bike I feel truly and essentially human in a way that I really don't think I do when I'm off it. What's saddest about that is that many people never ride, so presumably they don't get to feel that. Perhaps even if they did ride, they would never feel it either. I'm just happy that I do.

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