Freedom and escape.
Bicycles do more than represent these values, they create them.
Bicycles engender feelings: Joy, exhilaration, accomplishment, and pride. But my relationship is more direct than emotional, it is more tactile than ephemeral, it is more tangible than illusory, it is more real than fake.
Bicycles provide freedom. Bicycles offer escape.
On a bicycle I am free. I can pedal directly beyond time and space. It is the greatest of paradoxes for a bicycle to connect me most profoundly with my physical limits yet at the same time loose me so thoroughly from all we know about rules and laws controlling motion, time, mass, and death.
My bicycles are a great comfort. A good bicycle can engender hope and present a challenge, spread happiness and deliver the goods. A bicycle is practical down to its Kevlar-woven tread, but it also is an act of imagination. On a bicycle I can maintain the fable of independence and toughness amid adversity, pretend I could actually survive – even thrive – when it came to it, when the catastrophe strikes and I can no longer withstand the structures we’ve put in place to protect us from anything unpleasant, to smooth out the rough ways and widen the narrow bits.
A bicycle expands the range of how far I can go under my own power by a factor of at least four. What bicycles do for me they also did for everyone on the planet at the turn of the 19th century. Imagine if the distance you could readily travel was suddenly doubled or more.
This does not make me special. I do not possess unique insight, nor offer any novel ideas. I am not particularly gifted as a rider. Most of my routes and destinations have been pedestrian, none of my achievements have been any big deal.
Still, the memories of my rides are cherished and vivid– the things I’ve seen from the unique perspective of a bicycle seat, the places my own legs have taken me, the challenges I’ve met along the way, and the bicycles themselves and all their idiosyncrasies. I think of specific, physical memories of rides and plans I have for future rides that play themselves out in my mind as a succession of anxious anticipation, in-the-moment joy, and self-satisfied contentment. My love for bicycles is complete, my devotion long-standing, and my interest abiding. It’s entirely possible to have a passionate relationship with a collection of simple machines – the lever, the wheel, the inclined plane, the pulley, and the gear ratio in excess of 1.
So this is my relationship to bicycles. From the time I got my red Schwinn Stingray while celebrating Christmas in Shelbina, Missouri, in 1971, up until last weekend finishing a 50-mile ride along canopy roads and pedaling long stretches of pine-lined state highway down to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
A bicycle can take you places. It can deliver you with new and deeper understanding. It can feed a sense of derring do and the delusions of middle age – the delusions of all ages. A bicycle is a canvas, a blank sheet of paper. On it, I can author my own adventure.
Every pedal stroke keeps decline and death at bay.
I think all of us should write our own fiction and make it exactly as credible as each of us needs to suspend disbelief.