Why I Ride (a Bicycle)

I ride a bicycle, and I love it.  It’s “my” form of exercise.  Some people jog, some people swim, some people bowl…probably.  I ride bicycles.  I don’t do it daily, or even regularly – life, job, family intrude – but I try to get in a ride on the weekend, and when I do I go ten miles or more.  This weekend I rode thirteen miles, and it felt great.

I’ve always loved riding a bicycle.  I got my first bike when I was five, and once I got rid of my training wheels there was no stopping me.  I lived on a farm, with woods and trails, so I beat my red Schwinn Typhoon through the woods pretty mercilessly.  When I got a bit larger, it was a chestnut-brown Schwinn BMX bike with yellow mag wheels – really, they were magnesium, not spokes.  I don’t know why, but my dad had a thing about buying his kid a Schwinn bike.  Both times, he drove me to the Schwinn store, and bought me brand new bikes.  I had the BMX bike until I was in college.  Point is, I’ve always loved riding a bicycle.

I ride for the experience.  I am proud when I go farther than I’ve gone before – when I broke ten miles for the first time I was ecstatic.  Likewise when I went 15 miles.  I am proud when I go faster than I’ve gone before.  Neither of those things are what drive me to ride, though.  When I ride, I am fully in the moment…I am not worrying about picking the kids up from Scouts, I am not planning my next day’s work, I am not replaying my last argument with anyone.  I am focused on the now; on the next climb, on the jogger I must pass, on quieting the chatter of my rear derailleur.  I let my brain freewheel when I ride, and sometimes it regurgitates song snippets at me, sometimes it quotes movies.  Sometimes it’s silent.

My wife jogs, and she’s confirmed the “jogger’s euphoria,” that’s been described before.  I think I get the same euphoria when I’m riding, and I’ve settled into a nice groove, and I’ve ridden far enough to be warmed up and just a bit tired…and when I notice the sound of the wind in my ears, I know I’m there.  This weekend I rode for over thirteen miles, and at mile ten I heard the wind in my ears.  When you can hear the wind, it means you aren’t listening to other people’s complaints, or filling your mind with troublesome worries.  It means you’re sensing the world around you.

I love coasting down a hill, when the only sounds are the wind, and the hum of the tires on the pavement, and the ticking of the freewheel.  At those times I stand up on the pedals, and lean forward so that I can’t see any of the bike, and I feel for that short minute as though I am flying, six feet from the ground.

I love pedaling along the wooded walking trails in our neighborhood.  The curving sidewalks are entertaining, and the trees are at times beautiful, with the sun sparkling through their branches and dappling the ground; the Spanish moss hanging in long, gray-green ropes and sheets.  Squirrels leap from the trail to the tree-trunks as I roll by, and the smells are vivid – if I’m riding by ferns, they fill my nostrils.  New house construction loads the air with pine and sawdust smells.

I even love the climbs.  I may not love them while I’m sweating my way up them, but the feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment at the top of a grade that I’ve climbed is palpable.  Even the grades that I decide to walk are still enjoyable, and walking the bike after riding for ten miles brings a strange, rubbery feeling to my legs, and gives me a chance to catch my breath and maybe pour some water down the back of my neck if it’s hot out…or just get a drink if it’s not so hot.

And, I love bicycles themselves.  They are purposeful machines – their form follows their function.  Bicycles look the way they do because their design works the best.  There is generally nothing on a bicycle that doesn’t help it go, stop, steer or hold up a rider.  Old cruiser bikes are an exception, covered in faux tanks, and lights and fat fenders.  Some of those bikes are works of art, but underneath the adornments, their frames are still efficient models of physics.

There are different ways to ride, that’s evident from watching people while I’m out on my bike.  There are people who are all about distance and average speed.  I see them riding on the road, in a straight line, bent over and tucked down.  They have expensive bikes, and shiny Spandex outfits.  They never smile, and they certainly don’t acknowledge me as they whoosh by.  Then, there are the mountain bikers.  They also have expensive bikes, with full suspension and Kevlar tires and stuff.  They live to attack a trail, and fly off cliffs and conquer terrain and come home with bloody knees and bruised elbows.  There are exercise bikers, who grimace and sweat and force out every mile in a quest to burn calories.  Maybe they blew out a knee and can’t jog anymore, so they switched to bikes.  There are social bikers, for whom “riding” means hanging out at the curb on their bike and shooting the breeze with “the guys,” who are also straddling their bikes.  There are more, no doubt.  I don’t really seem to fit into any of those groups – or I am at times part of all of those groups.  People here seem to have a strong “if you can’t keep score, what’s the point of playing” attitude that I just don’t share.

I have several bikes now, and I like riding each of them.  The one I ride the most is an old Cannondale mountain bike, built in the late 1980’s, and inherited from my late mother.  I love that bike.  It rides super smoothly, and glides forever when I coast.  I rebuilt it once in 2005 or so, and it just keeps going.  I ride the sidewalks and walking trails in my neighborhood on it.  I have the beach cruiser that started out as a $3 yard sale find, and is now a cool, red-and-white custom bike.  Sometimes, I ride my son’s “OCC” chopper bike.  He and I transformed a rusty Craigslist find into a cool, Army-themed bike.  The looks I get on that bike are priceless.  It’s small for one thing, and my knees come up past my elbows when I pedal.  It’s also not a “serious” bicycle, I guess.  I don’t care, because it’s super fun and puts a smile on my face.

And that’s what I like about bicycling.  It puts a smile on my face.  I like doing it, and I like the way I feel after doing it.  I like reaching a speed under my own power that I could never achieve on foot.  I like going farther under my own power than I could on foot.  I like the equipment, and I like working on the equipment.  I like the reprieve it gives me from my daily worries, and the calories that it burns are an added bonus.  I’m smiling just thinking about it.

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