I’ve been in love with bicycles all of my life. I was born at a time when kids were allowed to pedal all over creation (without helmets) and I did just that on my Schwinn Bantam. Always bugged me that it was a step through bike with a bolt on top tube. Was I riding a “girl’s bike?” I didn’t have to worry about it too long, though, as it was stolen from school one day.
In elementary school I’d pedal to the homes of friends or to the woods to fly off of dirt ramps on my Redline Proline with Bullseye hubs, Redline Vee Bars and a Tuff Neck stem (which was supposed to be red but I begrudgingly accepted in blue and regretted it every time I caught a glimpse of it under the red pad). I’m skipping over the Ashtabula BMXer. No pictures of that reliable tank.
In junior high I’d pedal in the country and once, over the summer between junior high and high school, I pedaled with a friend to a local lake and spent the night on my Schwinn Super Le Tour II. That’s me in front with the Bell Biker helmet. My friend’s mom took that shot from her porch. How many parents would let this happen today? I was so lucky to be born when I was.
In high school I’d ride all over town and the local countryside. Summer were so hot I’d wait until midnight to ride downtown and do laps around the one ways pretending I was a criterium racer. I had a fixed gear wheel built for me and often rode brakeless on the green frame in the foreground. Found that frame in the garbage. Maker unknown. The shed was my work shop. I’d sometimes sleep in there during nice weather.
In college I’d pedal to school through the winter, snow and ice be damned, on my still trusty Cannondale SM 600. Road stem placed the bars a little lower than the saddle, but I was young and flexible and thought it looked so cool!
During law school I saved a Rollfast from the garbage and brought it into my small dorm room bringing my collection to three. It needed only tires, a stem and bars, but I needed frequent breaks from the tedium of reading cases. I rode it over the Williamsburg Bridge once. Passed it along by riding it in circles in Washington Square Park with a sign asking for $40. An Italian couple bought it within 30 minutes.
Next came a decade of putting my Bridgestone XO-1 on my car to travel to rail to trail routes on the weekends. Easily the worst haircut of my life, but I was doing my best to hide my true self from my colleagues in the law office.
Now I am in a decade of transportation bicycling. Transportation in a broad sense–from grocery getting to getting out of the city. I ride too many different bicycles to list but from time to time talk about them here.
All the while I have been staring at bicycles. Just yesterday Lacey found me sitting on a bench staring at the Rivendell Road. I was there for nearly 30 minutes before she shook me out of the trance. I almost always find something that is out of adjustment or alignment. When bicycles are mine or I am given permission, I pick up a tool and try to right what is wrong. I started collecting proper bicycle tools and parts in high school and get a couple more each year. A Park three way hex wrench was my first and I still use it more days than not. When everything is just right, I can relax and enjoy their beauty. I think about the hands that touched the frame and parts to bring them into being and into my care.
I read everything I can find about bicycling. Transcontinental explorers, racers, trick riders, equipment designers and manufacturers, safety experts and anything else with the word bicycle in it draws me in. My google page gives me all the news stories containing the word bicycle. My Tivo records all programs with the word bicycle in the description.
I collect bicycles and parts. Some days I feel like a preservationist. Other days a hoarder. North of 30 complete bicycles and boxes of parts fill a room of our home. I want to have less but I rarely take steps to make that happen. It isn’t really a problem. The bicycles and parts are all well cared for and stored safely and in an orderly fashion, but I will never forget a bit from the documentary I Am–that certain native Americans called it mental illness to keep more than you need. I agree and want to shake the sickness.
Against this background, and here finally is the point of this post, I am surprised at how little I pedal. That is what bicycles are all about, and I am surrounded by wonderful well-tuned examples, but I can go for days without throwing a leg over one. Might be work getting in the way. It might be weather. Whatever.
Even when I pedal every day, I don’t pedal far. These days I pick routes and destinations that take me to my goals (shopping, banking, shipping or socializing) and back safely and more or less directly. When I pedal in the country for fun or fitness, the rides rarely exceed 15 miles. Just once since I have lived in our current home city I pedaled 75 miles in a day (to Saratoga Springs and back–to a Bright Eyes concert). Before that my longest ride was in high school. I recalled it was 75 miles as well, but I just mapped it and it was closer to 100 miles. I am surprised. I honestly thought 75 miles was the furthest I had ever gone in a go.
Why so many bicyclists, even those new to the sport, pile on huge miles has always been a mystery to me. How do they enjoy doing one thing for so many hours? Don’t they have other things they also want or need to do? Don’t they worry about wearing out their joints? Don’t they worry about increasing their exposure to the dangers of the road? Do they ever consider that most really long rides are voluntary and that the production, distribution and preparation of the food they need to make it happen has an impact on our planet? Does media and peer pressure have anything to do with it? Are Americans especially good at overdoing things?
Am I the only one who asks these questions? Obviously we have different bodies, schedules, goals and concerns, and of course we are all free to do what we will, but sometimes I feel like the only bicycle fanatic that values and practices moderation when it comes to time in the saddle. Am I alone?
I love rolling in the country and sometimes pushing hard on the pedals. Balancing on two wheels makes me laugh each time I notice it happening. Taking in lungfuls of clean air feels terrific. Endorphin highs are as good as any other (and better than most). Experiencing new things from atop a bicycle is a joy without equal. Still, I love my family and they don’t often want to pedal as much as I might. They let me pedal without them, and I do, but I always want to get back.
I have a job that affords me food, shelter and recreation and I need and want to be available to my clients. As such, I think about the dangers of the road. I accept the risks of some time on the road, but why push my luck?
Then I worry about my parts. As much as I marvel at and care for well made bicycle parts, I marvel at and care for my parts. I think about my knees, hips and nerves in my hands and between my legs. I’d like to finish this life long journey on my bike with my original parts in good working order. Unlike bicycle parts, our parts can sometimes repair themselves if given time. Overuse makes this less likely. Some folks can hammer hard their entire lives without ill-effects. Good genes. I am not one of these people. I feel aches and pains when I use my parts too much or push them to hard. Lighten the load and the pains go away (for now, anyway).
Then there is veganism. I have no idea what a decade of veganism has done for or to my life as a bicyclist. I can’t compare how I feel today to how I felt a decade ago. Not only do I not remember, I am aging. All I know is I feel good. My weight is reasonable. I have muscles and energy enough for pedaling to get groceries and mowing my lawn. I read blog posts about pedaling and diet and feel more alone than ever. Seems to be either meat, meat and more meat or vegetarians pushing themselves past epic and back. In the end, it sounds like a whole lot of eating animals and/or plants to fuel rides to nowhere. I wonder if running that much fuel through a body is tough on it. Do cells get tired of processing energy? Where does all the food come from? Where does all the extra poop go? All I can do is drop a comment that maybe one could consider pedaling less. The comment is ignored. Isolating, I tell you.
I am not preaching. I might want to, some, if my hands were clean, but they are not. I drive cars. I fly on planes. I overeat. I digitally beckon bicycles and parts and other things from all over the world to show up at my door and show up they do. Way in excess of what I need or even want.
I have only a vague and ever changing idea of how I might properly live life and I sometimes do the other thing. I won’t pretend to know what is right for you. I watched a documentary last night about Epicurus and his recipe for a good life. His ingredients included friends, self-sufficiency and introspection. Sounds pretty good.
Bicycling has given me friends, something close to self-sufficiency (moreso than my cars and past motorbikes, anyway) and time to introspect, but I still go off-course. Would more miles on my bicycles give me more happiness? Maybe I should give it a try, but I probably won’t. Just now I am fixed on my idea that pealing in moderation is the right thing for me, for now. Again, am I alone on this one?
Time for breakfast.