Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Biking, the ride and the rush

I have been asked on several occasions, usually by my family, what is it that attracts me to bicycles. For most of us biking gave us a sense of freedom. As youngsters we could not drive a car, but we could ride a bike. The bike enabled us to go greater distances and meet with our friends. For many people however, once they can drive, they put their bikes away and somehow bikes are seen as childish. This never happened with me, I was always interested in bikes.

Bicycles attract people on many levels. I enjoy the simple mechanics of a bike and the fact that you can ride with great speed along little known roads on an efficient, non polluting simple machine that even a mechanically challenged person like myself can understand. ( or at least know a good mechanic!) Somehow, when you are riding a bike along a stretch of scenic road, passing fields and valleys and small towns you become one with the bicycle. Pedaling is such a fluid motion that you are not even aware of it. You are aware of the way in which the road seems to meet your wheels with every pedal stroke.

Years ago, I read a book called Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. At the time, I was fascinated by motorcycles and the book explored how the protagonist got better as it were, by fixing his motorcycle. I remained fascinated with this book and motorcycles in general until my friend was killed when his tire blew out of his motorcycle. I then returned to my first love which was the simple bicycle. At that time, I was the proud owner of a blue 3 speed supercycle with a white leather seat, (well I think it was plastic!) white wall tires,a large headlamp that ate batteries and did not shine very far and numerous reflectors. I polished and oiled my bike and continued to ride my bike long after it was fashionable. I rode that bike to my job in a bakery. I rode some 7km to arrive at my job for 3am which was when we would bake the donuts for the morning. At that time, bikes were made of steel and had a very classic look about them. A three speed was for Canada, a very modern invention. Many bikes had no gears at all! There was something very special about having a bike that was not only for fun, but useful and attractive as well!

My bikes have evolved since that time. I had the heavy mountain bikes with the huge balloon tires, a five speed bike with a chain oil that forever stained my socks, a french 10 speed bike that weighed more than the mountain bike and whose chain had a propensity for falling off, a peugot that never worked properly, and more recently commuter or hybrid bicycles. During that time, I had an interest in lights and had many generator style lights with a wheel dynamo. My dynamos worked for a little while, but I would invariably overload the system by riding as fast as I could at night to see how bright the light would shine. It would shine brightly and then with a pop...burn out. Technology has changed and my lights are now much smaller, far more efficient and powerful and also much cheaper. Rather than one bike, I now own a city bike which has eight speed internal gears. It is like my old three speed, only with five more. It is nostalgic and nice to ride around the town. I also have a touring bike and a racing bike.

Biking is a very zen experience. When you are biking for a few hours, your mind becomes clear and your thoughts are not cluttered with deadlines, stress, to-do lists, emails...or other elements that we live with. Instead, your mind focuses on your breathing. I have taken many yoga classes that tell you to focus on your breathing, but I never really got it until I am on a bike for a few hours alone. Without telephones, noisy engines, machines you are alone with this mechanical object and I actually focus on my breathing and experience an incredible sense of relaxation. Whether you are riding alone or with a small group, I never experience the stress of competition. I have a set distance and off we go.

Biking enables me to connect with my past experiences. My new racing bike has leather handlebar tape and canvas and leather saddle bags. I have tried to recreate my childhood or young adult, experiences and tastes of the past with the newer and lighter technology and it has worked. You can have a bike that not only has a retro look, but can have older parts that work nicely with the newer bikes. Like the protagonist in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, my book would be entitled Zen and the art of biking. I feel great when riding my bike.

I don't want to go back to my dynamos that never worked or my chains that fell off but I do want to ride a bike that has the grace and the elegance of those older bikes that I remember so fondly!

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