It starts with a love of the machine. As a child when you get your first bike it breaks through the boundaries of your life. It takes you on a voyage of discovery and you learn more about the world around you. It gives you independence but you have to depend on yourself to get home. It becomes an extension of your body. Like some science fiction bionic suit. You can go further and faster with it than you could without it. It is symbiosis.
The bicycle is one of the most efficient devices ever created by man. You get more forward motion per banana consumed than most any other fueled device man has ever designed. If you are lucky enough to get a fine handmade bicycle you have a machine made of tradition. Craftsman hand down the knowledge, from master to apprentice, of how to take a pile of steel tubes, wires, lugs and aluminum bits and meticulously form them into something that truly transcends all of those parts. These craftsman love bikes as much as you do. They have learned to build a sound and safe machine for you but they also add a touch of beauty, decorations all their own to acknowledge that it is more than cold hard steel. This is something that will last you the rest of your life, if you care, and it should be a work of art. It is worth learning how to care for the bike yourself. It is precisely made and a joy to work on. Each part with it's specific purpose tuned to run properly and smoothly. After repacking the wheel bearings you spin the wheel. It spins and spins and spins. It will spin forever. If you give a little care it will take you anywhere you wish.
Like an early morning ride. The sun is not up and it is cold. You meet under the clock tower at 5am and as others arrive you greet them. You know them as John on the silver Cinelli and George on the red Paramount. They are like you, they care enough to ride early before work. Down the road single file you are an inch from the wheel in front of you. If you lose focus for just a moment and touch the other wheel you will end up on the ground in a broken pile. The group acts as a fine tuned machine. The leader breaking the wind for the others, then pulling out and moving to the back while the next in the lead breaks the wind. The group is moving fast and it is thrilling. We pass a rattlesnake curled up on the side of the road trying to warm up in the cold morning. The coyotes are on the way back from a night hunt. There is a hill up ahead and the group speeds up to meet gravity - straining, hurting to keep the pace, lungs burning. Cresting the hill you relax while the sun peaks over the horizon. There is a good view of the countryside. Watch it! Annie breaks away from the group taunting everyone to catch her. We jump and try and close the gap. A fast downhill. 50 miles per hour. The wind is whistling through my helmet straps. Lean into the curve. Have to trust the bike. This is why you keep it in top shape. The group stops on the next hill to wait for Jack, he missed the break and fell behind. The ride ends at our favorite cafe. Coffee with tall tales and laughter. Friends with a common bond.
A different ride today. Gravel roads and paths through orchards and vineyards. A quiet pace to take time to appreciate our surroundings. Fenders to protect from any weather, lights to continue after dark and lunch and a jacket in a bag added to the bike. Two by two in pleasant conversation. The quiet whirring of the gears. Swans in the river. A man checks the vines. A women going to the market. She waves. You smile and wave back. A nice grassy spot near the lake and you stop and have lunch in the sunshine. A blue sky and puffy white clouds above and bikes leaned against the trees. Time for a nap.
I need to do some shopping today. The grocery store, hardware, post office. I'll take the bike and leave the car. It's a three speed with a big basket in the front and panniers in the back that will hold a bag of groceries just dropped in. Taking the quiet side roads I avoid most of the traffic. I like being out of the car where I can smell the leaves and feel the cool crisp fall air. The colors are beautiful this year. I think most people think I am a space alien because I am not driving a car. Maybe I had a DUI and can't drive. Nobody would ride a bike if they had a choice right? It doesn't matter, I don't care. I do my shopping and drop the groceries in the panniers and I am off. It's easy.
No roads at all on this ride. A narrow trail through the woods. So different than road riding. Big tires to grip and a slow pace but with very fast quick movements. Up this rise, watch the rock, around the tree, duck under the limb. A deer is startled and bounds across the trail and out of sight. A completely different set of skills than riding on the road. Climbing the hill it seems like a lot more work than road riding. A more intimate connection though, no cars, no noise. A rhythm of slaloming through the trees with a curve left, a curve right, up and over the top, a fast downhill with quick turns, keep the pedals level going between the two rocks so they don't hit. So steep this hill. Keep balanced over the bike so the front end doesn't rise into the air and lose steering. Slide off the back of the seat for the downhill to keep your weight back. Feels like I am about to go over the bars it is so down. It's like a roller coaster ride in a theme park except you CAN fall off the track. You have to be a little bold or you can fail. You need a bit of momentum to be able to jump over that gap, too timid and you'll fall in or go over the bars. Incredible view from the top of the hill. Hearts pumping. Another great day on the bike.
Time trial. A race against the clock. Just me and the bike. On the road single minded. Smooth focused maximun effort. Tucked to cheat the wind. A machine like rhythm to minimize wasting energy. Fast as I can go. Timed to run out of steam right at the end. Should be exhausted if I did it right. Maybe I can improve my personal best this time.
This bike only has one gear. So simple. A couple of wheels and pedals. But joined together because you can't coast. If the wheels are moving so are the pedals. If you forget and try to relax it will throw you right off the bike. No complexity. No shifting and no braking either. You aren't supposed to be braking after all you are racing fast on the banked track at the velodrome. A rumbling of the boards as you fly along. Gotta ride fast enough to get up the banked walls. Dive down through the corners. Watch for the other riders. When will they start the last effort? Where's the guy in the red? Up behind me. Go! A blinding sprint with the fast twitch fibers firing as fast as they can. Power. Will. Spinning at 200 rpm. The finish line and across first. Wins the sprint! Crowd cheers.
My best friend and I go on our favorite ride today. Through the rural farms. A stop at the lake and listen for loons. A climb up through the forest onto the ridge. We have been riding together for a lifetime. Sharing our love of bikes and riding. She likes to stop and talk to the horses at the top of the hill. She doesn't feed them but they come and see her anyway. There are turtles sunning on the log out in the lake today. The blue heron is hunting. We race up the next hill and zoom down the curves into the valley. A couple of hours into the ride we stop at the little restaurant in the village. They make great cherry pie. Now a long straight section just to chat. A couple of raccoons run across the road in front of us. I love this part where the trees arch over the road making a tunnel of green. It's been an all day ride. One of those special days to remember.
This is a lovely machine. Pearl Blue with yellow trim. She went to Italy to get it from the man who made it. He has made thousands of bikes and his father made bikes before he inherited the shop. The shop is small with lots of memorabilia on the walls. Photos of famous racers using his bikes. Articles and magazine pages many decades old document his history. The bike has parts also made in Italy by a company that has been making parts for 75 years, most with his name or logo engraved onto the parts. The bike is finely made with lugs that are thinned carefully, The tubes are joined precisely and the torch work was done with skill. She is getting a machine with a tradition from a skilled craftsman with decades of experience. It was not made by a welding robot machine in a massive factory with hundreds of workers just punching a time clock. It was not sized for the statistical average person. There is a difference in riding a bike made by an individual with skill, passion and tradition.
There are so many different aspects to cycling. So many feelings. So much satisfaction. Pain and joy. The struggle to get in shape. The appreciation of a fine machine made by a skilled craftsman that takes you beyond your previous limits. Really hard to explain.
It's the ride of my life.