Wednesday, June 23, 2010
A few thoughts on bikes
I probably got my first bike in 1976 or 1977, I don't remember exactly. But I do remember what kind it was - a Huffy Thunder Road.
Call it good timing. My street was filled with kids within a year or two of the same age. One of the guys was an early adopter (who later went on to have a fairly acclaimed motocross career), but the rest of got our first bikes around the same time.
Overnight, our street expanded into a full fledged neighborhood. Whenever we could, we would pedal over to "the field", "the ditch" or "the woods" to get on with our days. Instantly our little world had expanded into a universe. The freedom was intoxicating.
We where still tethered, but we just didn't know it yet. With bikes we had access to everything we needed. Calling a field "the field", a ditch "the ditch" and woods "the woods" suggests that as 7 year olds, it was inconceivable that there where other fields, ditches or woods anywhere else. Looking across the neighborhood boundary might as well have been looking into a bottomless chasm - It didn't matter what was beyond.
Eventually, bikes as play things morphed into bikes as transportation. There was junior high and then high school to get to. Then there where after school jobs. The bike became a tool, and eventually a less desirable tool. Why use a hand saw when you can use a circular saw? We all wanted our driver's licenses.
As bikes became less important to the neighborhood kids, the neighborhood grew apart. For a time, the bikes where the glue that kept us together. But then we all had too many choices and not enough consensus. The only thing we had in common was that our bikes where collecting dust, replaced by beater cars for the lucky ones and constant negotiations with parents to borrow the family car for everyone else.
When I moved to Boston, my bike didn't make the trip.
They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and I'd say that's true. But when I started riding again, it was a seriously shaky proposition. I'd guess it was a combination of being out of practice and no longer being fearless. However, the appeal of triathlon as a whole outweighed my initial reluctance to ride. And 24 years later, the bike is suddenly really important again.
I rediscovered the freedom that a bike gives you. True, I'm no longer riding over to the woods for a game of tag or to the field to play baseball. I'm just riding to ride. But that's the kind of freedom that I'm looking for now.
It's funny. When I run, I'm not that particular. Many of my go-to running routes are out and back, and I tend to run them all the time. When I ride my bike though, I like to do loops. And I like to change up the loops whenever I can. A bike ride is a journey. It doesn't matter if I'm going 10 or 50 miles. I like to leave my street from one end and come back from the other.
When I go swimming in Corona Del Mar, I'll drive. About every other weekend, I'll bike through. I'm on the same streets. But call me crazy, it feels different. I guess it's a contextual difference. When I drive there, I'm arriving. When I'm biking, I'm passing through.
My mom no longer lives in the neighborhood where I grew up. But I'm hopelessly sentimental. So every time I visit, I drive by the old house. The neighborhood is a lot smaller than I remember it. Regardless, a bike traverse across the neighborhood as a 7 year old was a bona-fide journey. And the freedom was worth the effort.
Some things change, some things don't.