This is my bicycle. I dearly love it. It’s an old bugger; a Trek 850 I bought in 1995 for about US$400. I’ve put thousands of miles on it—miles of riding sandy trails on Cape Hatteras, miles of city streets in Norfolk, VA and all over Manhattan, miles of hilly country roads in rural Pennsylvania, miles of suburban lanes and bike paths in central Ohio, miles of roads and converted railroad lines in Iowa—and the old bike is still as solid as ever. Except for replacing the knobby tires for road tires, nothing on the bike has been changed or upgraded. The sumbitch is nearly indestructible. Sixteen years on a four hundred dollar investment—that’s twenty-five dollars a year. A bargain.
But obviously, it’s not about the money. You know what it is about? I’ll tell you. Here’s a true thing: a bicycle is a self-propelled, two-wheeled Fountain of Youth. You get on a bike and you immediately feel like you’re twelve years old.
Oh sure, bicycles are also very practical and efficient and utilitarian. They’re not only a common means of transportation in much of the world, they’re also used to convey goods and products. They don’t pollute, they’re good for your health, they’re cost-efficient and easy to maintain and blah blah blah. But fuck all that—mostly they’re fun.
There’s an instant joy in getting on a bicycle and pushing off—an instant feeling of liberation. I’m sure if I had to rely exclusively on a bike for year-round transportation I’d feel differently. But I don’t.
Later today I’ll jam an old L.L. Bean knapsack into the bike bag and ride down to the market to buy enough groceries for the next few days. I’ll probably buy something wildly unhealthy (I’m thinking I need a chili cheese dog for supper tonight) that will completely undo any fitness benefit I gain from riding the bike. But that’s okay; I’ll still feel like I’m twelve years old during the ride.
I sold my bike as I was moving to San Francisco so I’ve not ridden one in almost two years. It drives me crazy, but for the time being, space is an issue in our apartment and the building owner does nothing to accommodate bicycles. Next weekend, however, I’ll be testing the like-riding-a-bicycle adage as we’ll be renting a couple of bikes to go to Angel Island and back.
It’s been a long time since I had a bike I loved… a Campania road bike that was stolen over thirty years ago. I put quite a few miles on it; fell off it once and bounced my chin off the sidewalk; got hit by a car while on it. Good times!
Man, you got right to the heart of it.
I had a Trek for several years and I loved it. It got stolen out of my garage and I eventually replaced it with a good, decent bike that’s very similar and has served me well. But yeah, I loved that Trek.
12 years old, that’s a good description of that feeling. I got a similar feeling the other day when I tried a sea kayak for the first time. It was the sort where you sit on top of it, not in it. I felt like I could go anywhere, and given time, I could visit a lot of the world (apart from minor things like eating).
Patrick – brother, you’ve got to be pretty hardcore to cycle in San Francisco. Cycling in Manhattan was tough, but y’all have those mean bastard hills. Sherpas quake at the idea of being on a bike at the bottom of those hills.
It’s weird, isn’t it, how some bits of technology just seem to fit you perfectly? And even if you buy a ‘better’ version of that tech, it never feels quite the same.
And Paul, yeah — kayaks are another Fountain of Youth technology. A totally different feel from a canoe. And the kayaks you perch on are so much different from those you sit in. Now I want a kayak.