October 12, 2010

An Ode to the Simplicity of Biking

A couple of weeks ago I found myself awkwardly trying to hold a hub full of spokes and correctly lace them into a red rim without poking myself in the eye.

“You’re doing great!” professed my friend Jude, who’s not only a great cheerleader and supporter, but also a wheel builder extraordinaire. “1, 2, 3… this one right?” I looked up at her just to make sure I was putting the spoke into the right hole.


And so I continued.

There was a time in my life that was much more “hands on.” When my mother insisted upon after school art projects and my father and I spent weekends building treehouses. The last few years of my professional life however have turned into “all computer all the time,” which has required me to make a conscious effort to do stuff away from the screen. An important step to recovery.

Enter bikes. I am no bike mechanic. I have a hard time adjusting my own brakes. I am certainly no gear geek. I don’t own a slew of bik tools. Hell, I don’t even own a pair of clipless pedals. But I sure love bikes. I mean, LOVE. So when my old black Peugeot with red, yellow and white racing stripes needed an overhaul I wasn’t about to let Jude do it on her own.

Fortunately Jude is a patient and accepting individual, and she kindly smiled when I asked if I could take part in the wheel building process. I’m not quite sure how I went from barely even knowing how to change a tire to wanting to build a wheel, but something inside of me said that if I was going to have this severe love of bikes, the least I could do was try.

And so I did, and for a few hours I found myself completely immersed in the world of bike wheels and the smell of workshop grease. No thought of work, or the emails I had to send, or the to do list I should be writing. I was only focused on getting that wheel all trued and balanced.

“Is this the tedious part?” I stopped spinning the black spokes in the truing stand and looked over at Jude.

“Some people think so,” she responded.

“I’m feeling like it’s kind of zen.”

“Yeah, you do a lot of thinking when you build a wheel. It’s easy to start making comparisons between how balancing a wheel is like balancing your life.”

I mulled that over as I continued with the task at hand. Tighten and loosen. Spin the wheel. Find the unbalanced spot. Tighten and loosen.

It was a simple process, much like biking itself. I don’t race, I don’t throw myself onto a muddy cyclocross race (although my street cred would probably go up if I did) and despite the occasional long weekend ride, most of my biking adventures are on urban streets. But no matter where you are and what bike you’re on, there’s that simple process that verges on meditation. You pedal into a rhythm. As you move forward you take part in an urban dance that flows between cars, pedestrians and cyclists; a dance, that when it goes smoothly and uninterrupted is a beautiful thing.

Forget the whole “love the environment, ditch your car argument,” in its purest form biking is beautiful. Exhilarating. Simple. Meditation. Put more people on bikes and we’d soon find ourselves in a calmer, more collaborative world. Because biking allows you the time to slow down, think and find that balance. Something that, in our everyday rat race, all of us could use more of.

I don’t think I’m about to ditch my day job and work towards becoming a bike mechanic, but I do have a new appreciation for the functional and simple aesthetic that can only come from a bike and its components. “Why are bikes so awesome?” Emily asked me the other day, not because she didn’t have an answer, but because we like to ponder this sort of thing.

“Because they only do what they need to do, no more, no less,” I answered. Bikes are after all, works of art, even the dingy ones.

That black Peugeot is now a full on single speed, sporting a red chain and red rims. I’ve debated taking the fenders off, but that only makes me feel vain. The wheels have even gotten hit on. My friends make hipster jokes, but I could spend all day on it and be happy. Pedaling, thinking, moving and taking part in that urban dance that makes me love an afternoon out on two wheels.

The moral of the story is: you don’t need spandex, you don’t need a fancy carbon fiber frame, and you don’t don’t need to be a gear head, you just need to have a love of pedaling and taking a moment to slow down. That’s how we’re going to change the world, “one revolution at a time,” as Jude says.

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