September 4, 2013

The Secret World of Bikers.

Photo: Cuja on Pixoto.

I had forgotten about my childhood days spent on a bike: my little legs pushing me fast and far on two wheels toward or away from whatever had caught my eye in that moment.

I recall spending hours learning to ride a bike on our front street—trying, and falling, and trying, and falling until—finally!

I pedaled and I wobbled, but I stayed on! I flew down the block, excited giggles emerging from me like birds.

I was a bird, on a bike.

In that moment, I was one with my bike and it was one with everything else. The two of us, from that point on, would navigate just about anything and where my head turned, so went the bike with precision.

Fast forward to my adult hood: I was the worst, angry kind of bike hater.

I would glare and grumble each time a cyclist slipped between my car and the curb during rush hour, riding up through the traffic like a snake, just so I’d have to maneuver around him again when the light turned green. I would curse. I would inch my car closer and closer to the curb to see if I could force him to wait in line like the rest of the vehicles.

I was a cyclist hater. And then I bought a bike.

The first trip was 10 point something kilometers and the second was around seven. My butt still hurts. My legs hurt. And I can’t wait to keep going. I miss feeling like my healthy, beautiful and free seven year old self.

Last night, we took our first night ride and I felt just a twinge of what it was like when I was a kid. Something magical and exhilarating happened inside of me.

We rode to nearby Assiniboine park and as we approached the river, we paid no heed to the “dismount before bridge” sign—I wanted to feel the river under me.

We entered the park: still, dimly-lit and quiet.

As I looked at the moon reflected in the duck pond and inhaled the water and grass scented wind, my childhood bicycle “oneness” awakened and began to seep into my ride.

It started at the wheels and flowed up to my feet, then through my legs. It swept up to my fingertips, arced to the handle bars and permeated the air around me.

We were once again together—long lost friends.

Photo: Jaideep Abraham on Pixoto.

On our way home, we passed another night rider. With his own light, and driving twice the speed we were, he passed us going the opposite direction and gave the nod.

The nod!

There are nods? Am I part of a secret (or not so secret) club now? This led me to wonder: what am I missing out on, in the secret world of bikers?

There’s an etiquette guide specifically for cyclists! I had no idea such a thing existed until my bike-selling (and riding) friend, Kevin pointed it out to me. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was some required reading to do before I got my wheels in motion.

Here is an example of a guide created specifically by and for Calgary’s citizens.

Some of my newly acquired knowledge includes:

  • On a bike path that has only one lane, when two cyclists meet, the person going uphill gets right of way.
  • You can conserve quite a bit of energy by riding behind things, like a bus, or your friend. Don’t be a “wheel suck” though—take turns, it’s only fair!
  • Before passing a car parked on the side of the road, look in the car’s side and rear view mirrors (and through windows) to see if there’s anyone inside. If there is, be especially wary of doors opening in your path.
  • If you stay six inches from the curb in fear of the cars, it’s a potentially fatal recipe for disaster!

As my friend puts it, “own your lane” and be aware of traffic around you.

Until recently, I personally thought staying close to the curb was safer, but this is why I’m wrong: there are more hazards and debris close to the curb that could cause an accident. If a car does get too close, you’re already out of room to get safely away from the vehicle and riding directly in the lane instead of beside the curb makes you more visible.

Yes, the nod exists. I verified that this is, indeed, a thing. It’s like the secret handshake of the cyclist club! I feel privileged and excited to be a part of it.

My bike and I will be exploring and moving as long as our Winnipeg weather allows us to.

My childhood is now a part of my present and although this is a means to a healthier and more beautiful me, the true beauty lies in riding and feeling:

The breeze in my face, the wind in my hair

and the ground beneath my wheels.

The blood pumping through my veins

As my legs propel me faster and farther.

The sense of belonging with each nod I receive in this secret world of bikers.


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