I got a new bike a couple weeks ago, and if I do say so myself it’s a real work of art, handmade by a guy I now consider to be a friend, and the day I took it home, I spent a short few minutes appreciating its aesthetics in the shop. Which you can only do for so long before you have to get on it and see what it can do, really. So I wheeled it out the door.
I rode it through downtown Denver in morning traffic, pedaling as fast as I could between stoplights, weaving around cars, my eyes scanning left, right, up the block, and over my shoulder. For four or five minutes, I pushed it as fast as I could go, limited only by green lights turning red and I suppose my personal VO2 max.
Gregory, the guy who had spent hours cutting, welding, and then assembling it, had said as I rolled the bike out the door, “Ride it hard.” Of course I will, I thought. It’s a bike, not a sculpture, right?
At some point in the very near future, a bike rack is going to ding the new powder-coat job, or a rock will whip out of one of the tire lugs and smack one of the tubes, and that’ll be the end of the pristine newness of it. Which is OK, because the way it feels is more important than the way it looks. And this one feels fast—but I suppose all my bikes have, really, at one point or another.
Remember that first time you took off down a hill on a bike, whatever it was, and realized, Holy shit, this thing will go as fast as gravity and I can push it? Actually, you were probably seven or eight years old, so you probably thought “Wow” instead of “Holy shit”—but remember that? Maybe you got it going fast enough that the air rushing into your face pulled tears from your eyes, or something a little misaligned on the bike started wobbling ever so slightly and you decided to slow it down a little (probably using a coaster brake) before you crashed.
And after that moment, you had a brief period of your life in which you could fly. All you needed was that bike and a hill, or just a straightaway long enough to pump the pedals a few dozen times and then coast. At some point you crashed and realized it wasn’t without peril, or maybe you saw someone else crash and decided to be a little more conservative. And you pulled it back and kept your speed just a little under the “holy shit/wow” level.
We have other ways to fly now, and plenty of us have experienced them: skydiving, bungee jumping, skiing and snowboarding, all of which are fun, and flying in airplanes, which almost no one describes as “fun” anymore, but for most of us, bikes were the first way we felt anything close to flying. And they’re still the most accessible way to feel it—unless we forget about it, or tell ourselves we’re too old to go “Wheeeee,” or get rid of our bikes (gasp).
It’s a very simple joy, moving through the air without your feet touching the ground, with just a few pedal strokes and a little coasting. It can turn a section of street into your own personal runway, and turn a small part of a work commute into fun instead of the impotent stop-and-go of driving a car in traffic. It can inject a few seconds of pure fun into your day of staring at and scrolling through blue-lit screens.
There’s no metaphor for life or deeper meaning here; I’m just saying bikes are fun. If you’ve forgotten, grab one, point it downhill, pedal hard, and wait for a smile to appear. The sooner, the better.