The axis of my world is the bicycle. When discussing my passion for cycling, I’m often met with a curiosity that I can travel for over 100 miles and still be able to stand upright. For the non-cyclist, that distance is usually left to traveling by car. But that mileage and those hours spent is my proof of how profound this union of body and machine can be.
As a child I was fortunate enough to have a bike and learn how to ride one. Those very first pedal pushes gave me the freedom to leave the neighborhood. As an adult, I hopped on that road bike and I learned a new language that added more complexity to the world. French author Paul Fournel says “It’s a world of communication, of connection, where all people and things pass by way of the bike.”
Part of this fascination makes me commute to work by bike every day. The drive to pedal is something that alleviates the feeling of being herded, shoved and sealed into a subway car. The fascination goes further: the more miles you feed your legs, the more they want in return. The bike teaches you about your body; how much you sweat, how many calories to consume, when to drink water. The bike can also teach you humility: how hard the wind can blow and how truly exhausted I can be once I hit the wall. (Fournel calls the complete depletion of energy “meeting the man with the hammer). Cycling teaches me about my environment; the lines and details of the Manhattan bridge, the pock marked streets of East Village. These things reveal themselves to you in a steady pace, enough to consistently peak your interest.
Cycling is a simple yet sophisticated thing, whimsical and easy while at the same time deep and philosophical. It’s a form of transportation that is multi-faceted and permeates all corners of living. The title for Paul Fournel’s Need for the Bike describes it perfectly. Once you’ve found it (cycling), it becomes a necessity, and this necessity defines you:
“To create a desire for something one needs is to engage in a labor of human happiness. Need is a demanding and obscure thing that defines the dependence of one person on another. To identify it and want it is to define oneself as a person. That’s the secret of culture, the secret of cuisine, the secret of kindness. It’s also the secret of tiny Fournel on his bike in the vast country side, miraculously in equilibrium on his two wheels, trying to catch his own shadow.”
The drawings are by Jo Burt.