I learned to ride a bicycle when I was about eight years old. It wasn’t mine. A friend had gotten a brand new Chinese made BMX look alike. It was blue and everyone thought it was really cool. Everyone wanted to give it a go and my friend relished the power of choosing who could go and who couldn’t. Because turns were few and far between it took a couple of days before I could get those vital second and third pedal strokes in that really make you move, and balance was a huge issue. About a week later I managed to turn (on purpose!) although I couldn’t quite turn ‘around’ without a lot of space so I had to stop, clumsily and on occasion with the help of a wall or garage door, pick up the bike turn it around and then ride back to where everyone else was trading all sorts of trinkets to the owner to get a turn.
I really wanted a bike of my own at that point, everyone did, but it was decided it’s far too risky to let a child ride one of those contraptions anywhere near where cars are and then the fad kind of faded and I lost interest. The crucial thing was that I had learned to keep balance though, and not look at the pedals which meant that in a way I stopped fighting the bike for control and started adjusting to a new balance paradigm.
Ten years later I still hadn’t had a bike of my own and I hadn’t ridden one in years but I was visiting my brother in France. In the garage there were two bikes. I had to do it, I just had to. ‘Well can you ride?’ he said ‘Of course I can pff’ I said. I picked up the one that looked nicest and off I went downhill without checking the brakes or the handlebars and found myself speeding toward his neighbors’ parked cars. Still remembering how to do things I tried to turn away but the handlebars weren’t fixed to the fork very well and a 45 degree turn on the bars turned out to be a 5 degree turn on the wheel, the brakes didn’t work so here I was going 20km/h downhill fighting for control toward a very expensive Renault and no way of stopping. There was nothing to it, whatever I did I knew this was going to hurt so I decided that I had to fall, so I did. The road was fairly smooth though so nothing broke but I got the nastiest looking scratches all over the left side of my body, oh and there was a fairly loud noise. My brother came out running to see what had happened to me, I was already up and said something along the lines of ‘It’s just a flesh wound’ so he wouldn’t get too upset. The fact was it kind of hurt but I’d had worse things happen to me.
The next day I picked up the other bike, which was in far better condition technically and off I went to the park. I managed good speeds and even jumped off the crests of small mounds and never fell again… I also saw first hand that the French really do sometimes just stop and empty their bladders on the sidewalk eww.
It was only a couple of years ago that, as an adult earning my own living I decided to get a bike after having rented a 24kg proverbial truck in the park. I still have it, it’s not a Cube or a Trek, it’s a Decathlon brand Rockrider 5.1 I spent ~EUR300 on but it’s mine and I’ve ridden about 1800km on it to date.
Cycling is an immensely gratifying passtime and once you are passed the learning curve you realize that you become one with the bike when you are in the saddle. All you have to do is think about doing something and it happens, without your having to consciously go through the process of doing it, like walking – imagine what would happen if you had to think about raising your leg and putting it in front of the other taking care to shift your weight to the one on the ground each time you had to take a step. In this sense the bike becomes an extension of your body, it enhances what you can do without being invasive and the sense of achievement after a long ride is second to none that I have experienced.
That said, what prompted me to write this post is the fact that yesterday I took part in the Bucharest Critical Mass ride that happens every last Friday of the month with a friend. 200 cyclists on a grand tour of the city for a couple of hours with a small police escort. There was surprisingly little in the way of opposition from drivers although there were a couple of them who didn’t take too kindly to us slowpokes crossing the intersection. The sense for me was that people were curious as to what we were doing, and taxi drivers were especially courteous. There was camaraderie and respect, most people followed the guidelines and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening.