There is nothing to achieve on a bike, and that is why riding on a spring day such as this, away from my house, where manuscripts await attention and notebooks of novel outlines beg for filling in, brings such relief. Out here, the last mounds of snow hide obstinately in shaded corners on lee sides of houses. They cannot escape their fate, but on a bike I can escape mine.
One can hardly fail at it, riding, though certainly failures do happen—spills such as I took off a banana-seated purple frame as an eight-year-old, after which I stood stunned and wounded, assessing a sore wrist and tar-grazed knee. It had rained hard the day before, and there I stood beside a massive roadside rain puddle, when a carload of teens drove by, and veered purposely into the puddle, sending a wall of water upon me. I was soaked into further terror and possibly a permanent fear of undeserved abuse, or the belief that when you’re down is precisely when to keep your guard up—though I’m not sure that’s something I learned.
First the cruelty of gravity and the insult of my own imperfect coordination, then heartless humanity compounding my shock. I walked home crying, angry at my betraying conveyance.
Once, as an adult, I was dumped abruptly to the earth when a summer ride on Minneapolis’ trails left my hands sweat-slick, and gripping the handlebars after an arrogant stint of no-handedness made for a slip, and a slap to the paved path. I revisited that street-impact feeling that I had gone decades gladly insensate of. Road-dimples on a reddened palm, embedded pebbles, and the humbling sting of public pain revealed how much heavier I’d become.
Falls are anomalies, we hope. In usual practice, a bike is a great equalizer, keeping us all, via momentum, upright. Between the training-wheeled tyke and the avid racing cyclist, very little is done differently. The intensity of hope is equal, the enjoyed sensations are the same: propulsion, wind in the face, freedom, the employment of reliable mechanics. Neither rider bears a greater nobility. The only variance is in joules and calories and degrees of seriousness.
The foolish rider, however, values speed overmuch. I could never be coaxed to don a form-hugging neon jersey like the ones that blur by in the oncoming lane. Their sponsorship is store-bought and false; their numbered rankings fall on a meaningless scale. If my flapping cotton shirt creates drag, it’s a consequence of physics I accept as much as the spills, as much as the snow’s cowering tenacity, as much as the ducks around the pond I pass being not on the water, where they belong somewhat more quintessentially, to my mind. If I am slowed by my less-than-sleek self, and my heavy bargain frame, I will pedal somewhat harder, but only as much as strains me to good effect. Anything more is a waste of pleasure.