05 September 2012

Archival footage: Riding a bike is like that

The following post was originally published in November 2003 at FlagstaffBiking.org.

As a writer who often finds inspiration in words written by others, I worry some when it is Freud who lends me his best thought on a subject. I am a little scared of Freud like I am a little scared of Texas; it’s not likely that either can actually hurt me, but based on the little bit I’ve seen of each, they’ve both produced some unusual stuff.

But here it is anyway, my thesis d’jour via le plume de Freud: “Analogies... decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.” I think a good analogy is like Play-Do, like Legos, like Hot Wheels cars (and probably Barbie dolls, too); when we were little we played with these things, used them to make-believe and make sense of the world... to imagine what we could then only begin to understand.

Nothing much has changed, except that today, as a grown-up it’s often the bike that helps me understand; I believe the bicycle is perhaps the world’s most-adaptable analogy.

Three examples, chosen from among thousands:

The first one’s easy; in fact it’s, “just like riding a bike.” Even folks who never ride say this to acknowledge that we learn some things for a lifetime. To me this simple aphorism implies that knowledge is only real when its been retained; it is experience that is our best teacher. Plus there’s the fact when I learned to ride my bike I paid, and continue to pay, with more crashes than are countable, more dumb dabs than are discernable, more being off-the-back than is bearable.

When you tell me something is, “just like riding a bike,” you’re not telling me something is easy. Instead, I believe you’re implying that whatever skill you’re referring to was loved and practiced, and sometimes perhaps even loathed and practiced, to the point that it became truly second nature, so that it could not possibly be forgotten.

Riding a bike is like that.

Thoreau said it. Paul in the Bible said it. Even Martha Stewart has been known to admonish her fans to at least consider a little simplicity, a little letting-go of all the clutter, as a means of streamlining an otherwise hectic life. But those of us who ride already understand this.

When we ride bikes we typically do our best to optimally lighten our load. We take off our bulky clothes and clunky shoes and don more lightweight garb. We shave critical grams from our bodies and our bikes to make us faster. We carry only what’s necessary to feed ourselves, hydrate our bodies and make a few minor repairs while we’re out.

Life is crazy but it could be simpler. I know I could make it simpler; I know I could make myself more efficient; I know life could be more enjoyable, that I could be more purpose-driven: if I could just get rid of all this crap!

 Riding a bike is like that.

As someone who doesn’t really know a tenth of all there is no know about the science, history, or mechanics of bikes, I have nevertheless developed what some might call an abiding fondness for them. I don’t need to know the details of those things in order to enjoy bikes. My affection for bikes is both pervasive and persistent; hardly a day goes by where I don’t ride, tinker and/or write about bikes. I didn’t set out to become a bike-person, but such have I become; and I am glad for it. It is hard to define me as an individual without referring to bikes.

In a very small way this is similar, though by no means is it as intense, as the way I feel about my wife. I will never know everything that there is to know about her; she is too intricate and wonderful for me to ever presume that. Love doesn’t stipulate, nor could we ever humanly provide full-disclosure. But based on what I know (and even what I don't know), I love her; nothing I could ever learn would change the way I am passionate about her. I thank God for her every day. I wasn’t looking for her when we met, but I’m so glad she showed up when she did. After nearly seven years it is impossible to define me without noting her abiding loving-kindness towards me time and time again.

Love is like that.


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May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey