Two Wheeled Musings

Words by Paul De Valera

My bicycle is my best friend, my only true ally in this world. My bicycle will never betray me. Though it may break and throw me off into a bush or get a flat and make me push it now and again, it won’t ever work toward my undoing — not intentionally, that is.

My bicycle is always there when I need it, and as long as I take care of it, the bike will take care of me. By using my bicycle, I get to go places, see things and travel under my own power. Powering myself makes me empowered. My mind becomes sharper and my body stronger. By using a bicycle I become a better person, a stronger person. The bicycle is a stalwart companion when all of my human interactions have failed me again for the umpteenth time; when tears race down my face as I pedal to the top of a mountain, each pedal stroke has a leveling effect, bringing me back to balance. All the sense of loss, hurt and anger created in this world are pedaled out. My bike is propping me up when, if left alone to my own strength, I would be in a fetal position.

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When I’m troubled, the bicycle unravels mental and emotional knots, helps to solve problems and keep me even-keeled. There could be times when you can’t articulate what is wrong, but your bicycle won’t care; it will just be a good friend to you and take you on your way for as long as you need. It has eternal patience. When my father died and I was sobbing out of my head with grief, I shunned the comfort of my family and got on my bike. I rode and rode and even pushed up a few peaks. As I kept pedaling, I processed my whole life experience, and before I knew it, I felt better because I had my best friend ever to lean on: my bicycle.

Every other morning, I try to get up and to the top of the mountain as the light of day is just glancing over the horizon. There is nothing like getting to the summit of a lonely peak and being greeted by a sunrise; it never fails to put a smile upon my face. While you can try to sum up life in trite little pithy sayings that can be slapped on a bumper sticker, these little things here on my bike are really what, to me, build up a good life worth living. And while I can’t remember every sunrise, I can remember the place it takes me, and that is what always brings me back.

There is a tree that I like to ride to; it’s a lonely tree on a fire road that has become my quiet place. When I get there I just take a moment to soak in the quiet. I don’t need to stay long — just a taste is all. The sounds of traffic, phones, endless talking and noise to no end will always be, but for now, right now, it’s just me, my bicycle and my quiet place.

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One day it will be gone. Even though I’m strong now, one day I won’t be. I burn, yet one day I will be burnt. I intend to ride long hours into my long years, but I will not be blowing past carbon fiber wonder bikes uphill on a 44-pound cruiser forever. The day will come when I can’t ride like I used to, and the day will come when the trail is just a memory and no longer a daily plan. So I ride.

Ultimately, it comes down to love. Riding a bike, for me, is love, and I can never love enough. One day I will be old and wrinkled; I will have lots of white hair and many, many well-used, well-loved bicycles with scratches, rust and bald tires. But I will know that I did what I did out of love. I will look back at all of those rides without regret. So never make an excuse to not ride; make an excuse to go. You’ll never regret the choice.

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Tips For Happy Riding

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in the Rivendell Bicycle Works Winter ’04-’05 catalog. I happened upon it and enjoyed reading it, and figured it was worth a share.

Words by Grant Peterson. Photos by Helena Kotala & Evan Gross. 

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Learn right away that the front brake is the most effective one, and never lock the front wheel in dirt. Learn how far you can lean over without scraping a pedal. Learn to keep the inside pedal UP when you corner, and learn to ride safely in all conditions.

Signal your approach to pedestrians, especially if they’re old, and a bell is better than “On you left!” If no bell, try clacking your brake levers. If all you got is “On your left!” that’s fine.

At least one ride in 10, go without your sunglasses and gloves. Sometime next month, put some double-sided cheap-style pedals on a good bike and ride in non-cycling garb. Carry an extra tube you can donate to somebody with a flat tire and just a repair kit. If you’re a guy, don’t try to be a mentor to every female cyclist you ever meet.

Don’t ride in shoes you can’t walk through an antique shop in. Don’t wear clothing that makes your sweat stink even more. Don’t think you’ll go faster in a significant way if you and your bike become more aerodynamic.

Put a $20 bill inside your seat post or handlebar and hold it there, somehow.

Don’t ride until you’re confident you can fix a flat. If you ride more than one bike, have a set of bring-along tools for each one. Learn how to remove your rear wheel (put the chain onto the small cog, etc). If you ride in a group, bring food for you and somebody who forgot to.

Go for a one-hour ride underdressed sometime, because it’s good to be really cold on a bike every now and then. Never blame your bike or your health or anything else if you’re the last one up the hill or in to the rest stop.

If your brake hoods are black, wrap your bars with a different color tape. Never let your chain squeak.

If you pass another rider going up a hill, say more than “Hi.” If you see another rider approaching you from the rear, trying to catch you, let it happen. Fun is more important than fast. Don’t put any cyclist up on a pedestal, except Lon and Freddie. Sometimes, bring normal food on your ride. Shoot photos on your rides and give them away.

Feel comfortable mixing high tech and low tech, old and new parts and technologies, and don’t apologize to anybody for it. Compliment other people’s bikes, especially if they’re new. Buy the cheapest helmet that fits well. Try seersucker shirts for hot weather riding, and long-sleeved ones are best. Don’t underestimate fig bars. If you get a new widget and like it, don’t “swear by it.”

Don’t always shop in price and never ask for discounts at your local bike shop. Every time you go into a bike shop, spend at least $2, and if you ask a question and get good advice, spend $5 (get a cable). If you buy a rack, don’t ask for a free installation. Don’t assume your bike shop is making money.

Ride only when you feel like it. If you know a fast new rider, don’t say, “You really ought to race…” If you see a stocky woman rider, don’t suggest she race track. Have at least one bike you feel comfortable riding in a downpour. Ride in weather than keeps other cyclists indoors.

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Never keep track of your pedaling cadence. If you have a normal loop or ride, count the number of times you shift on it; then the next time you ride it, cut that in half and see if it makes any difference. Learn to ride no-hands and to hop over obstacles, but not simultaneously.

Never hit a pedestrian. In traffic, be visible and predictable. If you have several bikes, set them up with different equipment….but always ride in the saddle you like best. Don’t try to keep up with faster descenders if you’re not comfortable descending.

Never apologize for buying something that’s not quite pro quality by saying, “I’m not going to race or anything.” If you buy a stock bike, do something to it that makes it the only one exactly like it in the world. Don’t think it is important to match front and rear hubs or rims. If you borrow somebody else’s bike, for a short test ride or a long ride, say something nice about it.

Always bring a pump. Build at least one wheel. Wear out something. Don’t ever describe any bike, no matter how inexpensive or dilapidated, as “a piece of crap.” If you get a fancy bike assembled by somebody else, allow them a scrape or two, especially if the bike is really expensive.

 

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