It’s surreal to recall it now, but bicycling– even running– were largely absent from my life during my post-college twenties. I worked long hours, drove my car, and attended many a happy hour.
For a time that life seemed alright, but as the years progressed I noticed small disconcerting signs. I gained weight from a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. Twinges emanated from my lower back because of all the daily driving and stress from long hours at my job.
Happy hours felt like a hamster wheel to nowhere, replete with superficial bar chat, and a feeling that I was wasting time and money. Probably because the conversations were superficial, and I was wasting time and money.
If you’ve been around bikes long enough, you’re likely familiar with the “n+1″ principle. Velominati describes it as follows:
The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.
While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.
Recently Elly Blue put a question out to the Twitterverse, asking people about the things they found difficult when first taking up cycling. Her question took me back to 2003 or so when I began cycling around Washington, D.C., for transportation and fitness.
This inability to speak bike created a sense of frustration and vulnerability. Until I began riding as an adult (using a Ross mountain bike from my high school days), I had no need to know any of the proper words for bicycle parts.
Few of my friends shared my blossoming interest so my initial bicycle outings were solo affairs. I continued to put more miles on my bike, and over time it dawned on me that my bike required regular TLC to keep it rolling smoothly. Naturally, I learned this through problems that manifested– flat tires, worn brakes, rusting chains, tires balding, and the like.
I couldn’t do this type of maintenance myself so I had no choice but to search for a bike shop. The whole idea of a bike shop was daunting.
I knew little about bikes. I did not know how to talk about them. I imagined all the people working in the shop would be male and that they would all look down their noses at me, a struggling novice who couldn’t speak bike.
When presented with the choice of letting my bike fall into unusable disrepair or a visit to the bike shop, though, I mustered up my courage and went. As I feared, it was all men working in the bike shop, but they didn’t seem too horribly condescending or unapproachable so I started talking.
I hearkened back to my days living in Colombia, when I lived in a second language. I called all the parts and processes I did not understand by “thing,” and made full use of my pointing skills. “My chain and this thing…” “Using this thing while I change gears…” “This thing here doesn’t seem to be working correctly.”
Language is not learned in a vaccuum, although you can try. You can sit at home studying grammar and vocabulary, and it will certainly help you some. It’s through having occasion to use the words that they begin to lodge themselves into our heads.
Even though I speak bike more than I ever did, I still don’t speak it very well. Yeah, I learned the basics alright because my bike is generally my preferred transportation method, and it’s necessary for me to have a roadworthy steed at all times.
The finer points of bike speak are reluctant to stick, like a person whose name you know you should know, but you have a delayed ability to recall it. Seat stay, chain stay, skewer, cantilever vs. caliper. Bah.
My lack of good bike speak doesn’t hold me back from bike shops and caring for my bike these days. I now have the experience that comes with 11 years of daily riding. I also have a circle of friends, established relationships with bike shops, and a randonneur and real-life spouse who are fluent in the language of bike. If there is bike vocabulary I need to learn or a particular aspect I’m struggling with regarding my bike, I’m comfortable asking.
It wasn’t that way in the beginning. I look back on that woman just starting out as a cyclist and I feel so much empathy for her. She did not have a support network to teach her the language of bike. I’m proud of her for reaching out and overcoming her fears. The bike rider I am today thanks her.
*The card featured in this post is from Larkpress. They make beautiful paper goods (perfect for Valentine’s day, hint hint) so check them out here.
Today I was reading David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water.” In it, he addresses the theme of selfishness, as well as the tedious aspects of adult life and how we all construct and view our life experiences.
Our challenge, he says, is to step outside ourselves, take an active role in interpreting our surroundings, and not succumb to that everyday tediousness.
I call this fighting cynicism. In recent years, the importance of this challenge has been very present in my own mind. It’s easy for me to become irritated by the day-to-day administrative functions of my life as I fume about how they hold me back from a potentially “rad” existence. I’ve been hearing that word “rad” a lot lately, and I hate it, so I’m using it here. Cynicism! Wait, where was I?
Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have noticed that I’ve been perusing old issues of The Wheelman and Good Roads.
Both magazines were publications of the League of American Wheelman, which is now the Bike League, and date back to the late 1800’s, when people’s fascination with the bicycle was just beginning to take hold in the United States.
The excitement and novelty of riding a bicycle permeates these editions. From tour recounts to illustrations and poems, men (mostly men, as women are unfortunately largely absent from these publications) unabashedly adored bike riding.
An example of this appreciation for the bike is found in the poem below, “Wheelman’s Song, ” written by Will Carleton in 1884. It seemed a fitting way to end one year and help inspire the next. Continue reading The Wheelman’s Song→