It’s been over four months since I went for a bike ride. Since we got back from our tour around Britain neither of us have had much interest in cycling. It felt like we were all pedalled out and the thought of pumping up the tyres and getting back in the saddle just didn’t appeal. Until today that is. I’m not sure whether it was the signs of spring all around us or the sight of so many people enjoying a ride in the sunshine yesterday but all of a sudden we both felt as if it was time to get back on the bikes.
We didn’t go very far but it was a very special ride because it has resulted in me falling in love again.
There is no doubt that after a break of this length the bike always feels uncomfortable. The reach to the bars is too long, the saddle is too hard and I feel like the whole bike is too big. It just doesn’t feel right. I know from past experience that it will take several rides of increasing distance before that old oneness with the machine comes back and we become a team again. Before muscle and metal meld into a single entity once more. It’s nothing to worry about, just odd. I suppose we are both just a bit rusty.
Contrast this with the amazing feeling that I get just one or two miles into the ride. Despite the awkwardness, I am struck all over again by the efficiency of this marvellous machine. If you have even a small amount of fitness then it takes no effort at all to propel both rider and bike along at an amazing speed. For the same effort as walking at a modest pace a bike will take you many, many times further in any given time-span. It is like a magic trick.
This sense of magic comes over me as if I am riding the bike for the very first time. As if the bike itself is a completely new invention and it fills me full of joy every time it happens. I am convinced that this mechanical advantage is partly responsible for the sense of freedom that every child gets when they first learn to ride a bike. They might not consider the physics of it, but suddenly they are moving faster under their own steam than they have ever done before in their lives. One minute dad is hanging onto the saddle to keep them upright and then the next moment he is history. He is completely unable to keep up with the child who up until this moment has always been just a stride or two away. Always under his control. Not any longer. The bike gives a child a freedom of such scope that they may never experience anything quite like it again. Many of us will spend a lifetime trying to recreate that feeling but it can never be available with such intensity again. The pure joy it brings is dependent on its very transience. It simply can’t be had twice.
I think what I felt today, just like I do whenever I get back on the bike after a break, is a faint but very tangible connection with that special moment from my childhood. That unadulterated joy that comes from being able to travel so easily, so simply and so independently. I think it’s this simple childish pleasure that is at the core of cycling and especially cycle touring. It gives me a sense of freedom that nothing else manages to do. It’s magic. Like being a child again.
Perhaps it is time to get the maps out of their boxes. Time to start dreaming once more.