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Blog // Travel
September 4, 2009

The Cyclist

Australia030 Originally uploaded by fernandogros. There’s an interesting thing that a number of my favourite bloggers have in common. They ride bikes. I’ve never set out to find cyclists who blog. But reading some of my favourite bloggers recount their cycling experiences has been compelling. I’m reflecting on that now because, during my recent break […]




Australia030

Originally uploaded by fernandogros.

There’s an interesting thing that a number of my favourite bloggers have in common. They ride bikes.

I’ve never set out to find cyclists who blog. But reading some of my favourite bloggers recount their cycling experiences has been compelling. I’m reflecting on that now because, during my recent break in Adelaide, I’ve rejoined the cycling brigade.

After a brief and poorly constructed period of research, I took the plunge and bought myself a wonderfully grown up (or wonderfully impractical, depending on your point of view) bike.

My goals were simple: I wanted something that did not look like an overgrown child’s toy, no more than 10 gears, and if possible no more than 5, an upright and relaxed riding position, a very comfortable seat, no suspension and easy to understand maintenance.

So, I settled on an Electra Amsterdam.

I love it. Big, easy rolling, distinctive and stable. To be blunt, I’m not racing, I’m not going off-road and I’m mostly following a young child on long, flatish, paved bike trails. I’m a content, or maybe dull, cyclist.

What buying a bike and spending a succession of mornings and afternoons riding did was reconnect me, in a surprising way, with my biography. In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton suggests that the uncomfortable reality of holidays is that we always turn up. We holiday to get away from life, but life always catches up with us.

A few years back, on Holiday in Kiawah, I rode quite a bit and realised that I missed something about pedalling around. Something about freedom, something about who I enjoyed being at a different, earlier, more carefree stage of life.

I was also reminded of a line towards the end of Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, where he suggests that motorcyclists have got something fundamentally right about life, which is why he enjoys their company and working for them. In a way I think my blogging and cycling friends have made a right decision, not just aesthetically, but morally, by riding.

Sadly, my bike is not with me now – it stayed in Adelaide. But, I look forward to being reunited with the experience riding it brings when next I visit.

Of course, I could also ride in Hong Kong. Well, no, not really.

Responses
Toni 13 years ago

A few years ago I help an elderly lady in our village prepare her elderly bike – a Hercules Roadster type – for a local sponsored ride. After finishing I gave it a quick test ride, and was amazed at the smooth, comfortable ride it gave compared to the slightly tense, sharp feel of the mountain bikes I was riding at the time (even with 5″ of suspension travel both ends). The old roadster geometry and soft materials used for forks, spokes, rims etc can make for a well cushioned ride on smoothish surfaces where precision and response is not required. I remember as a kid (when we all had this kind of bike) being able to ride right round the block ‘no hands’ because the slack geometry encouraged riding in a straight line, while gently leaning it over would make it turn reasonably well, even down hill.

For the sort of stuff you want to do a bike like this should be great. My first instinct was to mikey-take, but that’s not right because you’ve selected the appropriate tool for the job. May you have lots of fun together and encourage your daughter at the same time.

BTW am I correct in thinking wearing a helmet is compulsory in Australia? It seems to me that it would take away from the essence of freedom that cycling embodies, though if you grow up under such rules it may not feel that way. Part of the enjoyment of 2 wheels is simply being able to leap aboard and go. One of the reasons I fell out of love rapidly with that Triumph Trident we had a few years back was that I felt boxed in, and mounting up involved climbing into it, rather than just hopping on and roaring off. Thus with bicycles, it’s great just to grab one and leap on and feel the wind in your hair, bugs in your teeth etc ratheer than wrapping up in protective gear. I suspect if they made cycle helmets compulsory here I’d feel much less inclined to ride.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Yes, helmets are compulsory in Australia and yes, it takes way from the feeling of freedom. In fact it feels a little silly on a bike like that, on flat paths away from traffic, to be wearing a helmet. Still, those are the rules and helmeted riding is better than no riding.

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