Five weeks, and head spinning with nothing less than desire. I’ve been pining for circling, wheels, pedals, the joyful clickclickclick of a freewheel glide.
I broke a bone in my hand, and suddenly I was crippled, isolated up the wrong end of Gloucester Road, with a great long walk to get anywhere, unable to hold the bars of my freedombike. I stumbled over the tiniest logistics, found my work day was hours longer with the tedious walking. There is no doubt (was there ever?) that the work that we do at the Bike Project is nothing less than empowering, liberating work, freeing folk from endless walking, opening up the city and closing up distances.
Walking my bike back from the hospital, with the new plaster cast uncomfortable and alien on my arm, I realised I wasn’t going to be able to work. I couldn’t use a fucking fork, let alone a cone spanner. And so it was. I’ve spent weeks trying futilely to hoist bikes into the stand. It was only when I found myself contemplating tensioning a cable by pulling it with my teeth while I used my good hand on the bolt, that I realised that I should just put the tools down and back away to the admin. My cast got grubby and oily, nonetheless.
But I hauled a bike off the stand today, all greased and smooth, clean and tuned by my hands, and felt that I was healing.
So five weeks.
More to go for full strength, to never be defeated by stubborn tyres or stiff BBs, to launch over some rocks on the mountain bike. But I can feel the glide again, on the roads at least. And I’m stoked about that; holler at me if you see me on the roads, share the delight, the desire.
I’ve been mulling over the way my recent posts oscillate so wildly between giggling jumping joy and death pain fear. To ride bikes, to embrace turning wheels and rolling as a life, is, clearly, quite a thing.
It is nothing less than to take happiness from the callus, to except the suffering and to bear the pain.
It is to know the impossible feeling of the freewheel, the glide. The dream of the arching hillside! The swooping corner! The support and love of the communities we create and nurture. The joy.
We cyclists are strong to the very last.
Three cheers for the riders! Stay strong!
The violence and fear
Thoroughfares like cannon barrels - rammed to the gunnels and red hot with fire and blood and death. It’s easy to be dramatic, some might say, it’s easy to over state the death, the fear and maiming. The wounding. But it’s there and it’s painful and it’s all around us.
I was attacked last week. A big black SUV, children wailing in the back seats and an anti-social bastard at the wheel. He ran me down consciously, swiping into my side. He threatened me with a callous snarl of “the way you were cycling, you deserve everything you got” while the paramedics mopped up the blood and felt for broken bones. I couldn’t even look at him.
I can’t bear the rage around me. I’m can’t deal with confrontation or violence, it’s not within me. I just want to get home, I want to feel wind around me, I want to get to work.
The police told me the man only just passed his breathalyser. He claimed I “assaulted his car”. It was five days ago, and I still can’t work, my hand can’t turn an allen key.
If you can be fit and young and confident, if you can be qualified and trained in road craft, and yet still be mown down by a rogue motorist, what hope for those slower, those with less experience, with more fear?
No, don’t even try and tell me we need more training, or more respect or whatever.
We need freedom from being expected to mingle with the violent raging tonnes of metal and rubber that, intentionally or not, terrify us, run us down, make us bleed. Kill us.
The thrill of the new
I can’t stop looking at it.
That’s the first sign. The second, of course, is that the feeling of riding it swells through me at odd times of the day: morning uphill powering, afternoon spinning and evening dreams of back lane cruising.
Truth be told, I am shocked by how this bike is making me feel, how stoked I get riding it.
After weeks and weeks of fiddling around, I have built up a road bike. Now, understand that for me this is something of a radical departure. My entire life has spun around bikes, the very centre of what I love, what I live for, think about and dream of. Cycling has been core to me for as long as I can remember. But I’d never ridden a road bike.
I grew up with mountain bikes, all muddy lanes, pine forests and roots. I bought a BMX at some point, dug jumps, grew real perma-calluses that ached and throbbed from pulling a bike around, smashing into walls and sliding against concrete. I’ve always been a rider.
Road cycling is something else, quite different.
Last weekend, I hustled together a little crew for my inaugural road ride. They blitzed my legs off. There was all the chat, casual bike natter and talk of ratios and what I needed to know about pockets. Then, suddenly, impossibly suddenly, there were sprints, fucking sprints! and people were going at a hundred miles an hour, gaps like Plantation jumps in the group and breathing ragged and wild. I’d spin my little legs out and freak out about being in the drops and then come to a tottering collapse at a junction when I forgot how to unclip my stupid white shoes from my stupid clippy little pedals. Climbing felt ridiculous. Gentle rises would destroy me. I still can’t work out if it’s that I’m weak, or if I’m using different muscles, or if I’m just riding faster on this thin tyred thing, because the hills are destroying me.
That alienness is so incredible to me. I squeeze into my lycra FLUEEUP, strap into these rigid little shoes CLIP CLIP, and fire off like a fucking rocket ship. There’s a very rawness to that. The lycra, the shoes, the bars; it’s all a package of oddness that envelops me and makes me so excited.
Riding bikes is ace, and riding new bikes is really bloody excellent.
Moments of fear
I’ve never quite managed to get past the feeling. I know some riders don’t feel it at all, and others can’t deal with it in any way, and stumble away from the feeling instantly.
The subtle fear, the tug of concern pulling at legs and wobbling hands. I always feel it when I size up those jumps that are just slightly out of my comfort zone: the lips just that bit higher than my head, the gap longer than I am tall, the speed just a bit quicker than I’d like. There’s always that funny running-up-the-lip thing I do, holding my hands in front of me clutching my imaginary handlebars just to get a feel for the transition. The “Yeah, be a’reet.” Or else indecisively scuffing the lip with a shoe.
Then the push up and the awful moment when I sit on my bike and look down to the jump, the drop or the chute. When you position yourself there, it’s all too agonising not to ride the damn thing. I always wipe my sweaty hands on my shorts, try and steady my breathing, telling myself it’s only ragged from the sharp uphill push. Then I reposition my foot on the pedal for a few moments, convinced that it’s not quite in the right spot, cursing sticky rubber and sharp pedal pins. More breathing.
And roll. Worry and rolling, and thinking of staying loose, remembering the feeling of the lip, the suck of the transition…
I know instantly if I’ve fucked it up or not, as soon as I hit the lip. The stiff back or the flowing shape…
There’s always a short pause, a sideways contortion where the bike ain’t going where I want it, or else is gliding just so…
Sometimes I can bail really cleanly, ditching the bike in the air and running out on the landing. That’s always wonderful, because then you know the spirit of the jump, you can feel what the bike will do, how to ride, the speed, the pop. Or sometimes, it’s just cleaned nicely, or maybe hung up a little or nose bonked a touch too much, but it’s all ok. But it’s the hard thwack of my body hitting the ground that gives the real feeling. When there’s no air in my lungs to shout that I’m fine to my mate running up the hill towards me, when I feel my body, check it’s all there…
And always that subtle anxiety, the little moments of fear layered at every stage. Big crash or not, the memories of aching muscles and scabs and blood on my bedsheets seep through every time, melting the glories of pinned doubles and flow feelings. I can never quite get past them. I can clean it three, four, seven times, and still it can linger there.
Smashed shifter mount, two flat tyres, bent chainring. But what a rhythm section, oh!
And the feeling’s still there, desire and fear, desire and fear.