The UK Bike Gathering
It was one month ago, now, when James Lucas and I attended the 2013 UK Bike Gathering. It’s taken me a while to arrange my feelings about the weekend, and rattle them down clearly. This, finally, is that account.
We pedalled down to Oxford, breezing through the winter lowlands; rolling roads underneath old oak trees, conversation rolling along among us. The bicycle rhythm, that pedalling glide, eases out both conversation and meditation in equal measure, and by the time we arrived in Oxford, in the dark, I felt very alive and peaceful.
The Broken Spoke Bike Co-op welcomed us with open arms. Lentil soup and warm talk, tea and introductions. The Broken Spoke runs from what feels like an underground vault. Off to one side is a half metre thick bank safe door, just like in the movies, and money counting rooms are painted green, pink, yellow, and stuffed with work stands and tool benches, with bikes hanging from the rafters, and filled to the gunnels now with bike folk from all over the country.
And we shared. Sam from the Broken Spoke put James and I up in his cosy brick cottage, visiting riders were spread over the whole of Oxford in members’ homes. We were all fed three beautiful vegan meals a day, from a local food co-op, and we all contributed workshops and discussions. We shared.
Beyond the skill sharing and talks, the Gathering felt like nothing short of consciousness raising. James and I facilitated a discussion on volunteers, sharing our experiences from the Bristol Bike Project. At one point, when I was talking, I felt suddenly overwhelmed. Circled around the room were dozens of people I’d just met, who were engaged and supportive, and connected. I felt the incredible rush of knowing that I could visit co-ops, all over the UK, and be welcomed. And I could offer the same to any of these folk. The Gathering connected the work I do every day at the Project to a wider movement of bike co-ops and community workshops. We don’t work alone, isolated, we are whole.
On Sunday evening, we all pedalled slowly through Oxford, chatting and hooting, and I felt close and cared for. And I realised in turn that I cared for far more than before I’d arrived.
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!