I did not always have the appreciation that I do today for a well-made bike. In fact, one of my first memories of riding is rather negative. I was in fifth grade and too eager to go fast. I took my mother’s mid 80’s Schwinn Traveler out for a spin around my childhood neighborhood. It was my first time riding skinny tires, it was too tall, and I had not accounted for how it would handle. I went down hard on a sharp gravelly turn and got a doozy of a scar on my elbow from the ordeal.
I remember being generally less thrilled about cycling for my younger years afterward. For some reason, rollerblading was a thing…? Not a joke. I literally rollerbladed more than I drove in high school. My feet never smelled worse but my hips were never stronger. Fast forward to sophomore year of college, when I brought my Roadmaster “mountain bike” from my parents house to school with the intention of commuting on it. It gave me nothing but mechanical problems and I abandoned the bike in my front yard after a month or two. Shameful, I know, but at least somebody stole it and got some use out of it.
Fast forward again to the year 2013 when my parents bought me another cheap box store mountain bike. This time it was different. Perhaps it was because I had made a friend who was eager to have a riding partner and show me that maintaining a bike was necessary, relatively cheap and rewarding. Perhaps I saw for the first time the freedom that a bike gave me from being stuck in traffic for 20 minutes on a four mile trip. Perhaps it was the challenge that Cincinnati’s notoriously hilly neighborhoods offered me. Perhaps it was the way that the back streets in town became more familiar and inviting than the avenues I saw through my dusty windshield. In any case, some magic took this combination of simple machines and sweat and forced me to see the city I had lived in for so long with completely new eyes: I was hooked on it and I’ve never looked back since.
For me, riding becomes a head check. It’s a way to silence the worries and and mental detritus from the day. It’s an escape from obligations, phones, facebook and the rest of the world. It is a physical challenge that keeps me honest. Maintaining a bike becomes a ritual of concentration and intention. It is a wonderful thing to bring a malfunctioning part into harmony with the whole bike. These are the reasons I love my bike. It has been a long and winding road (sorry) for me to understand what makes a bike great, but has yielded rewards I could not have imagined. What do you love about your bike?