See from a bike

Fences double as bike racks all over Oxford, June 2017.

“It is curious that with the advent of the automobile and the airplane, the bicycle is still with us. Perhaps people like the world they can see from a bike…without leaving behind clouds of choking exhaust, without leaving behind so much as a footstep.”
— Gurdon S. Leete

While I was in Oxford, I found myself snapping photo after photo of the bicycles that were parked all over the city. They added spots of color to the stone walls, injecting a whimsical element into what could have been an intimidating fortress of hard work, tradition, decorum and regulation. Each one looked prettier to me than the one before.

I haven’t ridden a bicycle for years, but I did have one that I rode frequently between 1990 and 1996, while we lived on the central coast of California and in Hawaii. I never learned to ride a ten speed or even a three speed, and when I requested a bike for Christmas, I told Mama it would have to be the old-fashioned kind like the one I rode as a child. It took her a long time to find one that could be delivered to our home in California, but she managed to do it, and soon I was riding through the gentle hills of our lovely neighborhood.

People often asked me why I would want to ride a bike like that, but I was afraid of a faster one, and I didn’t mind that it took more work. Riding more slowly was fine with me; the views were better that way. The only thing I didn’t love about it was wearing the helmet that nobody had realized was a necessary precaution when I was a kid.

Once in awhile, in Hawaii, I would ride the three miles or so to the beach on base, just to see the ocean and spend a few minutes there before heading back home. The way home often seemed quite long, and many years later I would have vague dreams about riding home from the beach for an impossibly long distance (maybe twenty miles or more, in the crazy illogical landscape of sleep). Sometimes in the dreams it would be getting dark, and I would be asking myself “why on earth did I ride so far on this bike?” and feeling fearful that I would not make it back.

I don’t remember ever feeling that way in real life, and even in the dreams, my distress at the distance I was traveling felt more like the sorrow of moving farther and farther away from a past I had loved, without quite knowing what might lie ahead. Now, of course, I remember those dreams with a confirming sadness that my anxiety about the future– if that is what haunted my sleep– turned out to be quite reasonable.

Yet bikes are still happy things to me. I don’t plan to ride one ever again, but I love the sight of them. Maybe I should get an old brightly-colored bike that nobody wants to ride anymore, and use it for a garden decoration. Or maybe I’ll just make a photo collage of all the Oxford bikes I captured in digital and mental pictures.

Did you (or do you) ever ride a bike? Please tell us what you love about it.



  1. raynard

    Julia , I still remember when I learned how to ride a bike. Back in the 70’s when we lived in the East NY section of Brooklyn, there was this Catholic church that housed a school. My two future brother in laws had me inside of their grounds, riding the bike with the long bar in the back. It wasnt until I was in my teens there was a time, I rode a bike all night. Now the closest thing to riding a bike these days is” watching reruns of” The Wizard of Oz the Wicked Witch scene her riding and” Pee Herman’s movie when he ” lost his bike”..No ” bike riding at the gym here,” whats the point of having a T.V in front of it seeing all the fast food commercials.. I digress. Be bless and” Happy Eclipse Watching..( I’ll do it on the news)

    • Raynard, I had totally forgotten (or maybe never knew) that you had lived in East NY. I had a friend who lived there, on Dumont Ave. I visited her in 1974, and back then it was a pretty rough neighborhood where she lived. But we went to Brooklyn Heights and I photographed the Manhattan skyline at night. It was wonderful. There used to be a restaurant there called Henry’s End which was (not surprisingly) at the end of Henry St. and we ate there that night. Who knows, maybe we passed you on the street someplace while we were walking around. Were you that kid on the bike who was terrorizing all the pedestrians? 🙂 Just kidding! As you know if you scroll down the page and look to the left my warning about the flying monkeys is inspired by the Wizard of Oz. BTW I am watching the eclipse via the TV news method myself or else online streaming. I imagine somebody will have a good camera that will catch all I need to see.

  2. Cherie

    Julia, it is so funny that you wrote about riding an old fashioned bike. I never had a bike growing up so never really rode one often. Well, I have developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot so I borrowed my neighbors old fashioned bike. I was very shaky and as I was slowing down to talk to my other neighbor and I took quite a tumble! This was also right after eye surgery for retinal tears! My surgeon would have been furious, but I wanted to ride that bike so much like I see everyone do around here! They have a bikefest and everything! I skint my knee and hurt my pride, but my eyes are fine! No more bikes for me! I love the pictures though!

    • Cherie, that’s the reason I’m afraid to get on one anymore. I just know I’d have some sort of accident, maybe even a bad one. I have enough trouble with falling down just walking around. 🙂 But I love the way bicycles look, and they make great photos. OUCH, plantar fasciitis is SOOOO painful. I had it for awhile until the food doctor told me that I couldn’t keep walking 5 miles a day on worn-out shoes. I had it in both feet and it was much worse when I first got up in the morning. I hope yours is getting better. One thing I have found about getting old is that there are endless “common” ailments I never knew about until they hit me. Join me in propping up your feet and sipping some tea. We’ve earned it. 🙂

  3. Carolyn

    When I was young skating was my thing and I was good. After I got married the tent skating rinks would come and I wanted to go skating,but Terry said no way. He was nice about it because he didn’ t want me to get hurt. Then came the bike, I took right to it. We both had bikes and enjoyed them . Last time I was on one was in CA. Paul,son-in-law, said Emma wanted to go for a ride. They fixed Jennifer’s for me to ride, then it was still a little big and was a 3speed. Told them I could not handle it. Yes you can, we will go slow. I did pretty good until a little hill got me. I forgot about the hand brake so I hit the curb and was knocked off. On my back and wondering if I had broken anything I could hear Paul and Emma running for me. Got up and then had to ride back to the house, Paul went ahead so when I got there he could stop me. I really wasn’t hurt, just banged up a little, I was worried about Jennifer’s bike, made it out ok. I have never been on a bike since and never will again. Told Terry I could ride on a three wheeler, he said don’t think so. That is my story of the bike. I do like to watch other people ride. Hope you have a great week. Tske care and love you all. Hugs to you and Matt.

    • Carolyn, your comment and Cherie’s have convinced me that I’m right to avoid bicycles, no matter how much I may sometimes want to try it. I couldn’t stand the idea of using a hand brake. I was afraid it just wouldn’t be intuitive enough after getting used to braking with my foot, whether in the car or on a bike. You described my exact fear about hand brakes. I’m glad you escaped with only minor injuries. I remember when we lived near you and were going to the same church, there was a young dad from church (I can’t remember his name now) who was killed while riding his bike. Having said all of that, I think it is romantic that you and Terry rode bikes together. That was something I tried to get Jeff interested in doing, and he did have a bike for a time, but never really rode it much. In Hawaii he didn’t like riding it to work because he had to be in uniform and would get hot. Oh well, enough rambling. The weather is hot again but probably not for long. I was out sweeping up rusty gold leaves from the cherry trees today. They are always the first to fall. I’m off to the fridge for more iced tea. Love and hugs to you both!

      • Carolyn

        I remember that but neither of us can remember his name.

        • I’m always surprised how many things like that I can’t remember anymore. I used to have a very good memory. I still do for some things, but often I remember very trivial details and forget big things.

  4. Good morning, Julia!
    Yes, helmets are necessary, especially on 10 speed bicycles, when one is hurtling down the road, head-first, at ridiculous speeds.
    I guess I will never manage the Tour de France!
    I love that there are brightly coloured bicycles in England! I’m sure they are extra-cheering to see on grey days!

    • That hurtling business is what scares me, with or without a helmet. I think I’m better off photographing bikes than riding them. England sports all kinds of bright colors to cut through the gloom, from umbrellas to bicycles to bright red buses and mailboxes. Best of all are the hanging baskets of flowers in dazzling colors. They’re everywhere, from light posts to traffic medians, but especially the pubs seem to feature lots of them outside the front door. Watch for some photos coming soon to a blog near you.

      • There were bikes all over Italy, too, and the Netherlands and Belgium. 🙂
        As horse-loving little girls my friend, Sheila, and I named our bicycles and pretended they were horses. Mine was Monica-tannika. (I thought the name sounded like a galloping horse.)
        I must have been crazy as a kid. I remember once riding, squatting with my hands and feet both on the handle bars. I remember thinking: Wait – this is nuts! and moving back into the seat, never to stand on the handlebars again.
        No wonder that when I turned 18 my mother cried with relief and said, “I never thought you’d survive childhood.”

        • Susan, that name DOES sound like a galloping horse! And yes, the handlebar stunt was crazy. It is kind of amazing that any of us survive childhood, but most of us do. For some, I suppose it’s more amazing than for others. 🙂

  5. Beth

    Julia, I missed the sidewalks of Dayton and Vandalia when we moved to Georgia. Skating and bike riding just weren’t the same. Sidewalks also afforded the opportunity to walk everywhere. School, library, the pool, ballet class, ice cream shop and the movie theater. Three options of transportation and our parents didn’t worry as long as we traveled with friends. A bike offered independence.

    • Beth, I used to read about sidewalks and longed for them. So I guess you could say I missed sidewalks even though I didn’t really know what they were like. I never lived near any until we moved to– you guessed it– Dayton, Ohio! But luckily we’ve lived near them ever since, except for our York County home, where I really, really miss the sidewalks when we are down there. Here in Alexandria I walk to many of the places I need to go: post office, grocery, department stores, pharmacy etc. and I love not having the hassles of parking, especially on those occasional Walmart runs. The Walmart parking lot is a jungle. It stuns me how crowded it ALWAYS is there…but I digress. When we first moved from NorCal to York County, Virginia, it felt so remote and rural because there were no sidewalks. Luckily in our neighborhood there are bike lanes and people use those instead. Sidewalks have so many benefits; they create a feeling of community because we are always passing each other, kids, dogs, etc. and I love seeing people out and about year round. It’s especially valuable for people at risk of isolation.

  6. Harry Sims

    Is such a joy to see these beautiful observations and these wonderful reflections.

    • Thank you, Harry. It is always a joy to see you here with us.

  7. I haven’t ridden a bike in years, but I remember the trauma of having to learn how to ride a bike and I think it scarred me. I can ride a bike, but I don’t find pleasure in it. However, I feel that pleasure when I read your blog about it. I can imagine how lovely it was to ride in Hawaii!

    • Yes, Hawaii was easier for riding because the area we lived in didn’t have all those hills and slopes that were such a challenge in California. But I’m with you on having unpleasant memories of learning to ride. I can remember some pretty bad skinned knees. At my age I’m focusing on not falling with regular old walking 🙂 which happens more than I care to admit– so yes, bikes are a thing of the past for me too. But I do like the way they look, especially in pictures. 🙂

      • Oh me too! I feel the same way as you! I love the memory of riding in Hawaii for you. That just seems so special to me, truly. 🙂

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