See from a bike
“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.