Thursday, August 17, 2023

Reasons to ride

Here are the reasons I love to ride. As it happens, they appear below pretty much in the increasing order of their importance to me. 

1. Exercise - That has to be a very popular reason, if you were to conduct a survey. In fact, it was that article in the New York Times that got me riding again "For Successful Aging, Pick Up the Pace or Mix It Up". 

Exercise all on its own, is definitely not the reason I love to ride. It was just the prompt that got me back on the saddle, pushing pedals.

2. Physics - This is the thing I love most about the act of riding. Not necessarily, or even primarily speed, but kind of that, but not really. It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't ride, and completely unnecessary to explain to anyone who does ride, or has ridden. 

The joy is rooted in the circularity of the wheels and pedals, and the friction of the ground and the brakes. It's the same thing on a motorbike... except for he pedals, but the motor performs the same magic as the pedals on a bicycle by allowing the rider to modulate the force rotating the wheels. That inexplicable feeling emerges as the two-wheeler turns, and it changes with speed. Weird things like counter-steering (press the handlebars left to go right - yes, not a mistake or a fantasy, but an actual fact) that happens at speeds mostly attained only by motorbikes, and other mystical things that happen at very low speeds, always as the bike turns. With a bicycle that has direct drive pedals, it's amazing that the rider can actually stay in the saddle with the bike upright and only moving in small tiny ways, basically at a full stop.

At normal cruising speeds, bikes handle turns by an intricate interplay of centrifugal and centripetal forces. The rider feels those forces in their body, because the rider is one with the bike.

To witness what that very complicated formula looks like, you need look no further than right here, literally mind-blowing feats. If it's speed you like, watch how motorcycle grand-prix riders handle the corners on the race track.

3. Exploration - Bikes take you places, and allow you to see things, to experience things, that walking and driving just never seem to. In fairness, walking certainly offers pleasures driving doesn't. The fragrance of freshly mowed lawns, of flowering lilac or gardenia, and the sounds of birds, insects, dogs, seagulls, and geese, to name a few. 

Bikes offer that as well. So how are bikes different?

They let you cover more ground and they are nimble.

On a Vespa you don't hesitate to explore lanes and alleyways that you would just never do in a car.

On a bicycle the range of experiences is much greater, including walkways and trails where all motorized vehicles are forbidden. When you have a Brompton, taxis, buses, subways, trains and planes also become options, opening opportunities for exploration to pretty much anywhere in the world.

4. Sights and experiences - Riding allows me to see and experience things that I am pretty sure I would not otherwise have. I can't possibly attempt an inventory here, because it would be endless, and I feel it would ultimately be pointless.

Perhaps the best I can do is share my most recent experiences in no particular order. These things stand out from my weekday rides in the last few days and weeks.

  • The hawk on Flaming Rosewood
  • The Unicyclist
I saw him in the distance on the Finch Trail last week. The way he seemed to be moving was strange. It seemed for a moment that he was prancing, his legs making exaggerated up and down motions. As the distance between us slowly closed I finally understood that he was riding a unicycle. A serious unicycle, with what seemed to be a 24" or 27" wheel. I hadn't seen a unicyclist in... to be honest I can't remember when. Was it in a circus...? The new-fangled electric unicycles, now I have seen quite a few of those in the recent past, but an honest-to-goodness human-powered unicycle? Never saw him before, haven't seen him since.

  • The Morning Tai Chi sessions

  • The corn cowboy
In the last few weeks I saw crude hand-scrawled cardboard signs in the parking lot at the southeast corner of Finch and Bathurst: "Sweet Corn". But it was always before eight o'clock, so it was just the few signs. A few days ago, on Monday, my usual morning schedule got messed up and my daily ride postponed to just past 10 a.m. When I got to that parking lot there was a guy with a pickup truck and a ton of corn in the back, selling corn. How could I not pick some up? I knew we had four ears of grocery store corn in the fridge, but this was fresh off-the-farm corn. Corn doesn't agree with Susan's Crohn's, so I am the only ravenous corn-eater. I picked up three ears. The fellow selling the corn had an English accent I couldn't quite make out... Australian? South African? Nope! He said he was originally from Nottinghamshire. "Robin Hood" he said with a smile. I asked if I could pay with my phone. He said sure I could, just do an Interac bank transfer "let me know when you're ready and I'll give the email address" he said. Finally, I was ready. "".
  • The roller-blade acrobat
A young woman, coming down the trail on rollerblades, but her long confident strides were punctuated by amazing graceful pirouettes. As our paths crossed she was rolling backwards down the trail. "Nice moves" I said.
  • The early morning sun
  • The fog

In the kind of serendipity, coincidental, totally unpredictable way that things are known to happen, the last word on this topic goes to someone else.

I was speaking to my friend Peter the day before yesterday, who, like me, is a former Vespa, motorcycle, and sports car addict. Peter, also like me, has most recently taken to riding a bicycle. He told me that the previous evening he had an errand to run. He rode to the grocery store along a bicycle path that passes through some woods. On the return trip through the woods, the canopy of leaves forming a lush green arch over the path made everything extremely dark. It was then that Peter had to stop and stare. The woods were awash in fireflies. Peter was stunned. He said it was amazing, surreal, and astonishingly beautiful, that while he had seen fireflies before,  it was the first time in his life he had seen anything remotely like this. He added, without any prompting from me, that but for the fact that he chose to ride to the store, he would never have had that experience.

For a delightful view of that incident from Peter's perspective, see his blog... [ed.: so sorry, Peter dissolved his blog.]

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20230817 - The last word almost went to someone else. What are the odds? This morning, Thursday, August 17, 2023, I crossed paths, in the following order, with i) unicycle man, ii) corn cowboy, and iii) rollerblade acrobat. Go figure. Jamais deux sans trois... let's see if that old saying holds.


Peter Sanderson said...

Gliding through the woods in the embrace of the cool evening, I was surrounded by a symphony of fireflies. Their gentle glow painted the trees and danced above, transforming the night into a canvas of magic and wonder. It was as if the universe whispered its secrets through these tiny luminous beings, making the moment both enchanting and ethereal. Ironically, had I not decided to take my bike to Foodland earlier, I might have missed this phenomenal encounter entirely.

David Masse said...

Well said Peter, very well said!

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.