Friday, December 16, 2022

The P2 Loop

 Have you ever ridden a bike 9.6 kilometres in a garage?

It's a very different experience from riding outdoors, that's obvious. I know.

The thing is, that when you do anything very often, you come to appreciate the experience more deeply. Even when the thing you are doing seems dull and completely uninviting. Like riding a bicycle in a garage.

Repetition and focus are the key factors, but there are others that distinguish riding in a garage from riding outdoors. Each experience has features that satisfy.

Outdoors, there is a rich and varied soundscape. Cars and traffic, dogs that bark close by or in the distance. Vehicles approaching with that distinct whirring of tires on pavement. Pedestrians walking in pairs chatting. Their conversation drifts in from completely indistinct to just a very few words that make it to your brain, and the words instantly drift away into oblivion. Jets glide by sounding like they are tearing a strip out of the sky. Sirens scream and honk aggressively, and recede, eventually to be replaced by the soft airflow of an approaching car, or the rustle of leaves in a breeze. In a quiet moment the bike intrudes. The click of a shift, the faint noise of the thin hard tires on the pavement, the clunk, clunk, clunk of seams in the sidewalk. The slope of the landscape, sometimes letting you glide effortlessly, and inevitably reclaiming that gift as you lose your momentum, hear your breathing, and pull on the bars to reclaim that altitude. The bell speaking to pedestrians. Or to shifty squirrels. The ride repeats perhaps once a week, because there are alternate routes. And in a single route, there are few repetitions. Not none, but precious few.

Outdoors, even in an uninspiring place, like a busy street, or a parking lot, a million details compete for attention. Traffic and pedestrian flow. Potholes. Linear gaps and lines made by uneven seams or slabs that run parallel to the line of travel and light up your brain as your tires threaten to drift into their potent trap and jerk your bike off-balance. The sky in its infinite glory. Sunshine warming your body. A sky that is constantly shifting, familiar, yet never the same. Clouds, unobscured blue sky, fog, mist, light rain, grey featureless swaths of endless boredom. Dark mid-day skies, heavy with the threat of rain, as the leaves on their branches show their undersides in the breeze. You expect thunder at any moment, and you are wary of lightning. Yes, there is risk, but generally I  see it coming in plenty of time to make other plans. So far.

Indoors, each loop is 0.16 of a kilometre. There are 60 loops in a 34 minute ride, timed on my watch, each loop taking 34 seconds. 9.6 kilometres. It's much more science than it is art. That's not to say that it's artless. What you see seems always the same, but there are differences. There are also subtle differences. The parking spaces seem always home to the same car. But there is a cycle of change, ever so slow, yet it's there. When someone gets a new car, you notice. Then there are two types of parkers: nose-in, and nose-out. I have a theory that people who like what their car looks like tend to back in to their spots. They are nose-outers. When a consistent nose-outer parks nose-in, you notice. 

Indoors, the light is white, flat, and constant through the loop, yet it also varies. There are bright spots, usually reflections of the LED ceiling tube-lights in the eight semi-circular convex mirrors that dot the route, helping you see around corners. But also glinting off the surface of cleaner cars. My flashing headlight pulses off cars at certain angles. There are patterns. patterns in the concrete floor, but more importantly, patterns of behaviour. People are fairly consistent. If I ride between seven and seven-thirty a.m., the comings and goings I see are very different than if I ride from eight-thirty to nine. Usually I am looping from 7:15 to 7:45. I get to know the 'regulars'. With some I exchange a greeting. Others have their eyes on their phones.

Indoors, safety is as important as ever. People don't expect a cyclist in their garage. My bike is like a ghost, it only makes noise in one place, where the floor slopes towards the corner. That's where I hit maximum speed. The tires make an exciting whirring, almost whining sound in that curve. Otherwise I am so silent, it is up to me to avoid the comers and goers. I listen to jazz streaming on my AirPods. I keep the volume very low because ambient noise is key to avoiding cars and people. I can hear as soon as a car is in motion, either coming in, or leaving. Often even when the car is in motion on P1 or P3. My headlight and tail lights help the drivers see me. Kids often chatter, which is good because they sometimes run, weaving their way from the elevator lobby to the family car. Mostly people are as silent as my bike. I am always listening, always watching. There are cues. Is the door to the elevator lobby closing? Is there movement in the big corner mirror? Did a car door close? Did an engine start? If a car just parked on P1, where are the people as they make their way to the elevator? Every 34 seconds the pattern repeats, check the door, check the mirror, check the path through the cars, check the mirror, check the door... I am the alien, it's all on me, I yield to all comers and goers.

The P2 loop is about more than exercise. I love to ride. When the weather makes riding outdoors impractical, I loop on P2. The repeating patterns, the need to read the cues, the constant focus, the aural backdrop of jazz playing softly, the occasional greeting, smile, or wave, the patterns on the floor as I follow the same path that avoids oncoming cars and drain covers (they make a horrible clank that reverberates jarringly in the space).

All of this adds up to an ethereal, rarified, calm, and focused experience, very different from riding outdoors. It brings its own brand of joy that I have grown to appreciate.

That's why I decided to share it here.

Today was my 76th P2 loop.  730 kilometres of indoor life, on two wheels.


bocutter ed said...

"I have a theory that people who like what their car looks like tend to back in to their spots."
I've owned a few junkers and always back in where possible. It's easier to boost a dead battery.
Then in the late '70s I was driving a cargo van. Well, it's kind of hard backing out of a spot when can't see and you don't have right-of-way. It's easier to back in from where you can block the route.
My theory is that people who back in are those who tend to plan ahead.

David Masse said...

Thanks for that comment Ed.

I agree with you, my theory was too simple and convenient, and only really fit my narrative. Susan and I park our SUV nose-in, but I park my Mini nose-out. With the SUV it's because we often have groceries and other stuff in the trunk. So it's practical to park that way. With the Mini, it's because I like to look at it when I go to pick up the mail in the lobby. That's where my convenient narrative comes from. I think for most people it's a simple matter of practicality. Nose-out makes it easier to get going but backing in or out is more challenging and takes longer. When you get back home, typically you're not in a rush, so the extra effort isn't a problem, so you back in.

I feel that the attractiveness theory was quirky, poked a little fun, and made the narrative a little more interesting, which is really what I was after. Getting to the truth took a back seat.

Merry Christmas Ed, and let's hope that 2023 is a little more 'normal'.

Steve Williams said...

Reading the description of the loops and the mathematical calculations made my brain itch. I'm so generally disorganized that any sort of enforced practice scares me. Even the exercise rituals I do with the dogs are sort of meandering walks that seldom are the same.

This line struck home though:

"All of this adds up to an ethereal, rarified, calm, and focused experience, very different from riding outdoors."

That's exactly how I feel riding my scooter or motorcycle. I can't quite imagine it doing loops in a parking garage. You are a special man!

Merry Christmas to you and the family.

David Masse said...

Steve, thanks for dropping by.

You are not the first person to accuse me of being 'special'. I have heard that in relation to my law practice as well. I tend to do things differently from many people.

I'll be the first to admit that riding in a garage is odd. It is. There can be no doubt.

But to some people, riding a Vespa is also odd. Like riding a Brompton is odd. Even my new-to-me Mini Cabriolet is a little odd. If I were wealthy, I'm pretty sure I would have a 5 or 6 car garage (preferably a nice large heated barn in the countryside) and I'd for sure have a Citro├źn 2 CV in that barn. I saw two of them in Paris this fall. One of the world's truly odd cars.

Like you, I get the same calm and focused experience riding my Vespa.

I'm sure you could see this coming... you are a special man too. I am positive that all who know you would agree.

All the very best to you and Kim for 2023.

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