In my youth, after leaving the omnipresent gaze of supervising adults, but before having regular access to a car, I explored the world on a red single speed bike called the Hawthorne. When I found it, the Hawthorne had been stripped down, abandoned, and thrown into the creek near my home. It had no fenders, no seat, a broken chain, and one wheel. I fished it out of the creek, dragged it back to the garage, and with a small investment from my parents, and a little coaching from the neighborhood bike shop, I nursed the Hawthorne back to life.
She was strong enough and true enough to handle any off-road trail or jump. She was faster than bikes with ten times her gears and she fit my adolescent body so well that we became extensions of each other. I could lean forward over the bars and accelerate straight uphill. In spring when the sand and salt from the winter was still on the roads, I could power through corners sensing the absolute limits before a slide-out, feeling the road beneath us. And no bike and rider was faster on the start-up than the Hawthorne and me. I would pick her up off the ground by the handle bars and run alongside. When I reached launch speed, in a single motion that I can neither explain nor diagram, I would jump on. My feet would hit the pedals in the middle of a rotation without any hesitation or pause of motion; rock-solid every time. For a few great years, before cars, girls, kids, and careers, the Hawthorne and I explored this planet together, and pushed back the geographic and experiential boundaries of my life.
Decades later, after the kids, career, and relationships had receded into the background, I found myself at a bicycle road race for the very first time. I positioned myself at a turn so I would get a good look at the riders as they came around the corner. As the two break-out riders hit the turn they were single file with only inches between their wheels. I was amazed how fast they were going as they threw their bikes into the turn, never taking their eyes off the road ahead of them. As they downshifted into the turn the bikes made a solid clunk sound and again as they changed gears accelerating out of the turn. As they went by, a wake of air blew past me. It was incredible!
As the Peloton approached the corner the crowd pushed in against the fence to see. It sounded like a popcorn maker at full tilt as the group hit the corner and each rider worked the gears; three or four abreast in places, maybe thirty riders in all, crowding around the corner at the same time. The outside riders came within inches of the fence as they went by my location. Approaching thirty miles an hour and only inches between them, (and I mean inches in any direction) and yet, no visible sign of caution. Eyes fixed straight ahead as they seemed to sense the traffic around them more than see it. As they came out of the turn some of them shifted and stood up on their pedals and began violently throwing their bikes back and forth as they pumped every ounce of power they had into the acceleration. They were one with their bikes…pure competence. I smiled as a memory of the Hawthorne entered my consciousness.
For a few days after the race I couldn’t get the images of it or my old Hawthorne bike out of my head. So, one day I stopped at a bike store and bought a used bike, something I hadn’t had in several decades. Today that used bike represents my primary mode of transportation. Oh, I still have a car, a 10-year-old minivan, but I prefer to bike it if I can. The world is different on a bike. It’s a different scale. You see things you don’t see in a car. So today I push back the geographic and experiential boundaries of my world, on my bike, and I’m glad to be back.
This captures the joy of riding, the visceral experience of what riding can be so well. It’s that feeling that gets me on my bike every time I leave the house spring, summer, and fall. Thanks for reminding me of that feeling mid-winter, Gene.