The Machine of a New Soul

When I’ve been off my bike for two weeks there’s a readjustment that has to happen.  The bike doesn’t feel just right, as if muscle memory–as well as brain memory–has to redevelop.  I’m conscious of the bike as alien object, a piece of equipment whose functions I must re-master, and whose quirks I must not forget in the flow of riding.  This learning curve is shallow, to be sure, but there’s more to think about than there would be if I had just one bike.  I have five, and ride two of them regularly and another semi-regularly, depending on the weather, the terrain, and my whim.  All the same, the Trek 2.1 is the principal bike in the garage.

As I relearn the bike over the span of 30 or 40 miles of riding, there’s a feel of objective detachment; I am the manipulator of the machine.  The objectification I mention above leaves my mind freer in a sense to assess what I am doing and how I am doing it, because there’s a gap between me and the bike, sort of akin to the Greek dualism of mind and body, I suppose.  In this case I am the animating force, and the bike the mindless drone doing my bidding.  That’s the rationalist view in any case, and a good state of mind for the cyclist to have at many points.  I am fond of saying that my road bikes are “faster than I am,” a version of what I am trying to get at here.  What they are at any moment is defined by how I am operating them, whatever absolute specs they might have.  In this state my mind is free to be conscious of my surroundings, take in the landscape, assess the behavior of others on the road and how their actions will affect me over the next several seconds, and the like.  It’s the touring cyclist mentality, basically.

Once I’m used to riding again, however, my mind readily slips into another mode, in which I and the bike are one, and my steed is fundamentally an extension of my own gesture and will.  I don’t control the bike, and the bike doesn’t control me.  We are one organic entity.  Together we set the tempo.  I instinctively sense the need to increase my cadence to take on a short, abrupt rise, and my muscles and the bike’s gears do whatever is necessary to achieve the desired result without my really “thinking” about it.  Far from rational, this is a romantic, imaginative, instinct-based approach.  Focus narrows; I get so into riding that the passing landscape means very little; all walkers, rollerbladers, joggers, mothers with baby carriages, are so many obstacles whose rate of speed and directional trajectory are all that matter.  One wishes for the traffic-free, unimpeded pavement of a pro road race.

As an absolute state, this second way of riding cannot be indulged in for very long, because too many stubborn and risky realities intrude.  But it’s present to a great degree whenever I’m really into a ride.  It’s also an important part of what motivates me to ride.  Because although the bicycle is a remarkably efficient machine,  I like the experience of being transformed into a new, powerful organism much more than I do that of being a machine operator.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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