The Independence Machine

My story is similar to your story, in content, if not geography. The bicycle was small and red, with white painted cranks and white plastic pedals to match its hard rubber tires. Metal seat. The driveway at my grandparents bungalow in rural Wales was pitched like a Pyrenee, but in the end that helped divorce the pedaling from the momentum I needed to understand staying upright. I lifted my feet off the ground, gravity and inertia did the rest. I swooped down into the base of the driveway and up the other side.

Pure. Fucking. Magic.

Excuse the language, but this was an ‘a-ha!’ moment combined with physical exhilaration, combined with triumph and topped with the dawning realization that I was all 0f a sudden free from certain geographical constraints.

Within a day I was riding the little red bicycle from the bungalow up the lane to the family farm, Cwmcignant, 200 meters away. For three summer weeks, I was everywhere on that machine. When I returned to the States, I became a conquistador of neighborhoods on a purple hand-me-down from my brother.

Usually when we talk about the independence the bicycle grants us, we mean it in the most basic sense. We are moving under our own power to places we couldn’t (or wouldn’t reach) on foot.

But there is more.

I received a shiny red bmx bike for Christmas the next year, and I added the woods to my domain. I was airborne. And I was envied, the sweetest ride in the ‘hood. The emancipation was now physical, geographical and social. That bike took me off plywood ramps set up in driveways, but it also carried me to friends’ houses, to backyard football games, to dirt jump sessions on trail systems devised by older kids, out into the world.

When adolescence came for me in the night, there was another bicycle, a metallic blue Panasonic Villager that had belonged to my brother. It was too big for me, but I still managed to ride it to visit girls on hot summer days when their parents were at work.

Brand new vistas of experience and independence.

Fast forward to big city college and the mountain bike craze. Mine was a white Trek Antelope, with a late-80s crackle finish. Ugly. I hucked a pair of slicks on it and subway, schmubway, the city was mine. For a suburban nowhere kid, these were heady times. There is an intellectual independence that comes from having this kind of access to a town like Boston. You gain access to cultural experiences, art, history, and of course trouble. For a time I was independent from my own common sense.

I returned as an adult on a series of road and mountain bikes that took me over hill and dale, to work and back, to restaurants both cheap and dear. I have now ridden cruisers and track bikes, mountain and road, bmx and trials bikes. Independent turns out to be just the way I like to live.

And yet recently I discovered another neat little trick of escapism that the bicycle has been performing for me that I was, heretofore, completely unaware of, the escape from stress. You see, this robot has a day job.

It’s fairly mundane as jobs go, but it is not without its peaks and valleys of busy-ness and the stress that goes along with that. Because I would rather be sitting in some pretentious café arguing over whether or not a sprinter held his line in some meaningless race in Western Europe, I end a lot of my 9-to-5s feeling rather pent up. ‘Stressed out’ is the modern term, I think.

Fortunately for me, my bike is locked downstairs. I throw a leg over. I ride away from the office, almost always sprinting the first block just to put some distance between myself and the work day as quickly as possible. Half way home, I’m already thinking about other things, usually the pretty joggers I see along the way, but sometimes about whether it will be worth it to bury myself to catch another cyclist some visible distance up the road.

By the time of my arrival at home, I am throwing a victory salute to amuse my kids (and embarrass my wife). I am delivered from the eight hours preceding, free from the shackles of modern wage slavery. It’s the not the brain-bending thrill of those first wobbly revolutions when I was a kid. But it’s close.


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  1. Marshdrifter

    “Stressed Out” is a good way to put it. I refer to it as “racing my demons”. Only my bicycle is fast enough to do so.

  2. Bikelink

    Riding home from work…perfect built in stress relief….I don’t go fast, just flow away on the road, past lines of cars (city), rolling towards home, family, and a good beer.

  3. pkep

    you are so right-I’ve always said my bike is my therapist. after a good long ride, the world is always a better place.

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