I think about the bike a lot. Too much. I think about my bike. I think about your bike. I think about the next bike. I sell bikes, and I tell stories about bikes. I reminisce about bikes I used to have, and I try to convince my wife that the next bike is important, more important in whatever very specific way than all the ones that came before, the ones still crowding the garage and spilling into the basement, leaning against the cedar chest, blocking access to the laundry room.
The bike, however, is incidental.
I will pore over the details of the build, wondering if 12-32 isn’t maybe a better choice than 11-28 for where I want to go. I will consider 28mm vs. 32mm, because of the particular ruts that mark graded New England dirt roads and the washboards that develop during the latter stages of mud season, the ones that shudder through your whole body as you plummet off the top of some nowhere hill. I will consider lighter wheels.
I don’t want another bike. I think I do, but I don’t. I want to get to the places the next bike might take me, long fire roads that connect high lookouts to hidden ponds, ropey dirt paths that lead past people’s other homes or the retreats of those who no longer wish to live so close to the flame of peopled lunacy, simple sand and gravel throughways that ring farms and bisect primordial forests. I want to feel the gravel and hard pack beneath the tires of that next bike, and I want to fall off it and scrape my elbow, lay in the road laughing.
The bike is no more necessary to that experience than the elbow.
I want to ride with people who have that sort of bike, because those are cool people. They’ll give you a bottle when you’ve underestimated the day, the weather, or your own capacity for suffering, because really, suffering you can seek and tolerate is no suffering at all, but only a gilding for your flowery ego. The people who ride bikes are the best sorts of people, because they’re all kinds of people, and the bike only gives you a reason to speak to them, that and the sand and the gravel and your desperate need for water.
I will call Padraig on the phone and wander the parking lot at work while we plot and plan the stories we will write about riding our bikes up and down geological formations, places where glaciers scraped up against granite, and we will try to piece together a second living from our efforts, all of it wrapped around bikes and cycling, all of it combing through the details, panning for gold.
We have this friendship, he and I, that seems to have started in a correspondence about cycling, but later found us standing face to face in a casino, hugging each other in incredulous first meeting bemusement. We drove out past the strip malls in the Las Vegas hinterland to crowd around a greasy grass track and watch a bike race, all of an industry swirling around in the spotlit darkness. On the way back he bought a Mountain Dew and a bag of Peanut M&Ms, so he could stay up and write more stories about bikes.
I don’t know if any of this, the farm roads, the casino, the people, if any of it happens without the bike. I don’t know. I am under the impression that you can skate, surf, climb, hike, run to the same sorts of salvation the bike has brought me. I can take the thing itself too seriously. I can focus all my attention there, when it is only really a cipher for life’s cluttered bucket of fun and misery, a pivot point.
The bike is incidental, deeply important, but only incidental. I think.