Red light. My brakes howl, openly challenging my timidity. Right foot down as the bike stops. Penned up cars and trucks inches from my front wheel tremble and roar, waiting to pounce. The light remains red. I could sit and bask in it, feeling the cool dampness of the light rain along the river. I wait. And wait.
Right foot clicks back into the pedal before I realize it and I’m inching into the intersection. Red light then turns green without preview. My brain picks up the snort and growl from a lurching pickup on my left and I am through the intersection with a primal burst of speed that carries me to safety before I am cognizant of the danger.
It was a moment when one foot could be measured by an eternity. An instant after which all riding could reasonably stop.
These reminders of how fragile our bikes and bodies are can come during the most mundane trips to the grocery store or an evening trek across towns to hear new stories from an old friend. They force reflection of the most serious kind about what we mean to our families and friends, and what we ought to expect from our own short lives.
There is nothing so spirit-crushing as the fear of a big snarling beast being within a few inches of causing you great harm. It carves out a void in your gut that takes hours to fill. Recent articles and op-eds in The New York Times, among other publications, have driven this home to our loved ones. They have plenty of ammunition should they decide to ambush us with cycling’s dangers as we don a colorfully clownish array of kit in the early morning hours.
What defense is there? As cyclists we have come to understand awful things. We know bad things happen to good people, even the best and most responsible of us.
Yet we believe something else, and it is beautiful. Each of those hulking machines, so at odds with the freedom of pedaling our confines away, is a reminder that we control far less in our lives than we think we do. Their ability to rob us of our very breath is also what gives life to something as potentially mundane as riding a bike.
Every one of us has the potential for their world to change for the worse in an instant. Diagnosis. Betrayal. Loss. It’s just that most people we see on the road in our daily lives do not realize it. They are alongside us, in a sense, yet they cannot see what we see, or feel what we feel. What we have is an understanding that to live a life fully means accepting a lack of control.
What enriches us and our loved ones should define us, not what we fear. In that light, each day, and each ride, becomes a gift. Such freedom also means accepting great responsibility and weight, perhaps more than some of us are capable of.
Consider the opposite, a life of emotional and physical paralysis that comes from the imprisonment of the false certainty of the overconfident and the fearful. Such an existence is made up of defeat and surrender.
There is no room for riding in that world. There is no room for bikes at all.