The Bikes In a Life

While we were picking up my Dad’s first new bike in probably 25 years (a slick bianchi road bike to replace his custom-made-from-used-parts college road bike), he began reminiscing, “You know, I can remember each bike I’ve had throughout my life very distinctly.  And how I felt when I got that bike.  Much more vividly than I can remember how I felt about any of my cars, or even what they looked like exactly.  I wonder why that is.”

Maybe it’s because his childhood Schwinn stingray and banana seat are still in the attic of our garage, or maybe it’s because for a lot of us, there’s a deeper connection to the bikes we own and what we do with them.

Two summer’s worth of work went into this gift to myself.  GT Karakorem 1.0 2012.

Why do bikes hold a distinct significance for so many people?  Learning to ride a bike has a lot to do with it.  The process of learning to balance on two wheels is one of life’s first personal triumphs for a lot of people.  Most can’t remember the freedom associated with learning to walk, but learning to ride a bike opens up a whole new world of mobility in its simplest sense.  Nobody can balance on their first try; success on a bike only comes after some trial and error.  I’m not sure many kids even realize what’s going on, but it’s one of the first opportunities for personal success.  Riding a bike is a skill that is worked for, with tangible (and extremely fun) results.  Usually there is someone else doing the teaching, but the physical act of riding on two wheels is something that is a direct result of one rider pedaling with two legs and steering with two arms.

Once being able to ride a bike, what we do with our newfound mobility creates a unique connection between us and the machine.  Whether it’s riding back and forth to school, finding the biggest hill in town and riding down it, or racing your friends, the bike presents an opportunity for one to move faster than they can run, extremely easily.

For those more passionate about bikes (and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you are), the magic of mobility is just the beginning.  Not only does a mountain bike enable us to move across land faster than we could with only our legs, but we can move down, over, even above obstacles that wouldn’t even be possible on two feet alone.

Usually coinciding with using one’s bike to navigate obstacles is the inevitable repair.  Minor bike repairs are incredibly simple, yet yield incredible satisfaction.  Working on a bike can be a very intimate experience, created all the more intimate when riders attribute a gender to their steed. I find that understanding the ins and outs of a bike is not an overwhelmingly intimidating prospect, whereas I don’t think I can ever hope to understand everything that goes on in my Jeep.  Perhaps it’s the accessibility to the machine that makes it so easy for us to connect with a bicycle.

The day I realized not to press the brakes in while the disc brake isn’t in between the pads.

While I don’t think I currently have the ability to build a bike from scratch, the idea of a custom build is exciting in more than one way.  The obvious is getting to control the parts used down to the grips, as well as a possible cost benefit.  However, a custom build also facilitates the human desire to build and create, while establishing that unique mechanical intimacy (or so I imagine). The geometry and mechanics of a bike operate on human generated power and over the years have evolved to perfectly transfer our energy into the wheels.  Bikes are fascinating for the science behind them, as well as simple aesthetic.

No matter how much innovative equipment we put into our bikes–whether you ride rigid, full-suspension, steel, aluminum, or carbon, everyone uses generally stock-issue legs, arms, lungs, brain, etc.  While some bikes may enable you to traverse certain terrain better, it’s what’s on the bike that makes the difference at the end of the day.

So why do bikes mean so much to us?  Why do we associate times in our life with the bikes we owned?  Sure, a big part of the answer is in the front suspension on that Diamondback you got as a graduation present in the 8th grade, but it’s probably more to do with who you were sitting in the saddle.

Feel free to comment about a significant bike in your life, and what it meant to you.  Everyone has that “Special someone(thing),” and I’d be interested to hear about it.

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