Monday, October 24, 2016

What's Wrong with Bicycling?

Bicycles have been important my whole life, especially from the time I was seven. Mother and Pop bought me a rebuilt one for my birthday, a hybrid, from a man in El Dorado whose place of business was advertised by reconstituted Cities Service sign. It read in awkward lettering: I fix Victrolas and Bicycles. (I later got to know that old man. He told stories about his early “boom town” days in such a way as to make me see pictures in my head. He was a true narrative artist.)

Because I was a growing boy, Mother and Pop went ahead and got a 26-inch bike with wide handlebars that stretched a kid’s arms out significantly. My two older brothers taught me how to ride it by pushing me off down a major hill and yelling, “Ride, Danny, Ride.” That was similar to the way they taught swimming as well, throwing me into the deep, yelling, “Swim, Danny, Swim.” Great teachers, right? Well, it worked on both accounts. The best education is self-education. Or, as country comedian Dave Garner used to say, “It is always best to self-educate you own self.”

I kept on cycling as I grew to maturity. My first job, in fact, was that of bicycle messenger for Western Union. I wore out two bicycles and several sets of tires doing that. During and for a while after the military, I abandoned that avocation, but after marriage I managed to procure and maintain a good bicycle. And, when I became a professor and rode my bicycle back and forth to work, it was considered a non-blameworthy eccentricity by students and faculty alike.

Once when my nephew was visiting, I happened to have two bicycles and invited him to go on a ride with me. Gliding through the college farm road, we came upon a man cutting up a tree that had been hit by lightning. He admired our bicycles and mentioned the he was an avid cyclist. It was the college archeologist and after that encounter, I started riding daily with him, receiving advice as to cycling equipment from him. He subscribed to the cycling magazines and eventually, so did I. We joined the Arkansas Bicycle Club and put in many miles riding with that group.

Now that I am approaching the threshold of old age, I have a mountain bike, not a racer. It is well-equipped with lighting, reflectors, a speedometer, a tool kit, a frame pump and other needful accouterments. I do not ride long distances any more, but there are some good hills around here for aerobic fitness. I especially like going downhill—I mean on a bicycle.

There is something good about cycling that is hard to define. Maybe that “something” is keeping rhythm while at rest. You know, sitting, yet exerting. Leaning forward. Feeling the wind in your face. Sneaking up on deer. Outwitting dogs. Imagining what people are thinking, such as, look at that old dude on a bicycle. What’s wrong with him.

I often wonder that myself and have concluded nothing. Intentional ambiguity.

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