Thursday, October 9, 2008

Does your bike have a soul?

We probably all start out with a bike. Most of us, anyway-- a very unlucky few never get a bike for whatever reason-- economics, geography, over-protective parents. Do you remember the summer days that you went everywhere by bike? You could go places without having to convince your parents to drive you there. You had a degree of freedom that mere walking can't provide. Then, sometime in our early teens it becomes uncool to ride a bike-- it's almost better for your ego to walk. A car is the thing to get. If you can't have one of your own -- a beater is acceptable -- then hitch a ride with a friend. If you can't do that, then walk.

Then, maybe in high school we might have a "renaissance" of sorts where we come back to the bike as a sport rather than as... something more. It's okay as a sport but don't use a bike for transportation. Our attitudes may shift a little as we move into our college years and become tightwad scroungers.

After we graduate, get jobs, get married, move around the country or world the bike may fall by the wayside again or be forgotten completely.

Then we may experience a "second renaissance" of the bike.

* * *

I can't remember the book title exactly... maybe it was "Illusions: The adventures of a reluctant messiah"? You know, by Richard Bach. (Don't groan.) Anyway-- I read one of his books in one sitting when I was a teenager. There was a lot of stuff in it about flying and some of the sentiment appealed to me as my interest in bikes was really deepening. One notion in particular has stuck with me these past 20 years or so. In the book one of the characters (maybe the messiah character?) was explaining to another pilot friend that if you took care of your plane and listened to it, respected it... that when it really counted the plane would pull through for you. My memory may have embroidered upon this a bit over the years, but the basic notion is there: Take care of your ride and it will take care of you.

But what does that mean? I suppose that some interpret it literally-- of course if you maintain your bike properly it will not (should not?) fail you.

For me, there more to it than that. It's not a goofy anthropomorphization of the bike, but something different. None of my bikes are "tools". They aren't ascribed roles such as "rain bike", "A bike/B bike", "race bike", "beater". All my bikes do whatever. I try to respect the basic nature of the bike by not junking it up. You just know it when you put something on your bike and it doesn't feel right. It's not a personal fit issue-- it just doesn't feel right for the bike. It can go the otherway too-- you can tart a bike up with expensive stuff and then it feels unnatural. Like a chicken with lipstick or something.

Some would argue that the dissonance is indeed a personal fit issue and I'm just projecting it onto an inanimate object. *shrug*

What about when you get rid of a bike or sell it? What happens? What if you can't sell or git rid of a bike-- is it because you'd feel like you were losing a bit of yourself? I remember selling two bikes when I was in high school. The first two bikes of my "renaissance". A Schwinn Mesa Runner and a Schwinn Sierra (black chrome, AT-50 cantilevers and Light Action derailleurs). I don't remember feeling any particular attachement. The next bike I still have-- the Stumpjumper. It sat fallow for a few years, getting a little rusty around the edges and I even thought about selling it. I just couldn't do it. Maybe it was made easier by thinking that the bike didn't have any significant resale value.

Is this what is meant by "sentimental value"? Have I invested some portion of my soul in the bikes? Is that how they have "soul"? Is it just my sould these bikes have or is it all in my head? Or is this why I enjoy carrying my bike from time to time? (More so in cyclocross...)

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