What Bicycles Have Meant To Me

Civia Loring on Bike Trail

I’ve ridden bicycles nearly my entire life. I started early, and unlike most people, when the time came to get interested in cars and “put away childish things”, I never lost interest in bikes. Here I am, many years later, and though my priorities have changed, bicycles still hold a special place in my heart and mind.

I grew up in a small town. To me and my ragtag troop, bikes represented freedom and joy. Year in and year out, we rode all over the countryside, riding wheelies, jumping through drainage ditches, riding no-handed with a Snickers bar in one hand and a Dr. Pepper in the other, just traveling and looking for adventure wherever the bicycle took us.

Through all of this, I’ve had a love affair with bicycles as works of art and craft. Their simple elegance and unrivaled efficiency have always amazed me.

As a young adult, club riding and racing became my primary focus. Bicycles became a way to sow my competitive oats while spending time with friends and meeting new people. They became more of a vehicle for socialization than a vehicle to get somewhere or accomplish something concrete. In other words, they became a piece of gear—a “sporting good” if you will—rather than a tool or a mode of transportation.

Finally, I’ve come full circle to a point where bicycles are once again about freedom, independence, and transportation. As well as being a way to get around, for me, bicycles also represent the freedom associated with self-reliance, individuality, and sustainability. They get me out of the car and off of the freeways while saving me a significant amount of money. They maximize the usefulness of my commute by providing exercise and mental refreshment. They provide a sense of satisfaction that can only be obtained by getting around purely on my own physical efforts.

Through all of this, I’ve had a love affair with bicycles as works of art and craft. Their simple elegance and unrivaled efficiency have always amazed me. There’s still nothing quite like the subtle curvature of a well-designed handlebar, or the geometric patterns created by a spoked wheel juxtaposed against a handmade diamond frame. After all these years, bicycles still spark my imagination more than any other man-made object, and they continue to be intertwined in the fabric of my daily life.

9 Responses to “What Bicycles Have Meant To Me”

  • ksteinhoff says:

    I just found an 8mm home movie of my kid brother getting his first bike for Christmas back in the 60s.

    http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/8mm-home-movie-of-christmas-bicycle/

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  • Alan says:

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for sharing the video. That triggers some memories!

    Best,
    Alan

  • Michael says:

    I saw a clip this weekend on Meet the Press of U.S. General Richard Myers relating that one year he was elated as a child to receive a Schwinn Bicycle; he could not recall if it was the year he first let his parents know he really, really wanted a Schwinn; but in the end, he remembered that is what he most wanted on Christmas and got eventually. I suspect if more of America’s leaders thought about it, we might find many expressing similar, fond memories. But then as you allude, the car culture takes over and childish things get put away…

    Well, not so fast. Today, Nobel Laureate and Columnist Paul Krugman of the NY Times is again mentioning that we are already at Peak Oil as commodity prices globally surge again as we enter the third or fourth year now of global economic depression. When or if this depression reverses, many will be looking to commuting bicycles and infrastructure to deal with the costs imposed on diminishing salaries in America.

    “And those supplies aren’t keeping pace. Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived. True, alternative sources, like oil from Canada’s tar sands, have continued to grow. But these alternative sources come at relatively high cost, both monetary and environmental.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/27/opinion/27krugman.html?_r=1&hp

  • Mel Hughes says:

    Alan, you have captured the movements of my childhood in elegant prose. Getting my Schwinn Racer in the very early 1960′s opened up entirely new vistas for me. I lived in an older section of a small Alabama town. Most of my contemporaries lived in the newer suburbs. Suddenly, I had the ability to transport myself, the freedom to be connected with them. Sadly, there were no clubs for racing or riding as I reached driving age. But my infatuation with bicycles, no my love of them, was already imprinted.

    Years later, I worked part-time in a bike shop, turning wrenches, selling bikes, and learning. Those skills have complemented almost every mechanical or construction task and project I have encountered in the many years since.

    I find it fitting that, having just turned 60, bicycles have regained importance in my life. They haven’t changed that much in all these years. Yet there are so many new, subtle variations and improvements. I have been having almost as much fun experimenting with different components, swapping parts, mixing and matching, as I have had riding. I am curious to see how this stage of my life will be colored by this on-going relationship.

  • Alan says:

    Mel,

    Thanks for the kinds words and thanks very much for sharing your story. Best of luck in this next phase of your riding career – I’m glad to hear you’re still having fun!

    All the best-
    Alan

  • SM says:

    Alan,

    Love this post, beautifully stated. It’s lovely to read about the bicycle and the life-long history & impact it has made on someone’s life. My childhood memories of the bicycle were very brief. I would steal my brother’s bike when he wasn’t looking and taught myself to ride. Back then, the way I was brought up, bicycles were considered for boys only. Not that my parents would not buy me a bike – I think they just assumed – I wouldn’t be interested because I was a girl. And, due to my strict upbringing – I was not sure if it was proper to ask. My mother still worries about me when I tell her I’m off bike riding; and, she’s still not quite sure why i do it :)

  • Micheal Blue says:

    Alan, your website looks good and the photos are great. Biking saves you a significan amount of money? Well, even though I commute to work by bike very often, I still have to have a car. It seems that to get my bike-and-accessories-buying money back in saved gas and car-maintenance money, I’d have to commute by bike every weekday for several years, while not spending any money on bike parts (which is impossible, of course)…. I have a Dahon folder(commuting) and a Trek hybrid (shopping and weekend road trips).

  • Alan says:

    @Michael

    “Alan, your website looks good and the photos are great.”

    Thanks for the kind words.

    “Biking saves you a significant amount of money?”

    By using our bicycles as our primary mode of transportation, we were able to eliminate one car. According to AAA ( http://www.aaaexchange.com/main/Default.asp?CategoryID=16&SubCategoryID=76&ContentID=353 ), it costs $9,519 per year to own and operate a mid-sized sedan in the U.S.; our experience bears out this number. So even using an extremely high estimate of $1000 per year to purchase and maintain our bicycles (this is assuming keeping the same bicycles over a period of at least 3-5 years), we’re still saving over $8000 per year.

    Happy New Year!
    Alan

 
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