Cycling, part of series about community
There have been many bicycles in my life, and they all have stories.
“But it’s a girls’ bike!”
My younger brother said, when our dad brought home our first bike. We were about six and eight years old. He had bought it from a friend at work for two shillings and sixpence and carried it the four miles home over his shoulder. We learned to ride it in loops around the back yard, and very occasionally on the street under strict supervision. That bike, with many things, was sold when we moved to a different town when I was ten.
When dear friends emigrated to Canada when I was twelve or so, I felt as if they’d moved to heaven, and I’d been left behind. I got a left-behind bike. A friend and I would ride all over including in and out of the moat surrounding the local roman castle and all over “the hill”, the open land opposite my house. It’s called mountain biking now. We just called it riding a bike. Although we were in the sixties by then, my father had not yet got over the wartime idea that rubber was unavailable (the Japanese had occupied Malaya, as it was called then, the source of Britain’s rubber), so new tubes were out of the question and I learned how to use a patch kit, sometimes more than once in a day. Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance.
Eventually, the bicycle gave way to scooters and motor bikes. At university, I got the environmentalist bug and refused to own a car until I was twenty-six, so I bought another bike to get to work, riding along a canal towpath, until I succumbed to a friend’s Mini that he was selling for fifty pounds.
Moving to Holland, and with two new children, I again needed to ride to work. I bought a sturdy Dutch commuter bike. After work I’d ride it to and from the supermarket with kiddie seats front and back and two panniers full of groceries. I still have it, all fifty pounds of it!
After Holland came six years of corporate life in New Jersey, with long hours, a long commute, no time to ride, and no real community outside of work. I quit corporate life and started my own business and suddenly my time became more flexible. I noticed a flyer for a group that would meet in local parks to ride mountain bikes. I headed to Service Merchandise (remember them? Catalog shopping in a brick-and-mortar store?) and bought a cheap, heavy, mountain bike with oval chainrings.
Cycling had always been a source of camaraderie, but this group was the first time I’d found community in a decade. After wrecking my knees riding the one hundred- and ninety-two-mile Pan Mass Challenge on those oval chainrings, I bought a real road bike, and then a real mountain bike. That road bike got me through “The Longest Day”, two hundred and fifteen miles from High Point to Cape May, New Jersey, in a day and the mountain bike got me through a twenty-four-hour mountain bike race, all with friends from that bike club.
How I met your mother
Almost twenty-five years ago, a friend gathered a group of us singles to go to a comedy club. She was among them. At the bar afterwards, I made sure to sit next her. The conversation turned to cycling. “I have a bike”, she said. “A pink De Rosa.” Of course, I had to see it.
Rosa is Italian not just for pink; it’s also for romance. We were married seven months later and have ridden many miles together since. We upgraded to hers and his titanium bikes, like us, still going strong almost twenty-five years later. It was through cycling that we found our friend group in New Jersey. The cycling club would ride together on Sundays, always the same route, always the same lunch afterwards at Allenwood General Store. Among them we found a group of friends we could kayak, hike, camp and just hang out with until eventually most of us moved away.
Our home on an island in Puget Sound is a paradise for cycling. The weather is mild enough to ride outside most of the year, the roads are good, traffic is light, and drivers are bicycle friendly. Here too, we’ve found a great cycling community through our Sunday ride group. Every year in October, the group takes a road trip to central Washington to take advantage of the often-sunnier weather. We’ll ride a metric century – a hundred kilometers or about sixty-two miles. A couple of years ago, I wanted to add 8 miles to celebrate my seventieth birthday and wound up circling the parking lot to finish up. The rest were kind enough to join me. This year, coming back from a broken ankle has kept me at the back of the pack competing for the lanterne rouge, but the group waits for me and keeps encouraging me to come out.
Although we had community in New Jersey, a Venn diagram would have shown a set of concentric circles representing subgroups of the bike group. My wife and I would be the only overlap with communities outside. On this island though, communities overlap like an extended set of Olympic rings, in a crosslinked network that makes us all stronger. Volunteers from the group step up to help with the local triathlon and adventure swim every year and have been enthusiastic supporters of the effort to build a community pool. They work to keep roads bike-friendly and build bike paths and trail networks. There are overlaps with our open water swimming, hiking and kayaking groups, and even our COVID pod. Recently, one of our number, a local photographer and single dad, had a freak bike accident while warming up for the California Ironman, and broke both elbows. The cycling community was among those who’ve stepped up with meals and funds to support him and his family during his recovery.
I’ve also started to ride my bike to the grocery store again, still with two panniers full of groceries, but no kiddie seats.
Thanks for reading. How is community faring where you live? Are you a cyclist? Please join me in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.