Recently a friendly and generous neighbour gave us a bike. Or to be more precise he gave the bike to me so that I could give it to our 14-year-old son, who has been making do with a tiny BMX with a rusted seat. This new bike is full-size with narrow racing wheels and and he (our neighbour) has swapped it for “something more practical”. I tentatively asked him how much he wanted for the bike, even though I didn’t really want a bike, but he said no it’s fine. No problem. This was five months ago. Our son has no intention of riding the bike. It is still under a large tarpaulin sheet in our front yard.
My wife suggested to me this could be my opportunity to start riding a bike again (she is a born-again cyclist so loves the idea of trying to convert me). I did spend my childhood cycling everywhere, never without my wheels. At university, too, I biked all over the place. But since coming to London I have learned to love walking, love the freedom it gives and the possibility of being spontaneous and changing direction going into bookshops, nipping into Italian cafes for lunch, jumping on a bus that you like the look of, popping into a museum. Or just sitting down with a book. Or deciding to get lost. Cyclists will tell me you can do all these things with a bike. But I’m not so sure. There’s something about cycling that is goal-based, with too much emphasis on “getting there”. I like to think it I live by this quote from Rebecca Solnit:
“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.”
Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Penguin USA)*
(Of course all this has nothing to do with the fact that the last time I rode a bike regularly was in my early 20s, when I was doing over twenty miles a day cycling to work in the Norfolk countryside and something about my bodyshape meant my arse got really big and muscly and my trousers stopped fitting properly. Nothing at all.)
* Actually I don’t really live by that quote. It is a true and lovely quote, but I have my own quotes. The trouble is they’re in my head and hard to access – unlike Solnit’s quote which I found on the internet at the amazing Brainpickings site.