Being a bicycle mechanic has allowed me to experience the joy that riding a bicycle can bring to a wide range of people. The bicycle has been my entire adult life and a large portion of my childhood as well. It has allowed me to travel to distant shores, meet interesting people and change lives for the better. I have also experienced the negative changes that occur when we stray from the root of our love. John F Kennedy once said that “Nothing compares to the simple pleasures of a bike ride” and if you are reading this then you likely agree. In my opinion, the most significant word in the Kennedy quote is not “Bike” or even “Ride”, but the word “Simple”. You understand as I do that there is something special about 2 wheels and a chain. The bike allows us to feel alive more than other methods of travel but where does FTP, High modulus carbon and wireless shifting fit in? Has the multi-billion-dollar industry that has grown around cycling given more people the opportunity to feel as we do or has it just diluted the “Simple pleasures” of a good bike ride?
From my roots in England with its commuters and wet weather clothing, I have seen the spectrum of a bicycles allure. Sportive events are booked months in advance and fill the roads with Rapha clad weekend carbon superheroes. Mountain bike trails drip with extraordinary suspension machines designed and re-designed to make the trail easier and faster. Every day thousands of people mount bikes to traverse distance for the sole purpose of transport to work or to collect the essentials. Families look forward to the right of passage as a child mounts their first bike, a step toward their eventual independence. Games of Bicycle polo are played as competitively as any football match upon cobbled together machines from every style. Cycle speedway races continue to be hard-fought, almost completely unheard of by the rest of the cycling world. I have participated in every one of these styles and enjoyed each with a rejuvenated love for the bicycle and its diversity.
Living as a mechanic and trainer among some of the poorest people on earth in West Africa showed me how a bike can be the catalyst for a better life. Working with a charity organization to allow children access to schooling via bicycle transportation was an eye opening experience. The bicycle that I had taken for granted was all that was needed for children to attend a school that would otherwise be too far or too tiring to attend. Here is where I was most in touch with the “Simple pleasures” of a bike as distractions were limited by the severe poverty of the country. The best bike is not the lightest nor the most aerodynamic but simply the one which works in a way that can make your life easier. Sharing the skills of bicycle maintenance was like the saying about teaching a man to fish but in this case, the man couldn’t even fish unless his bike worked for long enough to get him to the beach. The pleasure of moving faster and more efficiently than our bipedal existence was first designed was evident on the face of every cyclist. Something that can sometimes not be said for other countries. This pleasure did not need to be backed up by Strava or shared to Facebook it was fundamental.
Working as a mechanic in Dubai has shown me the other end of the scale as we push the boundaries of bicycle technology and innovation. It is almost unheard of that a cyclist could exist without some electronic gadget to relay information to the rider. I am as guilty as the next Dubai resident. We struggle to enjoy a ride without being able to tell others the exact details of our average sweat rate. Unable to resist showing the internet our newly purchased ridiculously over designed socks on Instagram. For the slowly initiated cyclist such as most Europeans who have grown up cycling, these distractions just build on top of a life-long love which started with the basics. My worry is not for these people but rather the Local population and those who are new to cycling. They see this new era of technology as the only way cycling exists. For them, a return to the “Simple pleasures” is impossible as this does not exist in their sphere of wheeled existence. I just hope that they can see beyond the technological impertinence as this will be as fleeting and whimsical as cycling fashion.
I have always gravitated towards the most basic of bicycles, unknowingly searching for something and unable to resist its pull. Trading out the suspension and gears for the bare essentials of a wheel and drive. Single speed, rigid, fixed gear, this almost compulsive need to find the intrinsic fundamental quality of what a bicycle is and to avoid any distractions from the “Simple pleasures” has always kept me on the correct route (saved to Strava). For me, this is cycle Buddhism, enlightenment through a more primitive form of the bike. This becomes more difficult when we want to ride as part of a large group or in areas where a lack of technology may put you at a severe disadvantage in speed or capability but the focus should not be forgotten. As with materialism in day to day life, we should remain in touch with what is actually making us happy, not things or numbers but the ride itself and the connections we make with the people who understand the language of ride.
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