“The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine.”
John Howard, Olympic cyclist, set a speed record of 152.2 mph in 1985
It’s the longest day of the year up here beyond 42 degrees north. The weather is mild, the winds are calm. Perfect weather to get out and take a ride.
“Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will kill most ill this flesh is heir to.“
Dr. K.K. Doty, 19th century physician
Jill Lepore is that rare and cherished writer who can make anything interesting. Her New Yorker articles—on any topic—are insightful and expanding. Imagine my thrill encountering her personal essay in the May 30, 2022 issue: “Easy Rider: Life on a Bike.” I plunged right into a favorite writer’s thoughts on a favorite subject.
“The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.”
Iris Murdoch, Author
By New Yorker standards, “Easy Rider” is a puff piece; appropriate for this time of year and this lighthearted subject.
“To ride a bike, is to come as close to flying by your own power as humans ever will. No part of you touches the ground. You ride on air.”
Jody Rosen, Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle
I firmly believe that everyone loves bicycles, except automobile drivers forced to share the road.
“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it: if you live.“
Ms. Lepore addresses the intractable battle between big, heavy, fast machines and delicate, vulnerable, bicycles. She also centers the evolution and varying popularity of bicycling in historical context.
“The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything in the world.“
Susan B. Anthony
Still, “Easy Rider” devotes most of its energy to promoting the pure satisfaction of pedaling through life.
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills, and coast down them.“
Ms. Lepore weaves personal tales of every bicycle she’s ever owned with a curated, rather than encyclopedic, history of traveling on two wheels. She divvies cyclists up into three specific categories: cowboys, teenagers, and Old Woman. From age four, Ms. Lepore has pedaled firm in the ‘Old Woman’ category. Yet, despite her caution, she seems to have too many mishaps.
“Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.”
I fall square into ‘Cowboy,’ a category I consider confident rather than reckless. I make myself visible. If the road is narrow, I simply occupy it fully and make the honking cursers behind me wait for safe passing. It takes nerves, but as I’ve logged over 100,000 miles with only two accidents, (albeit each of them major), I have a better track record than the Old Woman. Then again, she is such the better writer.
“I relax by taking my bicycle apart and putting it back together again.“
There are many things I’ll never do on my bicycle. I’ll never exceed 40 miles per hour (39 was my personal best, on a straight downhill on U.S. 90 outside of Pecos, Texas). I will never true a wheel or replace a crankshaft (my mechanical ability has been zilch since day one). I will never win a race – or even enter one.
“Those who wish to control their own lives and move beyond existence as mere clients and consumers — those people ride a bike.”
Wolfgang Sachs, Author
There are some things I used to do on a bicycle that I don’t much now. I never run a stop sign or a red light, at least not before a full-on pause. I steer clear of gravel and dirt and mud paths. I hardly ever ride at night anymore.
“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair.“
But the most important thing about riding a bike I still do, almost every day. Get out on the road and get where I need to go, under my own power, at my own speed, in my own time. It seems inefficient until you realize that while I travel, I exercise my body, and ease my mind. That’s a heck of a lot of useful multi-tasking.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.“
There are more than twice as many bicycles than cars on the planet. I know you have access to one.
“Bicycling is a big part of the future. It has to be. There’s something wrong about a society that drives a car to workout at the gym.“
Bill Nye, the Science Guy
So on this longest day of the year, consider getting out of your car and onto a bike. Take a ride somewhere special, or nowhere at all. The world will be so much more beautiful. Your place in it will feel so fine.
“You are one ride away from a good mood.“
Sara Bentley, competitive cyclist
Illustration courtesy of Cari Vander Yacht, The New Yorker, May 30, 2022