After a bike ride, read a book about bicycles

Bicycles are magical.  Learning to ride one is a rite of passage. The bicycle wobbles between the thighs – yet stays upright. Suddenly, the world extends from the yard to the block, from the neighborhood to the city, and beyond.

This skill, once mastered, becomes intimately connected to memory, to knowledge.  It’s like riding a bicycle, we say to each other in our more difficult moments, bolstering ourselves against a lifetime of uncertainty. Once we learn, we never forget.  Part human, part machine, on a bicycle we become a cyborg.  Hunched forward, heads raised, we mimic the animals.  Riding a bicycle is at once futuristic and also primordial: it’s magical.

When I’m not bicycling, I like to read about bicycling. Paul Fournel’s excellent and compact Need for the Bike is a perfect ode on the subject.  Originally written in French, this book provides a new vocabulary, a new cast of characters.

When a faster cyclist passes us, washing us in his or her wake, the French call it “catching cold.”  Those of us who ride fixed-gear bicycles are “squirrels.” When we hit the wall, bonk, become drained of energy, the French say we’ve “met the man with the hammer.”  This man can strike at any time, and every cyclist knows him.  When our bodies begin to fail, we become “wool eaters” (racers used to wear wool jerseys) or “wheel suckers,” and we “pedal squares.”

For a technical treatise, there is no better book than Continue reading “After a bike ride, read a book about bicycles”