Monday, March 14, 2011

Ode to Bicycle

For those that know me well, or even vaguely, they will be aware of my love for bicycles.  For those that don’t, you too will be by text’s end.

It seems Jean-Jacques Sempé remembers learning to ride a bicycle
To have a love affair with bicycles is to be a part of a relationship (often a polygamous one) that not only continues to provide positives day after day, but also comes with nary a negative.  You could argue that that final point is not accurate; you can fall off your steed and die, you can get a puncture and subsequently be forced to walk for miles, your drivetrain can wear out and cost hundreds of dollars to replace.  But the thing about all these sometimes-perceived negatives is that they are not, not one of them, the bike’s fault.  And this is not the same as when a man and a woman argue and try to deflect blame.  This is not an example of that argument we’ve all endured that ends with the words, “Well nothing’s your fault, is it?”  How do I know this?  Because I have many times fallen off my bike and died, had punctures and been forced to walk for miles, and worn out expensive drivetrains.  And after all these events, and others of a similar ilk, I have never had to raise my voice at one of my bicycles, or even considered doing so, because the fault clearly does not lie with them, but with me, or an absent-minded motorist, or a tack, or the rain.

Bicycles represent to me the height of human achievement.  They may not be the most technologically advanced creation, they may not represent the greatest political accomplishments, they may not represent the most stunning art.  But taken as a whole, the bicycle accomplishes what no other creation has; the bicycle represents a form of freedom that countless remember tasting for the first time at the tender age of three, or four, or seven; the bicycle exists as the most convenient form of clean transport on earth; the bicycle offers people a way of travelling far and fast that they would otherwise be unable to do; the bicycle provides us with some of the most spectacular, gut-wrenching, beautiful endeavours of human achievement.

The bicycle is freedom, sport, art, literature, politics, women’s suffrage, technology, transport and many other things.  For some of us, it is also love, lust, passion, excitement, even fervour.

I can’t say “I remember the first time I rode a bicycle…I remember the sense of freedom, the wind in my hair…Oh, I was smiling from ear to ear…” as my memory is not so good.  But I can say with confidence, if not certainty, that the above sentiments apply to me.  I still get that feeling now, almost a quarter of a century after I first turned a bicycle crank (except that now you have to wear a helmet, which reduces the pleasure of the wind in the hair).



  1. Quite often, when riding down a hill, I yell 'Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee', even though I'm meant to be a grown-up. You?

  2. The GASG likes this!!

  3. The most famous Ode is possibly that of the Nobel Laureate (for literature) Pablo Neruda. His "Ode to bicycles", in translation, reads
    Ode to Bicycles

    I was walking down a sizzling road:
    the sun popped like a field of blazing maize,
    the earth was hot,
    an infinite circle with an empty blue sky overhead.

    A few bicycles passed me by,
    the only insects in that dry moment of summer,
    silent, swift, translucent;
    they barely stirred the air.

    Workers and girls were riding to their factories,
    giving their eyes to summer,
    their heads to the sky,
    sitting on the hard beetle backs of the whirling
    bicycles that whirred as they rode by bridges, rosebushes, brambles and midday.

    I thought about evening when the boys
    wash up, sing, eat, raise a cup of wine in honor
    of love and life, and waiting at the door,
    the bicycle, stilled, because only moving does it have a soul,
    and fallen there it isn’t a translucent insect
    humming through summer
    but a cold skeleton
    that will return to life
    only when it’s needed,
    when it’s light,
    that is, with the resurrection of each day.
    - Pablo Neruda, 1956

    1. This is about communism actually...