It is hard to feel bad getting off a bike. Unless you’ve gone nowhere on it. All that motion up and down the hills, through the wind and rain and sunbeams. Past the unlikely-to-be-free-range eggs fired in my direction as part of the Halloween festivities of Dublin’s fair city suburbs. They haven’t hit me yet but I think it is coming. Plenty of time, it’s a new year!
Pedalling with the prevailing gale across south Dublin in the fresh damp air with the early sun peeking low on the horizon is at worst a neutral experience. No less so in the evening – even if it is mostly uphill and against the wind and occasional rain.
Sometimes you get these moments on the way to work too. Aren’t smartphone cameras great?
Cycling is the most economic means of taking the majority of trips. In 2014, more than half of Irish people used the car for trips of less than 2km. It’s easy to get into that routine. I did it myself when I had a car.
Of course there are those odd mornings when my low blood-sugared gaze critically regards the bike and its spattered mudguards’ lack of fossil-fired finesse. A kilometer-plough. Five minutes after starting pedalling my mind is consistently changed as I’m worked through the motions. Even something this small is a kind of lesson too – very often it is the thought of doing something that is the greatest barrier, not the doing itself.
Time gets subsumed in the act. Moving fast or slow, awareness of its passing comes not so much in units but measures along that road or between those bridges. The long stretch of slow canal ahead and that bloody headwind on the way home. No dashboard clock or speedometer, just senses alive and kicking and real. It’s obvious and true and doesn’t fade with repeats.
In the scenery, kind of a part of it, a unit moving through it. Lots of routes – the scenery becoming less important once the cycling begins. Traffic maintains its own immutable presence.
I am consistently surprised at how often it’s not raining too – as much as we Irish like to complain about it. Then again this winter has seen more than its fair share.
It may sound obvious, but there is a perceptible difference in my overall energy balance due to daily cycling and it is something I have had to experience for a period of time before I really noticed it.
Being outside for close to two hours cycling each day seems to fit very well with my wiring. Cycling evens up that daily mental divide between time spend outside and inside. Balances out all that bloody sitting.
It makes sense that exercise would instill such benefits, but it is another thing to feel the difference, to know it clearly in the mind’s eye and feel it in the body. Building a pattern of exercise into daily life is the challenge too. As a fan of neither exercise regimes nor the gym, cycling as transportation has filled that particular void quite nicely.
Industrialisation, modern jobs, and sedentary lifestyles require the mind to be exercised and active for long periods, often in the one spot. It’s hard to switch the thing off at times. The motion of cycling directly slows the churn of the mind.
It is a kind of meditation – especially for someone who finds it a challenge to slow down my mind, let alone meditate. I have tried meditation, but find it difficult. It’s not really my thing at the moment.
It is an obvious kind of freedom really. The real sense of it becomes more apparent the longer I am cycling. It’s deeper in the details, within the daily experience of the movements themselves.
It is the feeling of freedom – the real freedom of being a self-repairable unit. In a way I feel more independent than I did when I owned a car. I guess it depends on the definition of independence.
Over time, the act of cycling becomes increasingly self-contained, refined, and the feel-good feedback loop strengthens.
I can use it to get anywhere in Dublin – always in a better mood when I get off the bike than when I started. I can fix it, know exactly how to pack it after a full shopping, and enjoy when it is running well – and spot those subtle ticks when something is going wrong.
An exactly fit-for-purpose kind of relationship with the bike and its geometry has evolved. A kind of bond of man and machine.
I put some parts onto an old steel mountain bike frame recently and stood admiring it. Just looking at it, like a kid with his favourite Christmas present. I never saw myself writing those words, but there you have it.
They have their off-days from time to time too.