The Thinker

The Joy of Biking

It’s been fun rediscovering the bicycle. I’ve had my bike sitting in my garage for years. I rarely rode it. Why? Because I realized a couple months after I bought it that it was the wrong bike for me. It never was comfortable. The seat was too small. The frame too low. The brakes worked unevenly and always squealed. And it was cheap. I should have known better than to buy a cheap bike. But ten years ago I was more strapped for cash than I am now. In addition it was a racing bike. I didn’t really need a racing bike. There’s no place to truly race a bike around here. I needed a more practical bike. But it was too late to return it and after a while I felt foolish for having bought it. And there it still sits in my garage waiting for a garage sale or a charitable donation.

My wife on the other hand has a great bike that she bought some years back. It shifts smoothly. It has eighteen gears, brakes cleanly and stops on a dime. But for some reason she hardly ever uses it. So I figured she’d not object if I borrowed her bike instead of using my clunker. At midlife I don’t care if I am seen driving a sissy bike. This is a bike that is engineered very well. Riding it feels almost symbiotic. It feels like an extension of my body. I feel one with the bike.

And her bike has worked fine these last six weeks or so getting me to and from work. As I mentioned it’s an invigorating way to start the workday. But I’m finding I want to do more with her bike than feel good about not spewing fumes into the atmosphere. I’m finding I like to bike just for the heck of it. Biking is becoming more than good exercise, it’s becoming a hell of a lot of fun.

So I’ve started to go places with my wife’s bike. It started with trips up to Reston, five or so miles away. And I’ve taken the bike south too. It is really the only way to get to Battlefield Park since as I ruminated a couple weeks ago it’s probably the only park in Fairfax County with no place to park a car.

This Sunday was an unbelievably gorgeous day: blue skies, ultra low humidity and sixty miles of visibility. It was a day meant for a challenging bike ride. I didn’t know where I was going to go. I ended up on the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail. This is a lovely bike path that extends from 45 miles from Shirlington near D.C. to Purcellville, which is at the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains. It is a well-maintained bike trail with places to eat, occasional restrooms you can use and even a water fountain or two. In short it’s a highly desirable bike trail. I was familiar with parts of the trail when I lived in Reston. I had gone running on the trail many times. But most of the trail I never explored.

Feeling adventurous I connected with the trail near old town Herndon and then followed it Northwest. I realized what a pleasure it is to ride on a well-maintained bike trail. After weeks of bumpy asphalt trails, sidewalks and hearing to the sound of motorized monsters so close to me I finally had the chance to feel some communion with nature on my bike ride. It wasn’t perfect of course. This part of the W&OD trail winds its way through suburbia. But there are often woods on either side of the trail. There aren’t too many hills to speak of. So it is a place where if you feel in good enough shape you can crank you bike into high gear and stay there.

And so I did. On such a lovely day there was plenty of fellow travelers on the trail but little in the way of inconsiderate pedestrians. The day was infectious. I found myself pushing myself hard, wanting never to slow down and trying to stay always in my highest gear. And it was delightful. The scenery whizzed by. There were of course more than a few intersections where I had to stop and cross carefully. But there were also more overpasses than I expected taking me right over some major highways. I wasn’t sure how far I could keep going. My only constraint was I didn’t bring much in the way of water and I wasn’t sure where the water stations were located. But I kept going and surprised myself my passing through Sterling. In fact I made it all the way to the overpass over Route 28. It was a lovely place to turn around because of its gorgeous view. From the bridge I had a commanding view north and west. The Shenandoah Mountains seemed temptingly close. I realized in a future bike ride this would be a great place to start. So I need to put a bike rack on the back of my car and see if I can make it to Leesburg or points beyond. I think I will make it in a matter of time.

While I have done a lot of running in the last twenty years I have rarely gotten the runners high I had heard about. I don’t achieve it because I usually don’t last that long. But I found out on Sunday that I could reach a biker’s high. The feeling was intoxicating. But after about an hour of biking really hard my whole body felt tingly. My heart was racing fast but not dangerously. I could feel the oxygen in every part of my body. Even my fingers felt alive with pleasure.

I guess every man needs a hobby. It would be nice if I could share this hobby with someone. It doesn’t look like my wife will take up biking again, at least not anytime soon. I doubt she could keep up with me anyhow. I was cruising.

It’s odd. I go much faster in a car. But in a car I never really experience the ride. When the conditions are right on a bike you become one with the world around you. While you can move through it quickly you are still very much a part of it. In a car you are inside a thing. You witness the world passively. Not so on a bike. The wind rustles through your hair, surges into your nostrils and makes the hair on your arms dance. Your body becomes very much like a machine except this machine is you, and you are intimately hardwired into the experience.

This weekend if I am blessed with another nice day I will take the same trail toward Vienna, Virginia and check out that portion of the trail. Perhaps as my stamina increases I will continue to venture further. I figure I biked at least seventeen miles on Sunday. That seemed like quite a lot but now I’m starting to realize that maybe it’s just a start. I can go further and last longer.

If only there were more bike trails like the W&OD trail. Instead what passes for the bicycle experience most of the time are sidewalks and the sides of public roads, which are often full of gravel and potholes. Bumps and curbs are everywhere and continually annoy you and slow you down.

If nothing else biking is making me annoyed by our car culture. In theory bikes and cars have equal access to the public roads. But riding a bike on a well-trafficked road is to flirt with injury or death. Already in my six weeks of biking it is clear that the auto is king. It seems to most drivers we bike riders are effectively invisible. They seem annoyed when I decide to bike across the crosswalk instead of let them make that right turn on red. At worst they are openly hostile or downright determined to run us off the road. But I feel sorry for them now. If they don’t bike they don’t know what a special experience they are missing. If they did I think there would be a lot less cars on the road and a lot more bike trails.


Note to W&OD Trail Riders: did you know Virginia Power wants to cut down tree along more than 11 miles of the trail? This is outrageous! Click here to learn more and call Virginia Power and your representatives today!

 

One Response to “The Joy of Biking”

  1. 1:41 pm on May 8 2005, rob said:

    You probably don’t want to be pushing highest gears everywhere. Good way to destroy your knees. High cadence is your friend, aim for at least 80rpm+.

    I won’t go into the reasons as there are already numerous web resources on this matter.

    Congratulations to the “addiction”.

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