Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Joy of Bicycles

Spring has a power unto itself that, especially after a difficult winter, borders on the miraculous. People from all walks of life are compelled to take pause as the trees turn misty green, the wind's knife edge is blunted, and they can finally take a deep breath, or two, minus the outcry from their lungs. Life. Dreams. Joy. Possibilities. It's hard to be a cynic when surrounded by the rebirth of nature. 

I'm a fan of bicycles. I don't ride as much as I should, but I get out more these days than I have in some time. A ride along the lakefront, or up the North Branch Trail, maybe out to Ravinia, an excursion to the single track at Palos, or Kickapoo; it's a great feeling to get where you want to go under your own motive power. 

I also love working on bikes. There's an elegance of design to a well-built bicycle, a distillation of purpose that shuns excess in favor of meeting it's rider's specific needs. A bike can be understood in it's entirety, it can be stripped down to its constituent parts and built back up in a matter of hours, it is in every way made to the scale of the individual. Diagnostics are performed with the hands, and ears, and eyes. Repairs are with simple tools, and demand a discerning feel and eye to obtain proper function and performance.

The bond of a rider with his or her bike is strong, an outward expression of self and a trust that can be deeply personal. To violate this through theft or vandalism is enraging. It is hard to think of a bike as anything other than a societal good; when that is marred by a crime against the bike and its rider it's hard to see how the world makes sense. To drag a bike down to the simple level of property and to treat it as such seems somehow profane.  Perhaps a misdemeanor against humanity. 


I give a bit of my time most weeks to Working Bikes Cooperative, an organization dedicated to helping people obtain bikes both in developing countries as well as right here in Chicago. They ship donated bikes to places across the globe where they are used as tools to improve lives and communities. And they sell donated bikes in their storefront to fund these charitable activities. It's a happy virtuous cycle. 

This time of year the storefront is particularly busy, as the weather is lovely and a bike ride seems like the best idea ever. I rather enjoy talking with customers, learning how and why they ride, seeing people who haven't been on a bike for 10-20-30-40 years hop on and give it a go. It's a pleasure to witness their joy, let down their guard just a little, and live their lives solely in that moment. Yay Spring!

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