Commuting by bike.
‘A’ to ‘B’, it’s simple.
‘A’, surely, starts with the alarm, that jolting horror cutting through dark slumber, a fumbling crash for the snooze button, kettle on, kit packed, coffee. Keys-money-phone, check… emerging into, (if you are lucky), the chill, dry, darkness of a winter morning; everything leached of colour under the frigid white of the street lamp.
Door shut, bang, gate shut, clang, and away, the punting off of the smooth embark, then a slow warming up of muscles, coughing in the cold; a gradual sloughing off of sleep’s grasp, the morning cycle to work.
Round the corner, down the hill, watch the manhole cover, through the park… this is where it starts, ‘A’ to ‘B’, ‘B’ to ‘A’, day by day, rattling back and forth, like a shuttle in a loom, a rat in a trap. So far, so straightforward, yes?
Still it, just for a second.
Freeze frame, pause; tail lights of the bike still visible as you were about to vanish round the corner, reflective strips of the back of your jacket glowing in the artificial light… transfixed, pinned in the moment, in that second, just so…
…So. The bike.
Consider it for a moment, its red light still blinking in your mind’s eye, under the harsh, clear, halo of the street lamp, all else black, white, grey, muted. The bike – the history of cycling coalesced into this ordinary, extraordinary moment. The design; slick, refined, aerodynamic, but still recognisable as the Laufmaschine, the Draisienne of the 1800s.
Would Baron Karl have known what to do with the carbon-framed, Ultegra-geared uber-engineered collection of wonder that is our Lapierre, our Bianchi? You bet he would! A minute or two to marvel at the gearing, (a shout of delight at, My God, the weight, like a songbird, I can lift it in one hand!), then he’d be away down the hill, whoosh, swoosh round the corner and off, hampered not one jot by his tweed coat, (leather shoes slipping a little on the cleats mind, but sussed out the brakes and the gears no problem at all), and before the light had even started creeping across the sky from the East, he’d be off to God knows where never to be seen again…
(Digression, it’s a terrible thing.)
So before Baron KD steals your bike and makes for the wide blue yonder, press play and release that frame, back on track again…
…And you are off, speeding round the corner, down the hill, lights cutting through the cold dawn air, with a clean pair of heels (or rather, a muddy pair of wheels), slipping along the bus lanes, weaving through the stationary traffic, racing the transits, heart pounding, breath gasping, as the miles are eaten up, full tilt now along the Edinburgh road…
And pause just for a second, as it’s time to stop again.
Atoms are vibrating. Neurons are firing. The greased crank turns as the synovial fluid eases the ceaseless pivoting joints, muscles expand, contract, expand, contract, in this silent concert of unceasing motion.
Your heart thunders. Lungs pump oxygen into the blood stream, glycogen converts to power, CO2 is gasped back out…
(Ok, press play.)
So, punting away from the lights, almost up to full speed again, time for that sinuous, entrancing pull, sliding into the big cog, the smooth shift in power. The rightness of that shift. Accelerating into swooping curves, running close shaves; painting the city streets with tyre tracks of nothing but fun, whilst feeling completely, and utterly, alive.
The complex, complicated human, working with the flexing, responsive machine.
It’s very cool, when you think about it.
But better, still, than the engineering of the bike, (and better, too, than the evolutionary process by which we struggled from ocean to tree to land, and now, ridiculously, beautifully, to two wheels or more – for you to reach your desk, for Heaven’s sake).
No, best by far is the will that pushes us to take the bike, fling ourselves out into the chilly Scottish dawn, race the bus, test ourselves, extend the limits. In the drizzle, in the frost, into the wind, or, just sometimes, in the cold, sharp brightness of the winter sunshine, under a blue sky.
Commuting by bike. ‘A’ to ‘B’, it’s simple.