I have owned exactly 3 brand new bicycles in my life. The first was a bright yellow bike with orange and yellow fringe on the handlebars and a banana seat with a smiling sunshine face on it. I was twelve years old, and my bike was a glorious Christmas surprise. My brother and I both received bikes that year, which was perfect given the fact that it was a year for record breaking warmth and we were able to ride up and down our gravel street without jackets on (unusual for Eastern Washington winters). David was the recipient of a red and black sporty BMX bike and I was graced with my sunshine daydream. I was beside myself. That yellow bicycle represented a beautiful mix of freedom and joy and I rode it everywhere. I rode on roads both concrete and gravel and I rode on endless trails by the river. I rode that yellow bike until it was the bicycle version of the velveteen rabbit.
Thinking back, I realize that part of the magic of my childhood was my trust that I had everything I needed on my own person. I rarely went without, despite growing up in a working class family, and I seldom thought twice about slamming out the screen door on my way toward adventure. And that usually entailed me jumping on my bike without so much as a bottle of water or a jacket in case of adverse weather conditions.
After outgrowing and riding my yellow bike beyond recognition, I rode many hand-me-down bicycles that had previously belonged to my brother or sister. Bikes were the way I got around, and I never worried about needing my own bike lane, traffic, or how far I had to go to get to my destination. I just pedaled away, oblivious that helmets even existed.
Once I hit the magic age of 16 and got my driver’s license, however, I ditched my bike for a turquoise blue AMC Pacer. We lived in a semi-rural area, and I had aspirations of seeing the world in my bubble car. I had to get places faster than a bike could take me. So all previously used bicycles sat buried in the garage behind old tarps and cardboard boxes filled with other tossed away items awaiting fate at a garage sale. I was way too independent for a bike.
My second brand new bike was a chartreuse green Huffy mountain bike that my parents bought for me when I was fresh out of high school and on my way to Healy, Alaska for seasonal work. I strapped that bike onto the back of the sporty Ford Mustang I purchased (with help, of course) after my Pacer literally went up in smoke along the highway on my way to work. My friend and I made our way with our mountain bikes out of Washington State through Canada and the Yukon Territory to the wilds of Alaska. I rode that Huffy proudly, despite the snickers that came my way from the other seasonal workers riding fancier mountain bikes. I rode my sturdy green bike past huge RV’s, trailers, and the occasional moose on my weekly rides to the post office and took it with me into Denali National Park to explore bear country on two wheels. I had the last laugh when my bike was one of the few to avoid breaking down on the dirt and gravel terrain of the park. I never even experienced a flat tire. I kept that bike for years, riding from the sailboat we lived on near Gasworks Park in Seattle to work and school and everywhere in-between. I finally left my green workhorse of a bike sitting out at the marina as an offering to anyone who might want a good, sturdy bike. I have many fond memories of that bike.
My third and most recent new bike is the one I purchased just before my fortieth birthday last year. I wanted a bike for several reasons, but the most important was that I wanted to cultivate the same sense of freedom and ease that I had when I balanced on two wheels through adolescence. That, and I realized that my ass had been getting fat. Let’s be honest. Chemo and all of the starchy goodness I ate as a result of the chemo-related nausea did a number on my backside. I needed exercise, and I almost always prefer to do that in nature. So, I did my research and went to the store several times to test ride several bikes within my budget. I settled on a sweet little hybrid cruiser bike with a bright blue frame and a memory foam seat.
My bike is adorable and sturdy at the same time, and I love riding it. I adore experiencing the city again from a different perspective. Instead of being sheltered inside a vehicle with heat and music, I’m in the elements and participating in my surroundings. My music is nature- and, oh, how I love that sound.
Riding a bike on a regular basis again has affirmed that I still feel a sense of autonomy when I spread my wings and power my own mode of transportation. I feel expansive and at ease (when I’m not fearing for my life alongside rush hour traffic). The difference, though, is that I have a harder time getting on my bike without worrying about having enough- I pack a first aid kit, tire repair patches, extra clothing, sunscreen, water, snacks, sunglasses, and my purse. I rarely just get on without a second thought. And this makes me sad. Even in my commitment as a yogi who trusts that what I need is right here in this body, I experience a racing heart when I think about going more than a mile without my water bottle and some emergency cash. Last year I actually left the house forgetting about a helmet for the first mile of my ride. As soon as I realized this, I felt pure terror of impending doom. I rode home at a slow and steady pace, looking every which way for possible causes of head trauma.
I do not want bicycling to be scary or to feel like a chore so, in honor of Bike to Work Month, I am going to work on cultivating bicycle Santosha- contentment with biking in the simplicity that it is. I will work on packing lightly and enjoying the ride rather than using my bike as just a means of getting some exercise and saving fossil fuels (which I totally believe in, by the way). I vow to smile more at strangers and to every now and then play with taking my hands off the handlebars to feel the wind on my wings. I will breathe in the fresh air around me and notice the beauty of the city where I live, and I will honor every brave and beautiful soul who perches their body on two wheels to get around, even when they curse at me for being slow. Because for me, it’s not a race-it’s a journey.