Louisville Wheelmen

Louisville Wheelmen Newsletter -- May-June 1996

Hooked on A Feeling . . .

by David Stewart

I have lusted after bicycles from an early age. I was raised in Central Africa where only two brands of bicycles were available. At the train station in Kampala, there was an advertisement for Raleigh. It showed, in the first panel, a man riding a bright shiny Raleigh. In the second panel, a full-maned lion was chasing him. In the third panel, the lion was on the ground panting and the rider was going on his way laughing. He hadnít even broken a sweat.

I got the Raleigh. It had a Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub, disk brakes (which I had ordered) and, redundantly, calipers (which I had not ordered). The chain guard covered the entire chain and all the sprockets. I put on a light and generator set despite the fact that the roads and paths were so bad I couldnít ride fast enough at night to light my way. But, if I had seen it, I could have outrun any lion that showed. I donít believe Iíve ever had a safer bike. I had saved and scrimped to get the bike because it was mechanically exciting, to my 10-year old mind, not because it was safe. The first derailleur I ever saw was in Bujumbura and I wanted one. Already I understood the persistent and continuous march of technology.

I remember bicycles by the scores in Europe. Not because they were neat but because they were so plentiful. Since they occupied so much of the street, my memory is one of family-sedan cycles. With racks and baskets and panniers. With books and loaves of bread. A mode of transportation. I had come from a culture where bikes were used in place of people as beasts of burden, so this seemed natural. But by the time I arrived in the U.S. for high school, the image of a bicycle as appropriate transportation diminished. Most of my friends were driving cars. The Schwinn, with the Sturmey-Archer three-speed, was gathering dust in the garage. Fodder for a yard sale.

When I went to Vietnam, I recognized the bicycles the Viet Cong used to haul goods down the Ho Chi Minh trail. I had seen them during my childhood in Africa. Used for the same purpose. But I didnít need a beast of burden, so I put the desire for a bicycle away for another day. A bike for me? No way!

It went this way for years. I bought my wife a Roadmaster (a ladyís model, the salesman told me. Really solid. Carry two children if she wanted.) with a child carrier so she could tote our young son around the neighborhood. I bought this same son, and later a daughter, bikes that let them wander further afield. I even drove a SAG vehicle for a church group that went on a 50-mile ride. The leader, an avid cyclist, would often put in fifteen or twenty miles after work on narrow south Georgia roads. I was impressed but not enthused. Passing pickups could be real mean on those back roads. There was no room on Bubbaís blacktop for bicycles.

The day before I met my wife, I planned on being single for the rest of my life. The day I met her, I couldnít think of ever being apart from her again. Getting back into cycling happened sort of the same way. But different. A friend invited me to ride with a group. He would even loan me a bike, I accepted, I loved it, I loved the mechanicals. Again. But there was a new element this time. I loved being with the people.

Iíve been amazed at the number of people I meet on rides. Where do they come from and why are they there? Young, old. Women and men. From many professions. Or with no profession at all. From all parts of the city. Road bikes and off-road bikes. Hybrids. Simple bikes. Exotic bikes. Bikes that cost more than the cars that carry them. So why do we all ride? I suspect the needs are as diverse and multifaceted as each rider Iíve met. But I believe there are certain basic reasons that prompt each of us to get on a bicycle.

  1. Technology. Letís face it. To some of us, technology has a certain lure. Like sex. Itís certainly one of my weaknesses. Aluminum. Carbon fiber. Titanium. Dura-Ace. Record. Shamal, Rev-X, Cosmic. Such neat names. Campagnolo. Shimano. Merck, Colnago, Serrota. Arcobaleno, Vortex and Veloce. 11-24T. 8-speed cassette. STI and Ergopower. Is this a guy-thing? Not in the least. Iíve seen women on impressive machinery, too. So why do I ride a 720 when I want to ride a 5500? Money, honey. But I do enjoy the drooling.

  2. Socializing. Another weakness of mine. Who wants to be alone when you can sweat with someone else? I donít care for tennis. Aerobics are fine but theyíre an indoor activity. Softball doesnít appeal and I think Iím finally too old for soccer. I can run, but then I canít talk. Cycling makes sense.

  3. Freedom. Iíve done a lot of off-shore sailing over the years. I always enjoyed the absence of a noisy motor. And, when those sails fill with wind, I know I have the means to propel myself to any spot on the face of the earth that can be reached by water. Cycling offers the same freedom. Again, itís a little different. In sailing, you watch for sharks. In cycling, you watch for dogs.

  4. Exercise. How else can you burn 700 calories an hour and enjoy it? Or, for that matter, live to tell about it? What other type of exercise has SAG stops?

  5. Competition. Letís face it. Thereís a little of this in a lot of us. I can ride my bike further and faster than someone else can. And if I canít, itís because he has a Litespeed. If I win, itís because Iím good. If I lose, itís because the other guy has better equipment. Maybe I should spring for the Kestrel.

  6. Passion. What makes someone climb the highest mountain? Or swim the deepest sea? What makes someone ride no matter the weather? Or when the rest of the crowd is watching a ball game? What makes the sound of gears and chain more exquisite than Mozart? When is the rush of color passing beside the road more lush than Van Gogh? What brings to fruition that mystical union of a single human being and a machine? When the cadence of pedaling and the flashing spin of spokes and the sound of wind and heart and lungs are one and the same. When this is the reason to ride, pity those close to you, perhaps. But youíll think youíre the luckiest person alive. Or at least the luckiest person on the road.

It really doesnít matter why anyone rides. The end justifies the means. And with so many ends to pick from, itís easy to justify what means it takes. Anyway you cut it, itís fun and worthwhile. Iíve seen the light. Again. Iím glad Iím back.

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last updated: 30 April 1996
by Duc M. Do