“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring” – Desmond Tutu
Apologies to those who love fishing! But I think you get my gist. Once upon a time I would have rated my hiking boots my most prized possession, followed by my cross-country skis followed by books and photos, then, well, not much else actually. I don’t have a lot of things – partly out of necessity, two of us live in a shoebox-sized apartment – but also because I don’t want to feel too weighed down with stuff.
Travelling in New Zealand years ago I discovered the joy of moving forward on your own two feet for extended periods while hiking the Routeburn, Greenstone and Abel Tasman trails. I’ve worn out a couple of pairs of boots over the years, my last pair stood me in good stead on some long hauls here in British Columbia, finally coming apart at the heel. I got blisters for the first time ever in twelve years or so of wearing them. They’ve been replaced but their hierarchy has changed. I’ll never not love hiking, but cycling, well, that’s taken over for the last few years and my bikes have precociously shouldered my humble boots aside to take top spot.
It’s amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike. Start cycling at the beginning of the day and you could end up in a totally different environment at the end of it. Zipping around town to run errands and collect groceries often takes a fraction of the time than on foot or in a car on congested roads. Freedom, self-containment, fresh air, exercise, the soothing whirr of wheels – unless of course there’s an unexpected and frustrating click, clank or hiss necessitating a usually infuriating session of ad hoc bike maintenance, this is when I don’t love my bike.
Cycling has made me feel stronger than I thought I could possibly be. At times when I’ve despaired getting up a trail on a mountain bike, I’ve had to relax, take my time and just plug away at it. I’ve surprised myself at my tenacity and felt a real sense of achievement when I’ve crested a hill. I’ve also learned to read my energy levels much better. If I’ve had enough, that’s ok too. And there’s not many times a bike ride doesn’t put things into perspective.
“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking” – Arthur Conan Doyle
Oh, and here’s a few fun facts and figures in an article at Climate Central. By undertaking just 10% of urban trips in cities worldwide by bicycle instead of motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions would drop by 11%. The article concedes the potential difficulties of installing infrastructure for bikes in certain areas and the cultural shift towards bikes needed in others, but the general agreement seems to be that the science behind those figures is sound. And I don’t think there’s much dispute that exercise is good for you, I’m not saying that cycling is the reason Robert Marchand is still riding a bike at 105 years old, but I don’t think it hurts either.
“Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large.” Udo E. Simonis, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy at the Science Centre, Berlin, January 2010