I Am The Battery.
by Our Bicycle Lives
By Rob Scott
The bicycle is a very basic piece of mechanics.
Despite some significant advances – in gearing, wheels and tyres, brakes for example – the essential concept has not changed much at all. Plonk a rider on top, get ’em pedalling, and you have a beautiful example of a direct transfer of energy from the potential to the kinetic.
The beauty of it all is that it doesn’t require coal, or steam or petrol. No men in smeared and dirty uniforms shovelling fuel into the gaping maw of a furnace, feeding the beast; there is no requirement for a network of refuelling or recharging points sprinkled out across the land; the earth doesn’t need to be turned, rock isn’t blown apart, rivers aren’t dammed, forests not cut. It doesn’t belch acridity into the air, doesn’t clog cities with lung-crippling pollution. It needs very little infrastructure, as it lays its own tracks, the two wheels creating a road before them that goes where they are navigated and ends only when they stop turning. It can use motorway, back road, dirt path or mountain track as its conduit. There is no need to build anything for it. It only requires infrastructure when the riders demand comfort, and lack the durability to cycle; to really cycle.
It is nothing when it stops moving. At rest, the cycle is just so much metal, inert, dead weight. In a small London flat, it takes up too much room – hallways, spare rooms and corridors are filled. Shins are scrapped, coats are caught, trousers are streaked with grease as people try to avoid its grasping clutches. In extremes, it may be pushed, even kicked. But eventually it gets taken out again, as it is transformed in perception from a thing taking up space, to a thing of utility.
I am the battery, without which this contraption is powerless. I provide the power, and the motivation, the consciousness, that lends this “thing” its purpose, its direction – both in life, and in navigation.
The cyclist seems often tempted to don the outfit of a professional team rider – Lycra shorts and top, streamlined helmet or retro cap, gloves, clip-on shoes. Whatever happened to bicycle clips or one trouser leg tucked into a sock? I ask myself, as I watch the day-glo hi-viz peloton outside Stockwell station as they strain to restrain themselves from jumping the lights.
I know this addiction to cycling, I know it well. I’ve never belonged to the Lycra and clip-on shoes set, but I know how it is to get on the damn thing and just ride it, push it to its limit. I have to be very careful of myself on my cycle, aware that I can become detached from myself so easily. I don’t know if there is a biological reason for it, but cycling is the only activity where I notice the immediate effect of the endorphins coursing through my veins. A gym workout results in a feeling of general wellbeing that lasts me for the day. Getting on my bike, the endorphins hit me within about 10-15 minutes, and it is not a particularly good effect.
I get crazy.
Safety goes out the window. I yell at other road users. I gesture at them. I race cars, push my way through them when stationary, lean on them, deliberately get in their way. I need only a very slight margin to cut in front. I jump off curbs, and speed down hills, I disrespect, disobey and downright challenge traffic lights. I can’t help but think that sometimes the bike is leading me on, leading me astray. As if it doesn’t quite know what to do with all this freedom.
It is a light-mechanical guerilla force, making brief but effective forays into enemy territory. It uses the bus lane to full advantage, but the minute that becomes unsuitable, jumps the curb to ride the footpath for a moment – but just for a moment, because a gap in the traffic is spotted, so off the curb, across the bus lane, and in front of the cars. Depending on the lights, there can be times when a bike might have the temerity to invade the opposite lane, to taunt the traffic coming towards it. The bicycle neither belongs, nor is welcome in any of these settings. But it persists, difficult to catch because it spends precious little time in any one place – each of these places exploited in an effort to get somewhere else.
The bike is a Scarlet Pimpernel, an Artful Dodger. The bike wants to rule you.
But get off it, put it away in its shed or hallway, hang it on its wall bracket, and it is deflated, undermined, undone. Its hold over its owner is broken again and it is, once more, just a collection of parts, waiting for its next journey. And if the owner is a real cyclist, that journey won’t be too far away. The moment the bike goes up on that wall bracket, the process starts again. The bike will make its presence felt, as its owner passes it every day. And eventually, the desire will get too much, and it will get lifted down, dusted off, and taken out again.
It will lay out a new track for itself, a track made up on-the-fly, never to be repeated, original and agile. The preferred choice of rebels, the poor, of commuters and holiday-makers, the environmentalists and fitness-freaks, the over-crowded and the carefree.
Because on the bike, everything is carefree.
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