What is the value of cycling?

There is something magical that happens when you ride a bicycle.

The feeling of freedom it evokes harks back to the undaun389923879 (1)
ted rambling of childhood.

Perhaps it is the sheer pleasure of acceleration or the imminent danger of the cars

and the unforgiving concrete rushing by that keeps me returning to the saddle.

Robert Persig suggested in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that when you’re ’in a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.’

So part of the allure of the bicycle is that it brings an immediacy to your world. This idea is reflected in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘Optimal experience’ or ‘The psychology of flow’. Optimal experience happens when you become completely absorbed in your activity. Time slows down or disappears and you feel a sense of oneness. Sportspeople often feel this when they are completely in the moment and artists also speak of the idea that there is no sense of separation from themselves, the paintbrush, the canvas and perhaps a higher energy. The way we achieve this state is through always changing the degree of difficulty so that it is not too easy and not too hard. Riding a bike has this quality inherently. When the gradient of the road increases we change the gears to match our muscles requirement and through this process we always feel that we have a positive connection to the bicycle. So constant adjustment of the stressors results in moments of complete connection. Monks call this enlightenment. So the theory is that the more we can bring this feeling to every part of our day the more we are experiencing enlightenment.

It should come as no surprise then that riding a pedicab for a living is incredibly enjoyable. Despite this there have been a few pedestrians that do not want a ride for purely humanitarian reasons; They believe that I have been compelled into this line work through necessity rather than pleasure. And often drunk people suggest that I might get a real job. I’m not really sure what this ‘real job’ entails. But I cannot imagine that it would give more freedom and fulfilment than the humble rickshaw.I recall having a flyer tricycle as a child. So I guess I’ve been training for this ‘fake’ job for a little over three decades.
Perhaps a real job entails sitting in an office, looking at life passing by through a framed window. Become a passive observer of life as you shuffle paper and copy and paste emails. Perhaps inside those buildings there actually is a enjoyable job for much of the populace. Nevertheless I still enjoy the immediacy of the cars whizzing by and the concrete just five inches below my foot.


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Posted on August 13, 2013 in Bikeman

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