Bicycles and Crows
By Silent Otto
While watching David Attenborough’s BBC documentary series The Life of Birds, I am struck by how much bicyclists have in common with birds.
Bicyclists and birds both come in many different shapes and sizes, yet they are all easily recognizable. Some may be large and lumbering and some may be sleek and swift, but everyone arrives at their destination eventually. Some travel great distances, across continents even. And just as we marvel at a bird like the arctic tern, which transits the entire length of the Americas, we likewise revel in the comment almost every cyclist has heard, “You came from where?! On your bike!?”
Some like to fly solo while others prefer the safety and camaraderie of the flock. The bright flash of colour on the wing may reveal a seasonal visitor, or maybe its just the flash of the Saturday spandex racer.
Inevitably, the display of colour and fitness is mostly a show to attract a mate. Both the birds and the bicyclists must negotiate the daily hazards of a hostile environment. We must keep our distance from our larger and more predatory neighbours. Casual inattention may lead to instant disaster. We both rely upon wariness and caution; we both depend upon agility and acceleration to avoid approaching danger.
Anyone with a backyard bird-feeder or resident cyclist knows their respective appetites may be voracious. Like most birds, cyclists believe that it is always a good time to eat. Joyfully we will eat until there is nothing left, and then search the cracks and corners for more. Both birds and bicyclists know the value of storing extra calories; both understand the devastating consequences of the “bonk”.
However, we also understand the penalty of carrying extra ounces, and will always seek that fine balance between strength and weight, speed and endurance.
We both defy gravity. We sometimes look ungainly and impossible while at rest, yet approach pure grace and beauty while in motion. Stormy weather might keep us close to home, but if necessary we are adaptable to almost any environment. We know the prevailing winds to be both friend and foe. While the sun shines we like to sing and call to each other across the distances.
We instinctively understand the value of keeping our noses out of the wind to conserve energy and we appreciate a strong individual to trail behind. To help each other get to where we’re going we often share the effort.
Like the great birds riding the rising thermals, a fit cyclist knows the easy feeling of flying along with only minimal effort, using weather and terrain to cruise comfortably, the machinery of transport disappearing in sight and mind.
It is one of the curious facts of cycling that the bicycle effectively disappears under the rider. In a proper position, with your chin up and eyes sighting down the road, you cannot see your bike at all. Your sight is unconstrained by steel and glass, your ears are free from the roar of an engine, the bicycle under you works quietly and seamlessly, leaving your mind and body free to swoop and swirl like the birds, swiftly cutting through the air.
Silent Otto is a writer, teacher, cyclist and friend to birds. He enjoys watching the daily peloton of crows over Burnaby, Canada.