By Little Woo
When I was a child, I remember seeing kids in the neighbourhood riding on their bicycles during the lazy summer days. I could hear distant laughter and chatter as crowds of children would gather and then disappear over the hills. I didn’t know where they’d go, but I knew they were having fun.
Growing up, I was not allowed to own or ride a bike. Nor was I allowed to play outside. As I yearned to go out and ride with the other kids, the forbidden bicycle became a symbol to me of childhood joys, and of freedom.
One day, when I was 13, I managed an escape out of the house with my uncle’s bike in tow. Once safely out of viewing distance, I climbed onto the bicycle, took a deep breath and pushed off. The bike wobbled as I pedaled, but I soon realized that I wasn’t going to fall and that I was basically riding the bike. The wind swept over my face, my hair flickered wildly behind me, and the world rushed by in a pleasing flow of colours and shapes. I’d obviously been in a car before but this was a wholly different experience: I could feel the road and the surroundings so viscerally. A deep sense of utter bliss came upon me – free at last; finally, I was free at last!
However, it was a small town and word innocently reached my parents about my little experiment. Abruptly, my bike riding days were over before they had even begun.
In the next decade, I would have the most meagre exposure to this wondrous two-wheeled machine. Many people did not have the patience to ride with a complete novice nor the desire to teach someone how to ride. Another aspect was that bicycle culture was simply not very visible in my immediate surroundings. In university, people were more tuned into car culture and when I moved to Montreal, public transit was the preferred mode of transport. For me, bicycles were out of sight and, hence, out of mind.
On occasion, the pedalled wonder did faintly call to me but I felt estranged from its world of sleek helmets, smooth stops, and secret hand signals. I was the rare breed who had never even climbed onto the bike bandwagon, much less fallen off it. As I sat in the dust of those who started when they were kids, I felt like I’d been left behind. How could I catch up on all those missed years of practice and experience?
An additional challenge was that I did not have a physiological foundation to build on, as physical exercise was also absent from my early years. I was unfamiliar with the world of athletics and sports. Concepts such as stamina, speed and distance were purely intellectual to me. My mind knew how long a kilometre was, but my body had no clue.
“Locomotion” is defined as the self-powered, patterned motion of limbs or other anatomical parts by which an individual customarily moves itself from place to place. In terms of actual locomotion, I had rarely traveled faster than walking speed and not for more than six blocks in distance. Quite simply, I was not given the usual physical education so I had little experience with cardiovascular endurance, muscle-building and hand-eye coordination.
It was not until I was 26 years old that I found a mentor who saw the athlete within me. He was my boyfriend at the time and he enthusiastically supported my explorations. He cheered me on as I made the time and effort to discover a side of life so foreign yet compelling.
My journey began unceremoniously in a parking lot. Here, I practiced riding and manoeuvring a bicycle. We took short trips to contained locations such as the Seymour Demonstration Forest, where there is a long undulating road free from cars. I felt safe as I rolled along its gentle slopes and curves. When we tried the UBC endowment land trail, we stuck to the easy routes where even a novice could enjoy the forest ride without getting snagged by tree roots or tricky terrain. Though I did have a few close calls and my adult body was more apprehensive of injury, I persevered through the awkwardness.
Pretty soon, I found myself riding on city streets, discovering the many rewards of self-propelled travel. That was a real goal for me, as I had long admired those brave cyclists whipping along in traffic. When BC’s longest transit strike hit the City of Vancouver in 2001, I was able to get to work without a worry. In fact, for four months, I watched the city come alive as people started to walk or bike to their offices. As convoys of cyclists took to the streets, I was able to join in the revelry this time. Late bloomers of the world take heart: better now than never.
Since then, I’ve discovered a tremendous bike culture here. In keeping with the laws of manifestation, you will indeed find more of what you focus on. Keep your eyes on the bikes and they will multiply. All over the world, there are communities that are tangibly united by velolove – in the spirit of independence, ecological reverence, sustainable living and playfulness. Locally and abroad, there are mass rides every month, with ongoing events, performances, and parties inspired by the passion for cycling.
It’s so marvellous that biking is not only about getting exercise, developing skills, or commuting; it’s also about having fun! I really enjoy decking out my bicycle and wearing kooky outfits when I go riding. Truly, it feels like an adventure on the high seas, with the wind on my face, my joy sailing along, and my innocence returning in waves. Long Live Freedom – I am free at last!