I am very happy to share my story of how I came to be a bicycle-riding enthusiast. It all happened in bits and pieces: serendipity, if you will.
A friend’s daughter’s husband had trouble with his car and had to somehow meet up with a work-buddy to get to a job site. His solution was to get up a lot earlier than usual and ride a bike through Parksville, over the orange bridge to a rendezvous spot just past the travel info centre.
For some reason I thought, hey, if he can do that, I could ride a bike as well. Yet, bicycles, for me, were relegated to the vault of childhood memories. The only 2-wheeled apparatus in my new consciousness were motorcycles–big, powerful machines capable of accelerating to 160 km/hour in mere seconds.
The transition period from the idea of acquiring a bicycle was just a few days. I was a new arrival here in Parksville, being here 6 months or so. This great, walkable place to live was so different from constantly needing to drive for at least 20 minutes on highways just to get to the nearest town.
The day I walked my new, used bike out of the SOS thrift store, I had no way of knowing how that seemingly little action would impact my life.
You notice, I said, “walked” the bike. That was because it had a flat front tire. But for $26 I knew I had chosen a winner. Ironically, I walked it right past “Island Cycle” on Hirst Street on my way home. However, I went back the very next day, had the tube replaced for a mere $12 and rode off into the future on my 18 speed, 12 year old, first ever mountain bike.
In anticipation of all this, I had already acquired my bike helmet for $2 in Sidney while on a mission to pick up a relative at Victoria’s Airport.
Looking back, I really was ill prepared to ride at all. I mean to say, I had the basics down pretty good: balance, co-ordination, leaning, anticipating consequence, traffic awareness, hand signals, and so on.
But those damn gears—18 of them with 2 levers and something called a ‘deeraylyer’ (derailleur). Those French, they think of everything. It is, simply put, a gear changer.
The first time the chain came off, I walked home. Then I got brave, something which I had left behind from childhood bicycling. I started to replace the chain and lubed it with some “Release” a holistic, organic substitute for WD-40.
As kids, we didn’t know any better and thus were always playing with our bikes. We fixed our own flats. We would attach hockey cards with clothes pins to the spokes in order to make rapid, flapping sounds which in our young imaginations were our engines. Of course, if we had only hermetically sealed those hockey cards, we could now buy a cottage with their current values.
So here I am riding around Parksville. I’m in my 50’s and I am afraid to switch gears, mainly because I don’t have a clue how they work and I sure don’t want to break anything because it all seems so much more complicated now… and expensive. There’s more to go wrong. There’s more equipment to buy, more laws and with aging, more common sense and insights into possible negative outcomes.
But getting older just means more freedom sometimes. The savouring of joy seems more intense, more gratifying. Moments of fulfillment to be shared with friends and family who fully understand who we are and that our risk-taking is oh so rewarding.
The first time I took my bike to the edge of the precipice, the hill descending to the Community Park, I took a deep breath, checked the rear view mirror and pedalled as fast as I could until gravity took over and hurled me toward the ocean. This was so exhilarating, magical. I was flying! My grin spread from ear to ear.
In these times of intense happiness, my bike is many things. It is a toy, an exercise machine, a personal transportation vehicle, and also a transporter of goods from the stores. But more than that, it is a way to navigate through neighborhoods, go from place to place, a metaphorical catalyst to be in one’s environment rather than merely passing through it encased in metal and glass.
The more I rode, the more I embraced riding. My ears heard the birds and dogs nearby, my nose detected the fresh scent of flowers and earth. My thoughts were freed up from intense traffic concentration. Now, I could pretty much stop whenever, wherever I wished to take in the vistas, to observe a slice of nature. And parking is plentiful and not such a chore.
With all this, I have become a more vibrant citizen, a better community member, and part of a neighborhood where people stop and talk and listen, and share laughter, ideas and stories. All so life enriching.
Being confined in a car, people can only smile and wave for three to five seconds in any safe manner. Some drivers will stop their cars to talk with someone but leave their engines running as if to say, “You are important to talk to right now and I am burning gas, polluting the air, and making noise because we need to talk but only for a little while because I am on my way somewhere important and this is a ‘No Parking’ area anyway. Soon I shall drive off.”
The bicycle is also a piece of nostalgia, a relic from when the world was less complicated and moved at a friendlier, slower pace. The bicycle is a great reminder to us all of a more fulfilling way of life.
To ride again is to recapture our stress-free past and live in the moment, the everlasting “now”.
Another benefit of cycling is not only the increase in many physical facets of health, but the ability to consume more tasty goodies. I always seem to be hungry and it is so reassuring to not gain any unwanted weight. Muscle burns carbs and fat. Yahoo!
I reached a big milestone this past year. Well, several actually… Through the Oceanside Cycling Coalition, I was invited to come to Qualicum to ride with the Mayor. It was to be a ride of observation and discovery as to the needs of the cyclist and existing infrastructure.
At the time, I did not know about the back route to Qualicum and relished not to ride the highway. And I had just given my van to a couple who would view it as a step up in their quest for a secure residence. Thus, I could not transport my bike that way.
I had heard of and then noticed the front-mounted bicycle racks on the buses and was totally thrilled to actually take advantage.
The bus driver was awesome. He noticed my excitement and we chatted all the way there. He gave me great advice on how to navigate my way back.
Looking out the bus’s front window at my bike was almost surreal yet, oh so pragmatic and the kicker—no extra charge. Brilliant! I arrived in Qualicum bringing along my own mode of transportation. Absolutely brilliant!
What happened next was beyond any imaginable expectation.
I was now in Qualicum via busy but I rode in from the Legion bus stop by bike to the main streets of the village centre.
By car, one simply goes there, does what they need to do, walk around a bit, then drive back home.
But this was totally different. I was immersed in the same sensation of being on holiday. It was like I had never been there before. My senses were alive and receptive to the newness of the experience.
Travelling is great and travelling by bicycle is even greater. I may not take a trip to Chicago like John Fair has done, yet I envision doing some touring on our great island. Especially exciting would be an overnight, road trip. Self sufficient, human powered transportation. One can only imagine all that adventure simply waiting to be taken in—one pedal stroke at a time.
A brief note here on Alzheimer’s disease, the form of dementia that robs a person’s ability to access precious memories and limits the making of new ones:
The seemingly simple act of pedalling a bicycle will actually help to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. In the book Brain Wellness, Gary Anaka (from Nanaimo) outlines the formula for nipping senility in the bud and bicycling engages so many of those factors. Also at the top of the list are proper nutrition and hydration, keeping active and socializing.
Let me tell you in all that knowing my lack of skills as a born again cyclist, I was very fortunate to be able to take a two day, CAN BIKE II course in Courtenay. Go to www.oceansidecyclingcoalition.ca to learn more. These two days totally changed my abilities from a novice rider to a competent, road-savvy cyclist. Each and every time I ride my bike I am so grateful for the expertise gleaned in the Comox Valley.
Gord Byers is newish to cycling, new to Oceanside (formerly from Victoria). He is an active Board Member with the Oceanside Cycling Coalition as well as the Bike For Your Life organization. He is ICBC approved to lead bicycle groups on the road and volunteers his time doing so with the Springwood Middle School bicycle elective class in Parksville.