Bicycles – surely a sign of the kingdom

Maggi Dawn is blogging her decision to take up cycling here and here. This a wonderful thing for anyone to do as an adult. Many people who didn’t learn to ride bikes when they were kids assume that it’s impossible to learn as an adult. This is not so. I taught my wife to ride a bike when she was 27, much to the astonishment of the local kids on the block looking on as I ran along with her, holding the saddle to keep the bike upright as she peddled.
Bikes for me are a theological passion. I do my best praying on a bike (I’ve been told that this is because I’m a kinaesthetic learner…). And there’s something truly wonderful about a machine which can propel a human being at speeds exceeding our running speed, without contributing a single ounce to global pollution. The bicycle is a parable of faith: needing the rider to work with the machine, enjoying its benefits but also taking responsibility for their own contribution to maintaining its forward momentum (and if you give up peddling long enough, you will stop and fall off!)

In his fascinating autobiography Merlin the Magician and the Pacific Coast Highway, now long out of print, the author Tom Davies described his journey from being a near alcoholic and wretched Fleet Street hack (he was the diarist Pendennis on the Observer in the mid-1970s) to Christian faith. The key was when he bought a bike at the suggestion of an eccentric (cycling) colleague. The book tracks first his slow cycle ride from booze and self-destruction to faith, then documents a tour right around the world, revisiting places to which his career had taken him, this time seen from the perspective of faith, and being on a bicycle. It’s an inspiring, funny and infuriating book. Davies is, of course, a fellow native of Wales, hence the Merlin reference.
On Saturday I had a rare pleasure: five hours exclusively in the company of my daughter Caroline (aged 15). We cycled across the Severn Bridge into Wales, then turned west to do a round trip around low-lying Monmouthshire villages. She borrowed her mum’s old tourer (sadly forgotten in the garage these days) and I jumped on my own dream machine. It was a delight: as with most Dads of 15-year-old-daughters, I’m generally and wisely kept at arms’ length lest I cause untold levels of public embarrassment. So a moment of shared activity is for me a valued priviledge. She and I covered a very respectable 25 miles.

For anyone who has not got on their bikes for years, here’s a quick run-down of my top tips for making cycling the total joy that it just waits to become…

  1. Remember how much money it is saving you, and then prepare to spend just a mere fraction of that amount on doing the next few things…
  2. Buy proper, breathable waterproof gear, adequate carrying equipment, and padded gloves. Wash your breathable gear regularly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Girls: buy yourself a girls’ saddle: boys and girls are skeletally different in the lower pelvis/pubic area, there’s just no denying it. So don’t let a boy’s saddle make you hurt where it really hurts.
  4. Don’t try to ride the bike you had when you were a teenager: buy a bike that fits you and is of good quality. You won’t understand the joy of cycling until you ride a bike that fits you. And you get what you pay for.
  5. Think about the kind of cycling you want to do, (touring, commuting, mountain, racing) and buy the kind of bike that matches this. If you find you need to do some other kind of cycling, buy another kind of bike that does it well. (What? You mean you still haven’t sold your car?)
  6. If you are not an experienced road user, make sure you get proper tuition before venturing out on a city street, and consider it even if you are. In Britain (but not, for example, in France) all drivers behave psychopathologically towards cyclists. They mostly don’t mean to, but they do. Remember that all cars present a hazard, including parked ones. When cycling past a row of parked cars, keep a good couple of feet away from them, and watch for movement inside. Always be ready to take evasive action – FAST.
  7. Always wear a safety helmet, and change it every few years or whenever it gets damaged.
  8. Never cycle after dark unless you have an up to date lighting system and reflective clothing: otherwise you will truly be invisible, even if the motorist isn’t a psychopath.
  9. Going uphill is depressing when you’re not used to cycling, but a pleasure and a joy when you’re experienced and fit: but only if you’re wearing breathable clothing.
  10. Always carry a lock on your bike. Then try to avoid being too smug as you see car drivers going round and round looking for a parking space, while you click up your bike exactly where you need to be.

I also read today that Brodie has had his beloved bike stolen.

Brodie – I share in your grief. Maggi – I applaud you.

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Comments

maggi 21/02/06 - 7:10 pm

thanks, Paul! grat encouragement. I felt like giving up after my panic-filled hour today, but am galvanised by your comments to try again tomorrow.

Rob 23/02/06 - 9:26 am

What a great and inspirational post on cycling! I need no motivation, i bike every day, but hopefully others will be inspired.

Gibbie's Bioscience World 23/02/06 - 9:31 am

theology of biking…

Paul Roberts has a inspirational post on biking as a route for increased spirituality. That generally seems to be true with me. Life is definately different on a bike, especially when you ha……

Eric 24/02/06 - 8:18 am

I’m inspired – having done nothing with my bike since having it serviced 9 months ago – I will get it out today! (and ride it as well!!) Now where did I leave my stabilisers ??

Nuno Barreto 24/02/06 - 12:43 pm

This is so true. Christians should set an example in this respect.

Sam 25/02/06 - 5:00 pm

Amen. Not long ago I had a conversation regarding things that may be likely in heaven, and roads devoid of cars, with prolific cycling was certainly one thing.

I admit that I do not make regular use of my bicycle. But I do try to make near daily use of my large-wheel road unicycle for person-powered transport. :)

Buying a bicycle » The Cartoon Blog by Dave Walker 27/02/06 - 7:21 pm

[…] Several of the clergy bloggers I linked to yesterday have been talking about cycling recently. Maggi has been learning to ride a bike, whilst Paul has written this rather good piece ‘Bicycles – surely a sign of the kingdom‘. And there’s something truly wonderful about a machine which can propel a human being at speeds exceeding our running speed, without contributing a single ounce to global pollution. The bicycle is a parable of faith: needing the rider to work with the machine, enjoying its benefits but also taking responsibility for their own contribution to maintaining its forward momentum (and if you give up peddling long enough, you will stop and fall off!) […]

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