I’m an emphatically utilitarian cyclist. My bike is my only ride. It is my way of going. It is point A to point B with a pile of stuff. But that’s not all it is, and sometimes I forget.
I started biking 20 years ago when I was 14 and living in Japan as an exchange student. It was how everyone got to school. Every morning was a flood of blue wool uniforms on classic bikes going clickety-click and ding-ding. Baskets, fenders, and not much in the way of gears. So it was utilitarian there too, but I also used my bike as an anti-depressant. I didn’t speak Japanese when I got there. My family didn’t speak English. All the other students were always busy with homework. I was lonely to the point of tears. Sometimes I’d ride around after school until dark. Sometimes beyond dark, in the rain and the wind. I discovered fireflies in a peace park one night. I let a typhoon blow me across the plain. I climbed hills and had crashes. It was a kind of love affair, it was something I could feel unabashedly good about, even if my host family thought I was crazy for staying out and getting drenched. It was deep rhythmic breathing and endorphins. It was still lonely, but at least I was focused. I felt free. When I came back to the US, I traded the circuitous hour and a half long school bus ride for an additional seventy nine minutes of sleep and an eleven minute bike ride each morning.