It makes me happy

Crossposted to Spacing

Riding my bike makes me happy.

That is why I would like to share this article by an Edmontonian cyclist-soul-sister called, Biking as spiritual exercise. It is an ode of sorts to fair-weather cycling. Although I ride in the rain, and sometimes snow, I no longer bike year round as I simply do not feel safe enough in our city’s streets. But, I will not rant on about the lack of cycling infrastructure and empty council promises today. This is a happy post for a beautiful day.

Robins and crocuses are all well and good. But I know spring has arrived the first time I ride my bike to work.

I’m not one of those hard-core cyclists who ride in all weathers. I am a cycling wimp. I don’t bike in the snow. I rarely ride in the rain. And I never ride in the dark. I pedal slowly and sedately, down lanes and side streets, smiling to myself as grim-faced racers flash past. I could tell you I ride my bike because I’m concerned about greenhouse-gas emissions. Or about my health. Those would be the fashionable, politically correct responses. But in fact, I ride for the most selfish and sybaritic of reasons.

It makes me happy.

I come into work, flushed with enthusiasm and righteousness, ideas for columns bubbling in my brain. I arrive home both refreshed and relaxed, the stresses of the offices, the disturbing news tragedies of the day, shed somewhere along the route.

There’s a connection to the city that you just don’t get when you drive. You see things and people, quite literally, from a different angle.

I don’t bike because it’s good for me. I bike because it makes me feel good. Exercise for the sake of exercise has always bored me silly.

Over the years, I’ve power walked, striding up and down, weights swinging in my hands. I’ve done step classes — pounding up and down those plastic stairs, climbing a tower to nowhere. I’ve even done pilates — arching my back like some demented cat while keeping my kegels clenched. About the only exercise fad I haven’t dabbled with is pole dancing — I’m too feminist, and too easily inclined to giggle, to pretend to be a stripper.

But I’m a working mom with a demanding job and a demanding home life.

As any woman in my place can tell you, it’s hard to find the time to get to the gym or a regular aerobics class when every minute of yourday is spoken for. When I’m done work I need to be with my family, not off at some smelly fitness club. I just can’t handle the guilt.

Time for myself? I only vaguely remember what that is.

Commuting by bike is exercise I can rationalize. I’m moving with practical purpose from A to B. It takes me a little more time to cycle back and forth from the office than to drive.

Still, given our increasingly dense downtown rush-hour traffic, the difference is less all the time, even at the leisurely pace I favour.

No one would describe my figure as sylph-like; acquaintances often seem taken aback to learn I cycle to work, weather and schedule permitting.

“Oh,” they stammer, “Er, you just don’t look like a cyclist.”

Alas, there seems to be an attitude out there that only people who are already slim and fit have a right to exercise. It’s as if the sight of us broader mortals, huffing and puffing along, is too absurd to allow on the public roadways.

But my bike never sneers at my tatty workout clothes or mocks my wobbly bottom. My bike is mute, and mercifully non-judgmental.

It’s not a fancy machine. A few years ago thieves broke into our garage and stole both my bike and my husband’s. His bike never surfaced again. But I got a call from police within days, to pick mine up at the impound lot. Apparently my old purple ladies’ model wasn’t even worth fencing.

I bought it a dozen years ago in Toronto, when I first began cycling to work. I’d ride from our flat, near Kensington Market, down to the CBC Broadcast Centre on Front Street.

In the heat and humidity of a Toronto summer, I’d travel down Portuguese and Italian neighbourhoods where the tiny front yards were filled with grape vines and shrines to the Virgin Mary, through Chinese districts where venders sold mangoes and lemongrass along the sidewalks and elders did tai chi in the park. I felt I was journeying somewhere foreign and tropical, through air so warm and wet you could almost reach out and hold it.

Biking in Edmonton, through the April scree, isn’t quite so exotic. But on a crisp cool morning, when the sky is that sharp, bright blue you only see in Alberta and Outer Mongolia, there’s an edgy feeling of promise, of a new day on a new frontier.

My 10-year-old could hardly wait to get back on her bike this season. On two wheels she has a speed, a freedom, a range of territory her two feet alone can never give her. Riding beside her, round potholes, through puddles, pretending our bikes are galloping horses, that we’re knights in training, I’m caught up in her enthusiasm. On my bike, I’m a kid again, my hum-drum commute to work suddenly transformed to a path to fresh adventure.

When you’re cycling, the key is to keep your balance.

A lesson, perhaps, for all the road ahead.

Image courtesy of Bikelanediary, photo by Kevin McBride


What a great ode to spring! :)