Fringe Cycling

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Even though what I do routinely on Saturday mornings seems quite normal to me, I am occasionally reminded that I am a fringe cyclist. For example, during a ride on the recent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, someone came up and asked me sincerely if I am homeless. Even though I’ve had a similar experience before, that caught me by surprise.

What I do with a bicycle must be way off on the edge of the bicycle use bell-curve. I had a different kind of reminder today during an outing to seek and watch racers of the Texas Chainring Massacre (TCM) gravel race near my home. It was a reminder delivered to me by “fellow” cyclists.

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Many of my bicycle outings include a stop for a coffee brew-up. I thought it would be great to try and find the race course for the TCM, select a good roadside viewing spot, brew some coffee, and watch the parade of gravel grinders go by. To me, the combination of being outside with a bicycle and fresh coffee is about as good as it gets. But it must not be so for most bicycle enthusiasts.

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Two interesting things happened as the racers sped by. One of those things was the classic double-take when they glanced over…and then again…when they realized I was really sitting behind a kettle on a stove. The other interesting thing goes to the very heart of the culture of group rides.

As the racers approached, the first thing they noticed was a cyclist on the side of the road. Their immediate instinct was to stop pedaling, lean over, and ask if I had everything I need. It is common practice to help a fellow cyclist avoid being stranded on the side of the road, if one can. I don’t think they imagined that someone would be there on purpose. But I had an answer for them.

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Why, yes…I certainly do!

Wumpht

stoveOf the many things to admire about the Trangia stove, I have a clear favorite. The stove is a reliable soldier, and it’s admirable qualities are perfectly harmonious with trips afield. It is durable, simply made, simple to operate, relatively light, uses easily obtained fuel, and is silent in use. There is, however, a slight whisper of a sound when it is ignited. It is a sound that might be missed in urban settings. But in the kind of quiet places that outdoor enthusiasts seek, the gentle kiss of flame with fuel vapor makes a “wumpht” that sounds happy and eager for the work ahead. It delights me without fail.

Elegant Transport

img_5159I suppose that the superior elegance of bicycle transportation is nowhere more clearly understood than while riding in the city. That is the environment that allows so many comparisons with other means of transport. It is true that, on my rural rides, I sometimes feel like a clipper ship sailing through waves of prairie grass. But mostly I’m isolated in my movement. The cows stand there chewing, and I sail by. There is an elegance of flow across the empty rolling landscape, but no basis for comparison.

Compared to automobiles, pedestrians, trains, and buses, the elegance of the bicycle glows like the the warm light of a well-established campfire on a crisp fall evening. Trains and buses require the traveler to adjust to rigid, established routes and schedules. Traveling by car requires the traveler to spend great gobs of time queuing at all manner of traffic controllers, for the number of cars is staggering and they consume so much space. Then, there is even more cumbersomeness. The car must be stored someplace not proximal to the start or destination. The pedestrian fares better than these constricted and constrained noise-making contraptions, but he moves so slowly. He must bear the entire burden of his daily appurtenances. He transfers his weight from one foot to the other in a long series of hammer jolts. All these, from the saddle of a bicycle, seem utterly barbaric.

I notice all these things while riding through the city. The advantages of my mode of travel stand out in stark contrast to my fellow travelers. My wheels roll smoothly on a route that I choose. In the numerous bike lanes, I roll past so many stopped cars directly up to the intersection at traffic lights. My bicycle carries my load, and simply glides through the city silently, smoothly, and swiftly. The bicycle shines as the elegant aristocracy of transportation like the moon outshines the stars.