Zen and the art of bicycle commuting

belle said i should title this one ‘zen and the art of bicycle maintenance’ – this is because there is nothing zen about my bicycle maintenance. it typically consists of 2 minutes of calm, 5 minutes of rising anger, 10 minutes of forceful savagery and extremely uncouth language, culminating usually in a blinding red mist of around 5 minutes, whereupon i kick whatever piece of recalcitrant carbon fibre/steel/aluminium has dared defy my masculine fixery skills around the bike room until i can be utterly sure that everything is in worse shape than it was before. then i take it to strada. but that’s another post. it’s one i’ve been writing for some time and is called ‘douchebag maintenance moments’. you’ve got that to look forward to, suffice to say if you’ve ever used a gas cooker to loosen a chainring bolt you’ll know what i’m talking about.

this morning i rode to work. i do this most days. at my last workplace i had a commute that took me 15 miles out into the countryside, up and over the mendips and along country lanes. it was all too often the very best bit of my day, by some considerable margin. i made the mistake of saying this to my boss and they weren’t overly impressed. i think it sounded better in my head. i’ve had to vary my commute to cope with a new job which totally annihilated my ride time. nowadays i turn left out of the house and ride quite a long way in the wrong direction before looping back round towards bristol. as steve said, ‘so you pretty much ride to your old work place then ride back to your new workplace, is that right?’.

if i’m honest, the time spent on the bike in the morning still has an unerring way of shaping the next 8 hours. it’s to do with the time of day, i leave the house at around 6.15am and am at work within the hour (unless i’m totally creeping, in which case it takes a little longer). at this time of year i can see the days lengthen with each passing week. I’m waiting excitedly for the moment when i first see the sun lift above the hedgerow. this morning was clear and bright, the ill-defined blackness inexorably gave way to a crystalline blue; the sky above was a gradually faded sphere from lightening blue to dark ink, with the rising dawn light picking out the silhouetted and soft lines of the mendips and the dark somnolent shadows of dundry hill. the lack of blusteriness made it all the more enjoyable, as did my determination to rein in the pace a little having really ragged it lately. i was riding fixed with my saddlebag (containing books, clothes, lunch and a kryptonite lock) and i think this aided and abetted the feeling of calm.

i rode up and over belmont, then dropped down towards the suspension bridge. it was around 6.50am at this point, and there was a sudden and startlingly unusual absence of traffic. i rode slowly across the bridge in glorious isolation, gliding above the avon gorge, aptly suspended on the thin road surface with the flickering lights of the city on one side and the flowing luminescence of the portway on the other. i felt profoundly apart, and curiously privileged to experience the awe-inspiring wonder of the bridge on my own, the two towering brick edifices on either side stood tall and brooding against the indigo backdrop of the morning.

remove cars for full effect

i rode across the downs and made it to work in good time, glowing from the experience. i didn’t share the experience, beyond a cropped ‘it’s a really beautiful morning out there’, unsure if there was any point trying to explain it to my colleagues who had driven through traffic for 20 minutes. even now, 13 hours later, it makes me feel happy. such is the power of the bicycle and its limitless potential to conjure up transcendence.

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