it’s like riding a bike

Flash writing is a writing technique where you find a prompt, and then write a quick response, spending no more than 10 or 20 minutes on your piece. It’s a way to force yourself to practice writing, to try new things, and to not get caught up in the headspace that writing can create.

This is a flash writing piece I wrote for a prompt about describing actions. It’s about riding my bike.

bike

If you can’t ride a bike you are missing out on an extremely fascinating physics experiment. Once, in a psychology class, I read a book by Stephen Pinker. He’s kind of an arrogant d-bag, but something he said about human development planted itself in my brain and hasn’t left. He described six subjects that humans are born with an innate ability to understand subconsciously. It ranged from simple economics (what is a fair trade), to language. But one, he said, was physics. We have an understanding beyond our conscious mind of physical motion–vectors, speed, force and mass. It’s why we aren’t constantly bumping into one another on the busy sidewalks of Tokyo, or how we know to move out of the way and when.

And I can feel this sense on my bike. When I am rushing down a slight hill on campus, about to turn right onto the road, my brain is calculating the speed and direction of every ignorant pedestrian around me. It’s noting for me the points of possible collision, and steering my center of gravity left or right to save my life.

Ok, that might be dramatic.

But it does feel carnal–like a return to my primal state of survival–every time that I lean slightly and make a graceful swerve around a person, who to my brain must actually be a threatening creature moving at a specific speed in a determined and observed direction.

That’s what I like about being on my bike. I like poking my butt high up in the air on my black leather seat. I like hunching over and looking up, and mostly I like going down hills. Every time I think, “HA! I am traveling so much quicker atop this bizarre balancing wheel machine than if I were gently trodding alongside on my pathetic and incapable feet!”

But there are moments that don’t feel as glorious. For instance, the moment at 5:30 a.m. when I know I must ride my bike a mile and half to the Rec Center to teach my class and walking would make me late. And I open the front door and feel the air settle around me at a disturbing 12 degree temperature. And the fogging of my glasses as I pant underneath a scarf. And the hardening of my fingers as the wind seeps through my fabric gloves. Fabric is no match for the wind that beats against you on your bike on a winter day.

Or the moment when despite my clever attempts to avoid all uphill climbs I succumb to the realization that every action has a reaction and every downhill coast has a pumping, slow ascendance.

One time I was doing a story about bicycling in Columbia and the strides the city had made toward being bike-friendly. I was interviewing a city council member who is a well known cyclist in Columbia. This guy bikes everywhere and everyone knows it.

I asked him what he liked about it, and he said:

“Oh, I don’t really like it.”

He explained that he wasn’t a fanatic of cycling, he just liked getting places faster than on foot.

I realized then that this was me. I was not a biker, dedicated to the burn of the thighs and the race on the streets. I was simply someone who liked going fast.