Saturday, May 14, 2005

Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad

If the sun is shining - which it rarely has so far this spring - and I feel the need for physical exercise, I ride my bike. Not to actually go anywhere, not as a form of convenient transport which avoids traffic congestion and parking difficulties. Just as a means of exercise. To just get on the bike and ride.

The preparatory rituals of the bike ride are simple. The weather is checked, damp just won't do. To walk in the rain is uncomfortable, for it to start raining while you're running is an unwelcome, additional discomfort; but bearable. Cycling in the rain is a nightmare, a watery Hell. The discomfort from being wet is amplified hugely when trying to pedal, lifting knees trapped by unyielding cloth the pedaling motion rendered excruciatingly uncomfortable. Every revolution made, a cold and claggy reminder of wind-chilled flesh and tender areas aggravated. When wet. Hypersensitised. Extra sore. Skin sore. Eye sore. Sore eyes from the rain-sweat melding, the acid rain and the sweat salty brine of smarting eyes. Tears and rain.

But the day is dry. The ride is on. The machine is brought out into the daylight. A cursory, almost unconscious maintenance routine will begin - an unwritten check list of boxes ticked off. A random numbered point check. Both tyres pinched for signs of softness. Steel-fingered squeeze, check; on to a more demanding palm depression, check. Some movement, but hard enough. The right amount of movement. Too hard would weaken the rubber's resistance, make thin and fragile the protection between it and the inflated tube which provideds the buoyancy - the float, the glide. Pressurized enough. Tread, still there. Rippling. Finger tips reassuringly buried, a tightness that satisfies. The ride's still on.

Handlebars gripped in mock ride posture, both brakes applied. Levers yielding, but not to much. Wheels locked but tyres slide with the irresistible force of the push forward. Front brake applied and its wheel locked, the rear wheel elevated. Brakes are working. Front wheel hoisted fingers gingerly enmeshed in the spokes, quick whip motion and watch the wheel revolve. Fingers under saddle, peddle grasped and turned like a wringer. Or a mangle. Chain engaged and smoothly up and down the gearing cogs whilst flicking the gear levers with one strained finger. All mechanics working, everything in synch. All safety devices functional.

And the ride is on. pedal, step, scoot, leg-swing-arc, arse planted onto the saddle. Manhood expertly displaced, comfortably arranged. Instinct. Knowledge honed during boyhood. Go easy on the sphericals. Always, always protect. Remember what happened when you didn't? The same instinct women learn as girls to keep their knees together, the better to protect their skirt-wearing modesty. Remember what happened when you didn't? If there were a law arbitrarily passed that from tomorrow all men must wear skirts, there'd be underwear flashes then so widespread, so regular, so guaranteed, that underwear as a vague sexual glimpse- excitement, would cease to be. There'd be sneaky-glimpse fatigue. No instinct. If women suddenly found they had all grown testicles that same night - two balls of incredible sensitivity ludicrously exposed and exaggeratedly vulnerable, there'd be mishaps everywhere. No instinct.

And the ride is on. Orbital rotational motion. And the saddle, occupied. That ambiguous zone reached, somewhere between torture and comfort: balance. A practiced technique, a legacy of childhood, long before physiotherapist started talking about muscle memory. As natural a movement as can be imagined. And the pedaling begins. Gripping the handle bars. Soon, a mild cramp will testify to the intensity of my grip. My legs will tire and my back will ache from the effort of one dominant posture. My lungs will feel like bursting their seams when I climb hills, the gears will only lessen the pain, not prevent it. My throat will ache and my chest will feel sore enough to suggest I might heave up my last meal. But not now. Not at the beginning. Everything is fresh. The muscles, the bones, the joints. The skin and its nerves endings. My eyes and saliva are both clear. All are ready to go. No pain, no numbness. And it feels good to be out.

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