I don't think I have any deep-rooted philosophy emanating from riding a bicycle, not even a pithy metaphor! I have had an on-and-off affair with it. However, I have had occasional practical life lessons and a backstory

“Walkers walk, and can walk around; they don’t have the single-mindedness, the inertia of the cyclist.”
~A.D. Aliwat

Out of all the benefits that cyclists may extol, 'I got an idea while pedaling' shouldn't be one - unless the idea is to pedal to harder to oblivion. An unencumbered mind pedaling on a vast stretch of flat, straight, and reasonably smooth trail may drift and generate ideas, but anything short of that is a potential hazard zone. I wouldn't trust the cyclist who claims to have gotten an idea on a city street. I don't think I have any deep-rooted philosophy emanating from riding a bicycle, not even a pithy metaphor! I have had an on-and-off affair with it. However, I have had occasional practical life lessons and a backstory - not large enough to fill tomes on the zen of riding a bicycle or anything akin to the zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

Growing up in the hills, everyone thought bicycles were a bad idea. No one imagined riding a bicycle uphill could give you an excellent pair of shapely and strong legs; everyone just warned of the broken ones from tripping and falling down the hillside. Kids learned to ride bicycles on the cemented roofs or in the flat verandahs of their homes. So did I. Or at least, I tried. I could not ride without support for long. Before I could get my balance right, it was time to take a right turn. I remember that the first time I actually rode a bicycle by myself was in Chandigarh. I might have barely been a teen at that time. Papa and I were visiting one of our relatives, and they were not home when we arrived. A full-size bicycle was in their yard. I didn't fit its size, my legs would barely reach the bottom part of the pedal, but I took it for a spin anyway. I still don't know why. Taking a turn was still troublesome, but the lanes were long, the weather was nice, and balancing didn't feel too hard with a little speed. My adventure ended when I had to brake to let an oncoming car pass while my mind fumbled on how to avoid a broken brick in front of me simultaneously. Short legs and balls between them don't make a good combination when reaching for the ground.  No one (known or visible) saw that happen. I promptly rested the bicycle after that. But the idea that I 'knew' how to ride a bike, and the fancy to own one had taken root.

Fast forward a decade or so (2011), I bought my first bicycle and its accessories, such as a seat cushion, the stand, compact pump, helmet, headlight, and tail lights, when I started earning. It is a Montra Rock 1 Mountain Bike (MTB). I drove it on the MG road from the shop to my place.  A car driver rode parallel to me, gave me a thumbs-up, and sped past me. Oddly enough, it has never happened ever since. I used to ride to the office and back through the secluded oak drive lined with farmhouses, never for anything else. Suddenly, I knew the road intimately - every turn and every speed breaker. Woe was the short stretch between where the oak drive ended and my office gates with the chaotic traffic and an ill-maintained road.

Everyone who can balance a bicycle thinks they know how to drive one until they break it. Within three months, I broke the MTB (not because of the road, though). I experienced firsthand how the chain snaps and mangles the entire gear contraption when one shifts the front and rear cassette gears to the opposite extremes. The warranty saved me the expense of repairs. The company decreed that I would get repairs and not a new bicycle. It was another three months and a few follow-ups through email before I saw my bicycle again. I also learned what RMA was. I rarely drive in the lightest gear setting now.

Summers came, and with that, sweat. I stopped riding the bicycle to the office. Occasionally, I would take it out to a nearby temple. Then, it hit the road only when we were shifting places. For a long time, it stayed in our apartment hall. I bought a bicycle trainer to extract more value from it. The cumulative cost was now more than 50,000 Rupees. One of my roommates took gluttonous pleasure in making the guests guess the cost of the entire ensemble. By 2015, the setup became pivotal to my journey into physical exercise. I sweated away many kilos pedaling on the stationary stand while it made a shrill, siren-like sound. The neighbors downstairs tolerated it, thankfully. I am told that my roommate bought a nice pricey bicycle for himself, which now adorns his living space. I hope it is bringing him great amusement.

I resumed pedaling to the office again once the roommate who used to accompany me every day got married and moved. Taking a steep U-turn on the road was still tedious. Despite the ability of the handle to move across a large angle, there is a limit to how much one can turn when moving. In a bid to not put my foot down, I almost landed in a ditch once while trying to take such a turn. It ain't rocket science, but bikes don't have such large angles for a good reason.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
~ Richard P. Feynman

Now, here's the thing. I don't particularly like disuse. If I own something, I would like to use it. Sometimes, I convince myself - if not today, then tomorrow. This might be a hoarder's mentality which I am still learning to unravel. But I have consistently rebounded with the bicycle - short-lived as the rebounds might be. Shortly after I started to live by myself - with all the roommates now happily married - Covid-19 and the lockdown ensued. During this time, I disassembled my MTB, cleaned its dust off, and put it back together - except for its front fender, which didn't stay in its place. Taking things apart and reassembling them back together seems to be what I like to do. As I understand, it is essential to learn how things work. Later, I read this anecdote about Freeman Dyson's father taking apart his new motorcycle and putting it back together again and how the process may have carried into how Freeman himself tried to deconstruct and reconstruct the problems of Physics.

Unless you have a compulsion or passion for moving around, the white collar work enables the tendency to eat, sit and sleep. My current office is barely 3 kilometers away from where I stay. I have maintained a daily habit of walking (or pedaling) back home. On days when I hardly feel like walking, I egg myself with 'let us at least go halfway.' By the time I am there, getting a ride for the rest of the half seems pointless. Otherwise, I check the cab pricing, which persuades me sufficiently to walk the distance. However, the commute in the morning is unreliable, where timing is paramount. I choose the reliability of a bicycle instead. I've been on the saddle for quite some time now. Oftentimes, I've reasoned, as have many others, that getting a motorized vehicle might be more convenient. They're right. But, then, I'd lose whatever little exercise I'm getting out of these walks. I'm lazy. Also, the traffic snarls drain patience and energy.

Color sketch of a cyclist in city traffic
Image generated using Bing image creator

A bicycle straddles the world of motorcycles and pedestrians equally. It is an amphibian of the roadways. While a bicycle can snake through a traffic snarl, one can always get off it and walk down the clear footpath. Also, sometimes, I pedal on the wrong side of the road - particularly when I have to fetch mangoes from the stalls on the wrong side. I thought long and hard about this. There's always a risk of an oncoming vehicle, a careless nick, or an imbalance, but the time saving is substantial if the road isn't crowded or congested. Also, I think it builds a little bit of skill. The question I ask myself, however, is whether I'll be able to tell when the risk is not low, given that it isn't necessarily safe in the right lane either. The other day, an e-rickshaw suddenly emerged from behind a row of parked autorickshaws. It had come a long way in the wrong lane, and we braked just in time to avoid a collision. It is possible that the driver also decided that going on the wrong side was sufficiently low risk.

But riding a bicycle can be a pain in the arse. I know it first hand. Firstly, the seat's shape is strange: narrow and stiff. It tends to put pressure on my perineum (which can lead to nerve injuries). I would have swapped my saddle post with the ones found on the Milkman's bicycle, but sadly, I cannot find one. I understand that one is not expected to sit much on an MTB (since most time would be spent standing), but even the city bikes don't have wider posts. The poor state of the roads and my bumping around on them led to cutting and breaking the nut that held the seat to the post on more than one occasion. I narrowly escaped sodomizing myself with the bicycle post on more than one account. Then, I changed the saddle for a fancier one with some shock absorption. But it's not enough. What's with the cycle manufacturers anyway? Why can't they develop a bicycle with decent shock absorbers!! Maybe it could help my mind wander.

As far as mind wandering goes, I haven't been to do that atop a bike. The mind and the eyes are usually peeled on the road, navigating the next bump, anticipating another vehicle coming in the wrong lane. In that regard, walking the distance does wonders for me. Sure, it takes more time to travel on foot, but it provides a bigger opportunity for the mind to settle down.

Anyhow, calling it a bike is a misnomer. A new neighbor had moved in. I might have mentioned in passing that I use my bike to commute. One day, he knocked on my door and asked if I could drop him nearby. I told him I couldn't because I didn't have a vehicle. Confused, he inquired if I didn't have a bike! I always mention pedals now.