For the love of cycling

I’ve been super passionate about cycling for some time now, and I want to share a couple of stories which really resonate with the art of cycling.

I used to cycle a lot as a kid. Growing up in the outer edges of Melbourne, my friends lived 10s of kilometres away and I would have to use a bike to get around. It was a way of escaping life at home, and venturing out to explore the world.

As I got older and started living in cities, my bike became a key form of transport getting me to and from work each day. When I look back at the houses I’ve rented over the last 15 years it’s less the house I remember clearly, and more the bike commute from there to where I would be working each day. In Melbourne it was cruising along Merrie Creek and along the Yarra from Abbotsford, across Albert Park Lake drive from St Kilda, and now here in San Francisco it’s through the Mission District and into SoMA. I remember the weather, the streets, other cyclists, when to take corners wide and all the little things that come with a regular commute.

It was only 2013 that some friends got me into road cycling. I would follow them out to the mountains outside of Melbourne, and do my best to stay on their tail with my 5yo aluminium road bike I purchased off eBay for $400. That bike, although a size too small for me, took me on journeys i’ll never forget and really galvanised my love for cycling. Through some of the hardest working times of my life, I would be able to take refuge on the weekends out to the mountains for an early morning ride. 5am wake ups would have us on the mountain-sides right as the sun was rising. The fog would lift to reveal a crisp morning, with gentle sunshine that warmed the skin and thick cold air teeming through our lungs as we made our ascents. Each ride we would start together, but as the morning went on we’d each hit our cadence and soon enough it would just be the empty, winding road ahead for hours at a time — every so often interrupted by scurrying marsupials. The only sounds would be the soft noises of morning wildlife, the spinning of pedals and the heaving breath as we pay homage to the church of cycling.

6am mass at the church of cycling

A few years later my love for cycling was set to diversify. I had graduated from cycling being a hobby, and had unlocked the next level; multiple bikes. After spending too much (much too much) on a road bike I then looked for something that would help in my every day commutes. If weekend cycling was about climbing mountains for hours, tracking everything from heart rate to pedal rotations, and optimising for endurance; weekday commuting was about getting places fast, with no fuss and low maintenance.

Enter the fixie.

5 crashes later, enter the single-speed.

Simple drive train, and very reliable, the single-speed became my weapon of choice for scooting around town and back to home base by the beaches in St Kilda. I loved the constraints of no longer having gears, forgetting about distance and speed tracking and finding a mode of transport that felt good.

There wasn’t a day where I’d rather have been on anything else other than a bike. When my mind would ask the question “it’s raining pretty hard out, should I ride or drive?” or “tonight’s plans are uncertain, an Uber would be flexible” I learnt the hard way that cycling is ALWAYS the transport of choice. Even after a long and rough day, cycling home in the rain and cold was the perfect therapy to change mindsets.

I became interested in building up my own bikes, taking to forums to learn everything i could about what makes a good set up. I would buy two frames at a time and build them up with components sourced off Amazon, eBay, Wiggle and fill in what ever was missing at the local bike shops. Soon the house looked like a bike grave yard. Componentry, old and new, laid out in preparation, skeleton frames hanging off mounts waiting for attention, and brake wires stretched all over the floor. Combine that with electronics from my many ‘smart-bike’ projects and it became messy business indeed.

Fast-forward a little and my preferred mode of transport around the streets of San Francisco is still the single-speed. Cycles are affectionately titled “freedom machines” and I didn’t fully understand the gravity of that until I hit San Francisco. During the week it’s the fastest way to get from work, home, the grocery store and everywhere else. It helps me avoid city traffic, busy subways and is way more fun than walking. On weekends it become a ritual to cycle away from the city and hit the mountains or beaches that wrap around SF. My SF bike has visited so many coffee shops the chain might as well be lubricated by single-origin espresso.

I want to share a couple of awesome cycling stories for passionate riders.

Krabbe captures the cycling experience so well I found myself smiling at almost every chapter

The first is a book by Tim Krabbe called The Rider. A Dutch writer, the book has been transcribed. But even without its original language, the book does an amazing job of capturing the torment and glory of cycling. There were so many things that I had felt during my time cycling that are captured so accurately in Krabbe’s words. To have him recount the mental, physical and emotional journey of a cycling race, and as the reader be able to relate and connect with it so deeply makes it one of my favourite reads.

A heart-pumper, and certainly more on the extreme-side of city cycling, Line of Sight is a movie that showcases some of Manhattan’s most skilled bike messengers

The second is a movie called Line of Sight by Lucas Brunelle. Brunelle is a skilled fixed-gear rider who became obsessed with the bike courier movement in Manhattan. He spent year perfecting a videoing technique which saw him follow bike messengers on their wild commutes with minimal head movement, allowing his helmet-mounted video camera to stay with the subject. Of course, this is super dangerous as he flies full-speed through red-light intersections, with traffic coming in either side — all the while keeping his head firmly set at 12 o’clock.

In this documentary Brunelle follows around some incredible bike messengers on their fixed-wheel cycles, as they compete in an unofficial race through the streets of New York. It’s an hour long and is bound to get the heart pumping.

Are there any awesome bike stories, books or movies that capture your love for cycling? Leave a comment, i’d love to hear.