11 July 2011
I took a bike ride this evening.
It was a fine, calm, warm evening, with enough cloud to mask out the brightest extremes of evening sun in my eyes. I’d also had a hint of cabin fever, being inside too much. Unpacking a house is taking a long time. But I now have my old Evans touring bike with me, and I’d completely forgotten how good it is. Well, it is just competently built, reasonably maintained, and equalled or surpassed by many a modern machine. But the difference was the surface, the contact point between it and mother earth. I guess I should have expected it - this is Utrecht, in The Netherlands, where decent money is spent on providing and maintaining the cycle infrastructure. So, from my place near the centre of one of the country’s bigger cities, in fifteen minutes I was in open country, having not once had to battle for road space with a motorised menace, and Lewis Carroll’s cheshire cat was beginning to take over my face. Ear to ear.
The sheer pleasure of riding a machine that just works, on a route system that just works, on a surface that is silky smooth, is something that I guess most cyclists find from time to time. But I’d been able to do it without hours of studying maps, of reading route guides. I’d done it without any planning at all, right from my front door, and I wasn’t really sure where I was going, just that I was rather enjoying it.
Judging from the many other people I saw riding a cycle in no particular fashion, quite a lot of other people found it a pleasant way to spend an evening. There were the hard core training types, there were groups just chatting, and there were people gently trundling along, oversize handbag teasingly swinging from a weathered handlebar.
There are many aspects to quality of life, and I guess they include close family, good friends, reasonable housing, and nutritious food. The psychologists will have a field day with that list. But surely a contributing factor is also the ability to travel freely under one’s own power without being intimidated by hazardous machines and scary potholes. I forget who it was who said that a cycling nation is a civilised nation, but I’d just like to add my support to that notion.