Tuesday, October 11

A Beautiful Limitation

"At that moment I saw the bike
as an offering of limitations, a tool
to re-humanize the pace of touring.
And, with my 60 pounds of gear
loaded onto a 40-pound cargo bike,
there were plenty of limitations."


Musician Ben Sollee called the bicycle a "beautiful limitation". Ben, a fellow Kentuckian, has toured with his cello using an Xtracycle. In fact, while reading about Ben's "Ditch the Van" tour I first discovered/realized what an Xtracycle was.

It's interesting how music and bicycling go hand in hand. The founder of Xtracycle, Kipchoge Spencer, is also a musician.

Some days I don't feel very inspired while riding my bike. It doesn't feel like a beautiful pursuit. And it does feel like a limitation. Those days are very seldom, and almost every time coincide with a physical malady or lethargy. Most other days I just want to ride. I don't want to stop, sit in a cubicle and grow stale before my next bike ride.

I like Ben's idea that the bike is a beautiful limitation and I embrace that idea. I love knowing I can ride my bike from my house deep into the foothills in a day's time, even though I can't do it every day, I like knowing I can. And I like knowing that if I ride deep into the foothills with some camping gear and stay over night I can wake up the next day and ride a similar distance. And I can do it again and again and again. And if I do that long enough I can reach any destination I would ever want to go to. And if I were to head out on such a grand adventure when I reached my ultimate destination I would know that I did it under my own power.

Its inspiring to see what other people do with bicycles, as I hope my own exploits are inspiring. If given the opportunity I would definitely participate in a bike moving party, where people with cargo bikes get together and help someone move across town. I'm not a musician, but if I were I'd be following in the footsteps of Mr. Sollee and also the Ginger Ninjas. As an aspiring photographer I see the bike as a wonderful platform from which to do urban photography and also wildlife photography. I'm not a drinker, but the bike powered pubs are an amazing idea. I'd love to see someone translate that to a non-alcoholic use.

The bike is a limitation to many in our society because we have been programmed to want convenience in every facet of life. All it takes is to finally realize your frustrations with the pace of things, and the greater-than-human-scale of life and to consciously choose to step back, slow down and limit yourself in a beautiful way.

I was pondering the idea of bike as a beautiful limitation as I rode to the grocery store a few nights ago. The store is about a mile from my house and all downhill...to get there. If you can see the implications of that then you are probably living a car-lite lifestyle. Anyway, I rode down in the dark. I have a fantastic light. Darkness is no barrier to ride for me. I cruised easily into the parking lot, dodged a few cars and coasted up to the bike rack out front. Within a few seconds I had the light in my pocket, the u-lock around the frame and was nearly inside the store. I got my sundries, paid and was back out on the bike and pedaling home in less than five minutes.

The whole trip probably took me about fifteen minutes. If I had taken the car it would have probably taken me the same amount of time once you factor in parking, walking across the parking lot, loading the car with stuff and then fighting traffic to get back home.

On the bike I have my secret shortcuts that I cannot use while driving...legally.

My daily commute takes longer than it would if I were in a car but only if there are no accidents or rush hour traffic on the main roads. I can race by stalled traffic on I-70 with a grin on my face.

Embracing the car-lite lifestyle has introduced me to many new ideas, the hugest of which is that I don't need all the crap that most people acquire to meet the minimum requirements necessary to meet everyone else's expectations. Riding a bike for transportation, instead of relying on a couple of thousand pounds of steel and gas powered by an internal combustion engine, is frighteningly liberating. And it requires less money, less headache and much more satisfaction.

So it takes a little thought to figure out how you'll get the new couch home...do you really need a new couch? It takes longer to get where you need to go, but if you weren't keen on going there in the first place (work, grocery store, doctor's office) then you can enjoy the journey that much more. The bicycle limits you sometimes just long enough that you discover there was no limitation in the first place, that you would have been limited by an accumulation of STUFF in your life that you truly do not need.

Is freedom having a lot of stuff to tie you down or having so little you can take it with you wherever you go?

I want a radical lifestyle change. I want to drop off the grid and make my own way without conforming to society's expectations. I have finally seen that as a realistic possibility because of the bike. As a younger dude I fantasized about it, but couldn't map it out satisfactorily. Now I can.

My holdup is I don't yet have the courage to drag my family into such a massive experiment. Maybe my wife will skim over this part and not realize that my mind is scheming to get us into a cabin in the woods somewhere. Glory be! We'll be hippies!

Using a bike for your transportation and cargo needs is a very liberating endeavor. Once you begin to see the possibilities its hard not to see just how far you can take it. I am free from convention, which is often flawed. I'm finding freedom from material possessions, though its a laborious process fighting against the currents of habit and deeply ingrained mores.

This journey has so far been a beautiful endeavor. I hope for the day when I have the freedom (of time) to use the bike to go far beyond what seems possible today. Climbing trip to the Tetons by bike? I think so. I'm already to that point in my mind, I just need to free my lifestyle to go along with it.

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