When I was five-years old I got my first bike. I didn’t care what it looked like – all I cared about was that it had tassels and boy did it have tassels.
“Now which bike do you want Cayley?”
My dad had taken me to a bike shop up on the Danforth. There were bikes everywhere. To a jaded adult it appeared simply as a humble cycling shop but to a three foot tall five year old that shop was a never ending ware-house with legions of spinning wheels and shining spokes. It was fascinating – but no matter how many Schwinn’s or Raleigh’s I may have seen that day, I was stubborn. Whatever bike I took home it had to have tassels.
Yes tassels. In my five year old brain I was convinced that the performance of my bike to be was dependent on whether or not I had shimmering strips of plastic floating from my handlebars. I’m sure I had a convincing, analytical argument that won over my dad. Or I may have just been stubborn. But for a five year old you have to admit that is the height of pragmatism. Whatever my debate style was I walked away from the no-longer existent bike store on the Danforth with a pink and white training-wheeled bike with what looked like pom-poms, drilled into the handlebars.
I careened down the Martin Goodman trail down by Lake Ontario in Toronto’s East End. Donning a jean jacket, sick kicks, a multi coloured BELL bicycle helmut and a lop-sided toothy grin. I was invincible!
I eventually outgrew the superfluous cycling accessory of the tassels but my adoration for biking grew ever stronger with each passing year.
When the time came for the training wheels to came off, I spent one week, in the summer of 1996, learning how to ride a two wheeler. It sounds cheesy, but the elation I felt the day I was able to peddle on my own, without my dad steadying me at all, is simply indescribable and forever etched into my mind as a momentous occasion. I’m not too sure why…it’s a right of passage that most people go through. It’s like any next step or chapter in our lives. But I was never an athletic kid. Nor was I book smart or particularly popular. My elementary school years weren’t rife with success. In fact a teacher once noted that I: “couldn’t get A’s with a heart of gold” (essentially saying that I was a nice enough kid but dumb as a post). So when I did exert independence and achieve success on my own it was exhilarating. Biking offered a break from the mundane and rote, an open road, endless possibilities.
Even still, as someone who doesn’t drive – biking is my key to getting around when there isn’t black ice coating road ways. It remains an escape and a joy for me far before it became the ‘it’ thing to be doing. Mind you, I’m not competitive and I haven’t clocked endless kilometers on country roads or unforgiving rocky terrain. I’m just a simple commuter, weekend peddler …. an avid recreational rider. But every time I hop on it becomes a challenge to beat my previous time to and from work or its; how many cyclers can I pass and stay ahead of? how far can I go?
Biking in the city is more then just a contact sport and every city rider I know has a tale of a tumble but you get up and shake it off and just try not to get killed. Squeezing past cabs hugging the curb, dodging doors and oblivious pedestrians, avoiding tracks – the list goes on.
The game has become somewhat more complex from when all I wanted was tassles. But the feeling’s the same. Freedom. Unadulterated, pure, joyous freedom. As your mind races in tune with your pumping legs and pounding heart – as you coast down some paved roadway with the wind whipping past your face, arms locked as you gain speed not quite wanting to put on the breaks quite yet because it feels like you could be flying at any moment … there’s just such a sense of power and calm. Peace. Beyond anything else cycling brings piece. Like I was saying before it makes every part of you work together in a fluid harmony. That can be the argument for ant type of sport I suppose … but cycling is my touchstone. It’s what I know and it’s what I love. Two wheels and an open road.