I think mostly because of bikes, I became friends with the photographer and knockabout Anthony Rodale, and he asked me to write an introduction for the catalog of a juried photo competition he put on at his gallery, Floreant Projects. I had no idea where this was going when I wrote the first sentence, but I kept on writing and after awhile there was the end. That is an accurate description of how I wrote this but I am still unsure if that is good or bad. Also, “visceralities” is not a word but I want it to be.
I have never thrown away a bicycle. I have given many away, too many to account for, to cousins and nieces and nephews and uncles and aunts, and that nice folding one to my Mom, and a mountain bike to my sister once, and the tandem built especially to accommodate a father and young daughter to Dave and Aynsley, and my first good new road bike (all of them before bought secondhand until I got a job after university) after nearly twenty years went to someone I didn’t even know, the brother of a good riding friend I’d given one of my old French road racers to and watched at first with dismay then a kind of perplexing pleasure as he turned it into a fixed-gear singlespeed. I lost a bike in the woods once, which is too long of a story to relate in sober words but has the happy ending that I sometimes dream of my bike entwined by vines and lifted skyward by a tree and perhaps made a nest of by wise owls or daredevil swifts or some enigmatic and odd tree-dweller of indeterminate origin. I had a bike stolen once (and have always assumed it was — cherished thing — resold rather than abandoned). I have hung a bicycle on my wall at home after it was destroyed flying off a car rack on a highway then painted by a local artist, Trisha Samuel, and turned into an heirloom and a delight. I have sold a few, though the money was to me more of a promise of commitment than a financial boon.
Most of all, I ride my bicycles. I ride them around town for the simple yet boundless joy of passing by the homes of my friends and neighbors, and even all those of my town I know only in the recognition that I do not know them, of seeing who has planted a garden or gotten a puppy or is barbecuing out back or home sick with the curtains closed on a fine day. I ride to work and back home, and on warm rare lazy evenings I sometimes stop on the way home (going miles out of my way) for a beer in the basement of the wonderful old farmhouse bar, and someone sitting on the patio will remark, as I kickstand my bike, that they should get theirs out and go for a ride and boy it’s been so long. I race bicycles sometimes, not very well, and once won a coupon for a cheeseburger and could never bring myself to turn it in. In Madagascar, I rode mountain bikes with doctors delivering medicine to villages down paths too long to cover by foot and too rugged to pass by truck or car. Across Africa from west to east I have built then delivered bicycles to people who cried upon the receipt because they would no longer have to walk an hour each way for water, or because they could take their mangos to four different markets on four different days and earn four times as much money. I rode across Iowa with four Ugandans who found in cycling a salve for their searing pasts as child soldiers in that country’s civil war. I dream of my bike in a tree.
You see, that’s how it is: Bicycles are never not something. They are toys and exercise machines, and they are healers, and they are vehicles for transportation and vehicles for personal revolution (and evolution), and they are art, and they are the things of our dreams, but they are never trash. They live on and on.
This wonderful simultaneous mutability and perpetuity is shown to great effect by the photographers of Two Wheels to Change Our World. At work and play, in motion and at rest, in the visceralities of life and in the abstract views that celebrate the object for its form alone, we are able to witness here the bicycle as it impacts the full personal, social, economic, and environmental scale of our world. When I see these photographs I am reminded that, converting calories into gasoline, a bicycle gets the equivalent of three thousand miles per gallon.* And I think in fresh amazement about the facts that a bicycle can carry 50 times its own weight, that the introduction of a single bicycle to a family in a developing nation can quadruple their income, that children who ride bikes to school have been shown in studies to perform better on tests, that thirty bikes can move along in the amount of road needed to pilot one car (and eighteen can be fit in a single car parking space). When I see these photographs I dream of my stolen bike under some happy rider, which makes the loss worthwhile, and I dream of a bike high in a tree, and I dream, of course, that I am riding. And the dream, this one dream at least, is easy enough to make true.
* I have produced five books related in some way to cycling, and thousands of magazine articles, and this simple calculation, which is not original to me and in most citations is mistakenly credited solely to me, has turned out to have so much punch that it is the most-quoted sentence I have ever promulgated, the extent of its spread borne witness by its etching onto a metal-sculpture bicycle parking rack outside the post office of Dolores, Colorado, a small town I never heard of until someone thoughtfully sent me a picture.