Author and hobby cyclist, Juan Carlos Kreimer wrote The Bicycle Effect – Cycling as Meditation (Findhorn Press, August 2016, $14.99) to demonstrate that pedaling a bike is not just a vehicle to be used to get ourselves from a to b, or to exercise or have fun, but it can also be used to help attain a healthier state of mind . . .
The Bicycle Effect - Cycling as Meditation
September 01, 2016 -Juan Carlos Kreimer
Brakes, gears and chains were, until 1960, three separate components in a bicycle. When the Japanese brand Shimano integrated them, this not only made increased use of the relationship between force and velocity. It also enhanced the bike to levels hitherto unimaginable for a vehicle that had been going downhill.
At the turn of the millennium the bicycle, formerly children’s toy and means of transportation for people with low-income who could not even access a moped, became indispensable for everyday life - not just on Sunday mornings – for those living in urban centers. Four out of ten young people and adults of any city in the first, second or third world have a bike. And those who don’t can borrow one on an hourly basis from the council.
Whether in its use as alternative mode of transportation or in recreation for sports or tourism, the bicycle not only represents a symbol for the attitude of ‘keep it simple’ and live a healthy and ecological life. It is it. In the last ten years, the number of people who use the bicycle to commute rose to 60%. And for the growing number of MAMILs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) the bike has become an extension of their own body.
There are bicycles for all terrains, tastes, needs. Some cost the same as a used car. Others, still in excellent condition, you can find for little money on the secondhand market. The number of businesses who sell and repair bikes - and the training for this – grows every day, in the same proportion as yoga centers.
Today’s bicycle phenomenon transcends the need for a more agile means of transport in streets overcrowded by cars (on average 10 m2 per vehicle for an average of 1.4 passengers).
More cyclists means fewer cars, and for governments lower cost solutions in town planning. It is impossible to keep up with the growing demand for parking space in streets and car parks.
There is no such city that prides itself to be modern and that does not have, or aspire to have, its network of cycle paths. Those paths snatched from urban transit lanes give official recognition to the cyclist and, at the same time, generate new cyclists.
What is visible of this real cultural revolution is that to travel by bike saves time, fuel, parking. Replaces the gym. Does not pollute the environment ...
Those who watch the cyclists pass by from the window of a car or public transport can intuit the basic expression of enjoyment these cyclists carry on their faces, from moving in direct contact with the air. That slight smile of movement and pleasure.
No. This is not a new passenger trend. Nor, as some backbiters cynically suggest, a new field of activity to do business in. Riding a bike is not the “new golfing.” It is closer to the awakening of a primordial feeling, numbed by the sedentary nature of modern life, than any form of speculation.
Once you have discovered it, you do not want to abandon it. The bicycle creates a habit.
The same rhythm of pedaling, breathing, the view turned towards the open sky, affect the cyclist’s mind in a way that will release preoccupations, expectations and anxieties. To start with, you cannot talk on the mobile.
Just like meditation - another zero cost response to modern life - cycling empties the mind and opens it to other pathways. This is where there are real surprises and those new ideas flash up that have us say, “Ah, how did I not realize this before, if it was so obvious.”
This effect of awakening, as it is called in Zen, expands to other areas of life, and when we least expect it, the mind notices that something has happened in the way we each consider our belief system. It’s not as if we have actually changed. We are simply closer to our own nature. More in touch with everything. More aware that life is this too. It’s our choice to take it or loose it.
While getting carried away by road (or bike path), it is not uncommon to discover other areas in certain neighborhoods we thought we knew. We take in more details, read more into what we observe. We are not travelling in a shoebox and looking through the holes: We are in the middle of what happens.
Beyond what changes in oneself, the cyclist notes soon after discovering cycling, that the bike indicates also coexistence. Motorized transport is a risk for him. On two wheels one constitutes one’s own carriage. Any carelessness, your own or someone else’s, can wipe you off the map. But to say that there is a mutual incompatibility between car and bike means being left behind in this cultural transformation. In fact, bike(s) are usually the second car(s).
Today the streets are shared territory. Whether clad in cycling or office gear, those of us who move on two wheels perceive that drivers no longer look at us as potential enemies. Even the bus drivers begin to view us kindly - if we respect their place.
If we indicate by arm the kind of maneuver that we are about to perform and establish eye contact before doing it, the answer is almost always a nod of approval. This, in itself, is a change: it speaks of mutual understanding. We are considerate towards the other; the other is considerate towards us. The more correct we move, the more they respect us. Invisible to the eyes is the same attitude that spreads to other situations in life.
We cyclists find it hard to accept our place down Darwin’s scale. Truck, bus, 4x4, car, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian, mother with baby ... Our situation between pedestrian with wheels and motorist without the power unit of draft animals, makes us believe that we can move as if we were walking and at the same time feel cars to be our peers. We tend to exploit the interspace so as to not loose momentum.
The cyclist tells himself: This once I do it, there is no car coming, no one sees me. Or he does not even think about it and does it anyway. The fact that most of the time everything works out fine and nothing happens does not eliminate the possibility that at some point something can happen.
That anarchic nature is asking to be replaced by “the spirit of the cyclist.” In moving away from a correct course of action we reproduce within us a break, even though we have no accident. And we prevent cycling turning into a practice of harmonization, an internal one as well as for the environment. When we do the right thing, we awaken in those who see us (pedestrians, drivers, passengers watching us through the window) a certain resonance that calls for doing the right thing.
I am not alluding to accept regulations as an imposition from the outside in, but to understand that doing the right thing in every situation is a way to keep order. And it will take longer to learn walking if we restrain incorrect actions whenever they present themselves and before the bike leads us to perform them.
Stopping at red lights, no cycling on the sidewalk, not using headphones, wearing a helmet (and night lights), giving way to pedestrians, avoiding zigzagging…better incorporate those behaviors and avoid regulations coming in. Any regulation brings a loss of freedom.
The bicycle boom, regardless of its social dimension, records within a series of personal transformations that make a better life. Attitudes and acts that seem minor empower those for whom they become a daily practice. It adds more value to individual liberties possible in spite of all.
Juan Carlos Kreimer is an Argentinean writer and publisher. He lives in Buenos Aires and has cycled in every city he has called home: New York, Paris, London, Rio de Janeiro to name just a few.
Juan is in his early ’70s and continues to ride his bike around 20 to 30 miles a day.
For more go to www.findhornpress.com.