Stuck in one gear by choice

My new single speed bike is beautiful. I think I might be ‘bike-sexual’ and will happily declare this openly without shame.

Meet Emmet (yes named after the Lego Movie character)
There is something pure about riding single speed. It is a bit old school but the simplicity and relationship between the machine and the body is more direct. No gears means tuning into the terrain, technique, timing and toughness.

The irony is that I am used to having all sorts of comments and abuse hurled at me a cyclist. Some of it for just being on a bike but I don’t know that male cyclists get quite the same about of comments about the body parts making contact with the seat as women. It’s another ‘hazard’ one I’d rather not deal with but usually I’m so busy concentrating I just catch the ends of words and sentences, for example ‘*ice *ss’ or ‘**xy *ich.’

I’ve been riding Emmet for 3 days now and my whole world has turned upside down. Heads turn, men comment and not once about me. It’s ALL about the bike. I think I could actually be a fish on a bike and people would still not notice. In fact not only is Emmet complimented there is a genuine admiration and appreciation from some for the pedal power required to move up hill. This weird vibe I think could be respect, ‘I’m the Man’ now. Male roadies (lycra wearing speedy riders) usually look ‘through me’ like I’m invisible or not even in the same dimension but Emmet resonates with them in some way so they ‘see’ us together as something other than a woman on a bike. Their reactions have been refreshing, those usually serious cyclist faces break into grins, nods and finger lifts (cyclist wave). So perhaps, through Emmet, I transgender temporarily as a cyclist, I’m one of the boys.

That is how it seems after 25 years of experiencing those other comments as a woman. Kind of weird but I’m happy to ride along with it. Orange is the new black isn’t it?


Bring back bike sheds

It doesn’t matter if no-one rides a bike to school anymore, schools need bike sheds. If you are nodding your head while reading this then you are probably are of a generation where the ‘bike sheds’ is code for other things.

Some of the best and worst bits of learning happened at the bike sheds. People tried stuff for the first time, talked about stuff, planned things and some of us actually parked our bikes there. The conversations and activities that took place you hoped you weren’t caught for (although…parking your bike isn’t exactly ‘bad ass’). It was an exciting place where risks were taken.

Some of those risks involved gossiping and talking about others. After emerging from the sheds the unspoken rule was not to speak about it. Eventually the conversation would move on to something or someone else, the outcomes and power of the spoken word dissolved and was replaced with other things. This is in stark contrast to the online generation.

When there is talk about things being ‘worse’ I think what could be happening is an unfamiliarity with the context and the effects on the meaning and intensity of expression via social media and the digital age. You can go back to a conversation, add to it, exaggerate, share, create images add pictures – so the story grows a life of its own. Then of course the audience grows and all within a few minutes! The personal and private has become a public performance for popularity.

Back at the bike sheds, about the only thing written was the odd scratched love note, insults were generic – occasionally personal but were painted over, or obscured by more angsting. Getting ‘caught’ was a real possibility and that awareness was an invisible safety bubble as the fear told you instinctively that ‘if you had to talk about this behind the bike sheds you probably shouldn’t be talking about it.’

I’m hoping riding to school will make a come back for many reasons including the building of sheds. Bring on the next generation of shenanigans!

When it comes to the ‘crunch,’ some things are hard to swallow

Have you ever been eating something, chewing away, really enjoying it only to suddenly hear the sound of enamel on a disintegrating unknown object? It reverberates through your head whilst your mind races through various images of what it could be. There is that awful realisation mixed with the visceral need to expel the contents from your mouth but depending on where you are this might not be such an easy option. If you have a sensitive gag reflex, that will also likely be triggered and as the tears form in your eyes all you really want to know is ‘what just went crunch?’

I have no doubt almost everyone has shared this experience. I have chomped down on a range of nasties such as glass, snails (sorry but they are just not food to me),egg shell, fish bones and scales (but no small bikes), and the occasional small stone – which seem indistinguishable from brown lentils funnily enough. If you are expecting something to be crunchy it’s fine, there’s no surprise, but that instantaneous reaction via sensory cues is a marvelous indicator of just how quick the brain works to invoke panic and fear.

Politeness dictates that we don’t show our disgust. Kind of ironic when you consider some of the disgusting practices involved in food production but that is not for this piece. I am going to blend this literal disgust with the concept of disgust as an ‘unconscious response to the unfamiliar or uncomfortable’. Bare with me, it’s possibly going to be a bit of a dogs breakfast but lets see how we go.

I think our taste in food is much like our taste in anything, it is acquired and developed over time. When it comes to children and food, parents are often keen to help them explore a range of things and persevere multiple times until the reject button has been hit enough and the message is clear ‘don’t like it’. Generally it is more acceptable to expose children to different food than it is any other form difference such as race, culture, sexuality, gender identity, functionality (AKA ‘disability), etc . This is probably related to a belief about what is acceptable and harmful.
How many of us were tortured with broad beans? I swear they were toxic, they had to be, tasting like the smell of dirty socks. But it didn’t kill me, and whilst Broad Beans still don’t feature in my cuisine I can see the intent my parents had, ‘give it a go, it might not be as bad as you think, chew a bit more and give it some time you just might like it.’
Hiding foods within something else is a sneaky tactic. I haven’t been fond of mushrooms until friends cooked a variety I was unfamiliar with in a risotto and I was wondering what the smirk was on their faces as I expressed my delight. Once I realised my assumptions had been challenged I was willing to concede maybe I could accept mushrooms were ok.
I’m wondering a bit about other forms of difference that when ‘hidden’ actually enable the richer personal aspects of self to emerge and ‘flavour’ relationships. Instead of rejecting based on a perceived threat or ‘dislike’ our identities are able to flourish under more palatable ideas such as respect, connection, love, acceptance and honoring unique aspects of self.
If a form of difference is visible – that same instantaneous, unconscious fear/rejection response needs challenging from within. I would suggest that talking or communicating in some way breaks down barriers.
My friend Philip made this and I think sums up nicely how we can go about adding spice to notions of identity and representations of ‘difference’:

But here’s the thing. If I am happy to dine at the diversity buffet,let me; it makes no difference to anyone else. I accept others still want to gorge themselves on hate but to ‘force feed’ anything to anyone and denying them the freedom to be aware of other choices is unpalatable.

This is the tension we are left with and it’s a bit hard to digest. If we are talking about genuine disgust on a reflex level it’s possibly going to be ‘messy’ if someone is asked to swallow something they know repulses them. But then how do we develop a broad taste and appreciation of the wonderful flavours of the world?

I’m really hoping the world food shortage is not going to give rise to insect farming because the combination of spiky bits and chitinous exoskeleton are enough to consider snails a delicacy.

If it came to that sort of crunch – I might just have to eat my words. Now that’s food for thought.

The fine line between pleasure and pain

Learning to unicycle is nothing like learning to ride a bike regardless of whether you have feet or fins. Helping a 6year old learn to ride one is like a nexus of vicarious emotional and physical pain and joy. There is also only one way to learn – and that is to get on and FALL OFF…lots. It’s ugly and uncomfortable and I can speak from experience. No amount of verbal feedback or understanding the biomechanics and physics of unicycling will do anything to improve your riding of one. Experiential learning is powerful but is often overlooked as it side steps the expert knowledge of the teacher. It requires a back down of ego and having been a teacher for a number of years I can put my hand on my heart and say I have struggled with this.

Aside from the obvious physical challenge of learning to unicycle there is the grappling with the inner workings of the mind – particularly fear and doubt, they camp out rather comfortably for quite some time. Then friends of fear and doubt – frustration, annoyance and irritation join the party. Just getting on one without gravity giving you an ass kicking requires enough perseverance to solve a rubik’s cube (and I’m not talking about those insanely talented people who complete them in less than a minute!).

While all this is going on there is still the issue of moving. You see you cannot fake unicycling – it is a fully authentic experience. Perhaps one of the more curious effects is the perception of movement and time. People who have given it a go will probably understand what I mean when I say a few inches or centimetres feels like miles and whilst that might seem an exaggeration the joy and sensation of moving are exhilarating. I suppose it could fall into the realm of altered states of consciousness.

The compression of time is more intriguing. The pendulum can swing in the blink of an eye from an ecstasy to agony, screams of delight to tears of pain. Mind, body, spirit and life compete to imprint the meaning of that moment and this is where resilience emerges. If courage, determination, patience and acceptance are allowed to speak into that moment then no amount of skin loss, bruising of bodies or ego will get in the way of getting back on.

This isn’t just learning it is ‘know-ledge’ as unicycling itself is a beautiful metaphor for life. The only way to go forward is to be in a constant state of falling and balancing this with peddling. Even trying to stay in one spot still involves constant movement.

At the end of the day, it’s just the best leveller in the world. It truly does not matter who you are or how good you are at ANYTHING before attempting to ride one – it counts for nothing. You will be chewed up and spat out.

That is the grav-ity of the situation – this clowning around is quite serious business.

Lycra it or not – we’re all after it

I like to call myself a ‘re-creational’ athlete. My intention when I do events is to transcend my every day experience of reality. This is no different to other forms of altered states or intoxication but the means by which its achieved certainly derives different responses from people.

I’d like to make a comparison to a common and familiar type of ‘out of it’ experience – the epic night out on the town. You might be sceptical but believe me – at the core of the experience of endurance events is a strange mix of ritualistic preparation, pushing the body’s limits and the bonding with random people and the inevitable – WTF just happened?

The great thing about events like Ironman is you do all the worst things that can happen on a big night out and people will stand and cheer you on, call you a legend then put a medal around your neck when you’re done!

Seriously – for example, you spend a day ensuring you’ve got your lucky socks, enough ‘protection’ (from sun, blisters, cramp and punctures). You start the day slow – pace yourself, but loss of bodily functions at some point is expected and normal. Wetting your pants is completely acceptable as is vomiting and clearing your nose in public. Munchies are planned for and chips, coke and lollies are simply fuel to keep your body moving. Staggering and crying with complete strangers who feel like long lost soul mates fully describes the end of an ironman (or the closing time of a night club). Your body hurts, sweat is soaking everything, but everyone is the same – not pretty but united in ugly. And like a big night out there is the aftermath – the bodies lying on beds, being rehydrated intravenously – others keeled over in various states of distress wondering ‘why’ or ‘I want my mum’ or ‘I didn’t know you could get cramp there’. Others sharing a hug, a story, a thank you, a moment in time.

The difference is the kind of hangover you have. The endorphin high lasts days and the transformation some go through is truly inspiring. This isn’t being ‘wasted’ – its like my dear friend Tracey Lemon said to me once “Ironman isn’t a day in your life, it is your life in one day”.

I salute those who go clubbing all night – they are fellow seekers of altered states and the sense of themselves that comes with this, but I can’t do it that way – and I don’t want to, no judgement – it’s just a preference. I don’t ask people who club, rave, etc – how long did you go out for or how much did you drink for some measurable assessment of their night, I ask – how was your night? And really hope they left the lycra at home.

[In honour of Tracy Lemon RIP – someone who lived and breathed the spirit of Ironman and living life fearlessly and honestly]

What my nose knows

I am reasonably confident few (if any) cycling commentaries have touched on this. But for you non users of ‘open air transport’, don’t worry, this is definitely ‘NOT ABOUT THE BIKE’.

Our senses serve us well. Even the loss (perceived loss?) of functionality of one or more simply opens the possibility for others to be developed, enabled, re-directed. Being someone who would be viewed as ‘functionally common'(all usual and known senses working), I can’t speak from a position of loss. But I do have a new appreciation of my olfactory abilities and what it has enabled me to experience.

As soon as I leave my front door in the morning my nasal passages are assailed with smells. Usually these come from cars, but not the vehicle itself – the occupants of these ‘particulate containers’ don’t seem to realise that if their window is down – particulates escape and if someone is outside the car in close proximity – they most definitely find their way to the nasal cavity and WHAM – there it is!

Perfume and aftershave dominate (fortunately), with cigarettes next on the list – and the occasional ‘other’ cigarette (bit of a worry when one of those tickles the nose – defensive riding for sure). Then there is the profoundly disgusting poo particulate stream – or the fart car. Of course you wind the window down – but just know it doesn’t always dissipate. Yesterday I followed a methane stream for about 1km (a good 2 and a bit minutes!). Forget diesel fumes, I would have happily sucked on the back of a bus it was that bad.

I also get familiar with the cities refuse cycles and general hygiene. There are some sections of town that are very…fishy. Following rubbish trucks is up there with fart cars. On the other hand there are times when I have been out training and the worst smell is cooked breakfasts – especially when all you have eaten is bananas and energy gels (flavoured snot – for those unfamiliar with these) but it does make me ride harder to get home and get some real food.

So there is the good and the bad but I do have a point – just wanted to fully engage your imagination… I can see the cringes from here.

Smell is a powerful memory trigger and I think we could use it more in our lives and well-being. Even the smell of fresh air on a cool morning, or freshly cut grass (sorry allergy sufferers) connect us with nature and ourselves.

Get out there and smell the roses – REALLY smell them, smile and be glad they are all sweet.

All that glitters isn’t glass…wait…it is!

I’m back to commuting to work by bike. So this is probably my version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (another classic but probably missed by most under the age of 50)

Anyway! The road conceals many treasures including ‘shiny things’. Few people would stop and notice these glittering offerings – particularly motorists – not that they need to – because from their perspective they don’t exist. But they do notice me – weaving – for no apparent ‘obvious’ reason and probably blast their horn, swear under their breath – or occasionally slow down – roll down the window and serve me a lecture…fair enough – erratic behaviour by any road user is risky and unnerving.

But broken glass on a road to a cyclist is the metaphorical equivalent of 8cm/3 inch road spikes. Think you might notice those in your car – especially if they are shiny. Imagine the chaos if those were strewn about randomly – it would make the headlines. Garage owners and the AA would be rubbing their hands with glee, but that’s not the point.

A perspective is neither right or wrong – it is simply a ‘view-point’. I’m not ‘wrong’ for seeing glass as a threat to my tyre integrity – and similarly the motorist freaking out at my wild movements isn’t ‘wrong’ for wondering ‘WTF is that lycra clad road parasite doing’! But one of these view points is probably more common and collectively accepted as a valid explanation of the situation – and here is where there is a missed opportunity.

You see – if you experience the world from a different position – the things that matter to you and are very real – but do not even enter the consciousness or awareness of others. And if you try and validate your position it can be met with fierce opposition. Why? because most people are more interested in being ‘right’ than they are in the ‘truth’. These are NOT THE SAME THING.

My truth – road glitter – AKA smashed bottles = shredded tyres (after a month of riding they look like they have been through a cheese grater!).

The glass could be half full or empty – so long as its not broken on the road thanks.

Being more childish

It’s funny how we use insults to shut down particular ways of being. Some of the more common ones (I can think of at least) are:
– Don’t be a dreamer
– Grow up
– Get real
– Harden up (or the modern version ‘take a concrete pill’)
– Get serious
– Don’t be so childish

Our language constructs and reveals (in the same moment) just how afraid we really are about being open, curious, emotionally responsive, creative, imaginative and playful. In other words we are supposed to leave childhood behind – including all the good bits, which is really annoying because some of us LOVE to play and laugh at farts. Yes I said FART.

Playing with children is something everyone should do – it is the antidote to the stuffy, confined and claustrophobic constraints of life as an ‘Adult’ (defined here only in terms of chronological age). A good example was yesterday when I went from playing Barbies’ – where Ken got to wear Barbies’ pants, onto Chess – where we decided that you could move the other person’s piece if they were in check mate (great for me as I’m definitely NOT the next Bobby Fischer), onto building Lego – where storm troopers (Star Wars) dived off diving boards into hoops with pink bows in their helmets. Rules? Conformity? Not in this world – in fact I would go so far as to say I really didn’t know what was coming next, revealing the surreptitious effect of ‘certainty’ on our lives, that is our need to know everything and be in control at all times as adults.

So those of you over 25…ish…
– Maybe don’t jump on a skate board if you can’t skate, or ride a bike! – but do if you can.
– Go to a park – and don’t just sit there on your mobile! hang upside down – your top is likely to fall over your head – so wear precautions
– Read children’s stories – I have never stopped reading them myself, classics like Dr Seuss are for everyone (love the Sneetches)
– Question EVERYTHING – kids do – we should to
– Blow bubbles – I hear they do weird things in really cold temperatures

I mentioned I play chess – well- I pretend to, but I do remember being incredibly moved by the movie ‘Searching For Bobby Fischer’ its a beautiful movie celebrating the wisdom of parents who see the gifts children have and putting their own desires aside.

Play hard out – not just hard.
The person with the most scabs wins!

Fish on bike, runs red light

There are a few things that polarise people. Cyclists seem to invoke some primal (there might be a possible evolutionary benefit? bring on the Darwinism!) anger in motorists.

Today I was reminded that there is a whole other ‘species’ of road user that is cerebrally challenged, possibly suffering from Entitled-isis. When stopping for a red light in Mt Eden another cyclist – adequately decked out in ‘can you see me’ gear looks at the red light and calmly rides through the intersection. Yes – calmly and like he is supposed to do this as his right on two wheels.

Me still sitting at the lights shaking my head wanted to yell out expletives and call him names. Petty? Childish…maybe. What came to me is that as a minority on the road ANY deviation or behaviour that doesn’t conform to expected rules and running red lights ranks highly – then the automatic default is to see all of that group as behaving like this. It reminded me of all stereotypes and attempts to generalise people.

There is a chance that this ‘fish on a bike’ suffered short term memory loss – being a fish – and forgot that red lights mean stop. The alternative is that he hoped his high vis gear made him blend into the background. Or the final possibility is his ego was so big it would have cushioned him should he have met with a vehicle running a green light.

Individuality has its place but rules and restrictions can be about safety. We need to distinguish this and watch out for out of control sense of self-importance and entitlement that justifies recklessness and disregard for the needs and well-being of others.

The laws of physics will get you in the end if you are on a bike – high vis gear wont protect you when you meet with a larger vehicle. Survival of the smartest.