03 June 2013

The Essence of Cycling

Last month I was talking about the Simplicity of running. I mentioned there my bicycles. So now it is time to talk a bit about the simplicity of cycling... cycling reduced to the essence... at least from my point of view.

Over the years I used almost a dozen of bicycles. In time I realized that some of the most amazing tours in the mountains I ever did, were done with my first mountain bike. It was a really cheap and basic one. It was all that I could afford back then. But it was more about the energy and the enthusiasm of being in the nature rather than equipment. Later I could afford better and better bikes but I had less and less time to use them...

So does the bike matters? Of course, but...
One has to know the limitations of the bike he uses. As long as you know it and stay within the safety limits, then you are fine. If one feels that the bike is holding him/her back from what he/she wants to achieve, then it is probably time to look for something else. In most cases we look for something fancier, more advanced, more performant.

Over the years I had better and better mountain bikes. They offered me more safety at higher speed and more performance. I was obsessed with average speed, kilometers, gears and so on. Indeed, I could do my tours faster, I would have more control on downhills, I had gears combinations for every situation and so on.

And yet, the performance is not everything and I think that we should not become obsessed with it.
I am cycling for leisure, not to win a competition. While being obsessed with kilometers, speed and gear shifting, bent forward over my handle-bar, I was often missing the landscape - the main reason I was outdoors!

A couple of years ago I was looking for a bike to use in the city. Something simple and solid and easy to maintain. I got an Kona Africabike. A solid no frills bike that just does the job. It has a solid steel frame, a single speed and coaster brake... I started to use it more and more and realized that I really enjoy riding it! 
My position on this bike is more relaxed, more upright so I can enjoy more the landscape; it also feels safer as my posture is more relaxed with my head higher so I can better observe the road. I do not have to worry about shifting gears. I can climb slopes up to about 10% inclination. Steeper than 10%... well I just push it as it is anyway not too efficient to paddle uphill on steep slopes. On downhills... the gravity is pulling me down regardless of the bike I ride. On flat terrain... yes I am slower here, but this means that I can enjoy the ride and the landscapes.

On the hills with my Africabike

I now use the Africabike on the hills around the city where I was using a mountain-bike before. I cycle mostly on wide paths and forest roads where I do not really need a mountain bike. On more difficult terrain I prefer running anyway.

This bike may be a strange choice, but on the other hand it is all that I need... the essence of a bike. 
In the end, the best equipment is the one that distracts one less. In my case I want to simply enjoy the ride and this simple bike gives me just that!