It's just a bike. Sure. And the Concorde was just an airplane.
My parents didn't have a whole lot of money. My father was a minister (kind of explains a lot about me, eh?) So we didn't have a whole lot of stuff, and what we did have was very rarely new. So the bikes I had as a kid were used when they came into my family. And, since I was the youngest of five they were much more used by the time they came to me. So it was my 12th birthday that I got my first brand new bike. I remember the day very clearly. It was a red Schwinn, a three speed. I was in heaven.
It's just a bike. And the Rolling Stones are just another band.
When you are too young to have a car, a bicycle is freedom. Ultimate freedom. You can go to your friend's house. You can go to the local pool. You can go to the store to buy Pez. You can bike to school and not worry about trying to make the bus. For the first time in your life, you have cut the invisible umbilical cord. This is when you can begin to develop your personality because you are now able to go out into the big world and make your mark on it. You have arrived.
It's just a bike. And Gandhi was just a man.
The wind in your hair. Why is it that we seem to strive so hard for that? Convertible cars, high speed boats, roller coaster rides — we love that feeling of the air going over our skin with a minimal amount of protection. Sure we have seat belts and life vests and locking bars that keep us safe no matter how fast we are going, but somehow, the feeling of excitement is there, we are invigorated, we feel the danger. We feel alive.
It's just a bike. And diamonds are just rocks.
When I ride, I am another person. When I ride, I am no longer chained to the earth. When I ride, I become Peter Pan — I really can fly. The air is cleaner, the colors are brighter, the smells are sharper. I truly see things. I mean really see them instead of just cruising past them as I do in a car. When I ride, I am a participant in the world around me instead of an observer. Shrouded in an metal and glass exo-skeleton, I am insulated from the world. Riding a bike, I am one with the world. The trees are my brothers, the flowers, my sisters. When I ride, I savor every morsel of the meal that is around me. I swirl the wine of existence in my mouth, extracting the hints of spice. When I ride, I lose the ability to be selfish, to be intolerant, to be careless. I could no more throw a Power Bar tm wrapper on the ground than I could run into a pedestrian.
It's just a bike. Right. And AIDS is just another disease.
Why is it that when people say "hills" they are always talking about uphills and never about downhills? And since gravity pulls you down, why do we say hills suck? I'd think it is just the opposite. But when we ride, we must face the hills. And the hills don't play fair. They get too steep. They go on forever. When you reach the top and you come around a corner and you look up and see that you are not at the top after all... well, hills suck. Yes, there is pain, and there is exhaustion. But they are temporary.
After you reach the top of that hill, there will probably be a downhill. You can rest your legs and your lungs. And sometime before the day is over, you will get your butt off of that saddle and you will get to stretch, and to enjoy your favorite cold (or hot!) beverage, and to eat, and to sleep. Rest comes for the riders. Relief comes for the riders. But for those whom charity riders ride, there is no rest, no relief. Their hills are constantly up. Their pain will not be assuaged at the end of the day. Compared to them, the pain I feel, the exhaustion I feel, are nothing. I tell myself that when I reach the point when I am ready to toss my trusty steed over a cliff.
I tell myself that that ripping pain in my legs will be gone in a couple of days, and that it is nothing compared to what some people must deal with constantly. I tell myself that the person that I am when I am on a bike would not let those people down by getting off that bike. So I get back on by sheer force of will. And I cry. I cry because I hurt physically. I cry because I have lost someone I care about very much to AIDS and there is nothing I can do about it. I cry because my brother has been suffering from diabetes for forty years and I can't help him. I cry because I see children on the side of the road who have no idea why I am out on that bike. I cry because I know that if I don't ride, some of them may die from these same causes. And I ride because that is all that I can do for them. For the kids. For Bryant. For Chris. For untold millions.
It's just a bike. But it (and we) can change the world.