Few days ago, while chatting with a friend whose country is coming out of the lockdown, we got talking about bicycles. He mentioned that after 9 weeks he went to a bike store to get some parts, I said that I didn’t know he had a bicycle and was surprised to know when he said he had 5 (4 too many for one person). That led us to exchanging our views and love for bicycles, actually love for cycling. I started telling him how much I loved cycling as a kid and he mentioned how his childhood was practically spent on top of a bicycle just riding around the whole day during vacations and for hours on other days. My cycling memories are pretty much the same and I told him, “Cycling was one of the first childhood experience that made me realise freedom and how a transport can take you so far away.”. Of course, I was too young to know “freedom” but in hindsight almost everything is better articulated.
The reason I say freedom is because, I remember riding a bike in the evening meant that you can go far away from home, away from the watchful eyes of your parents, take a turn in any lane that takes your fancy, go at speed on empty streets or go slow when the traffic is coming. I remember how a runner pushes himself or herself just a little bit every time, I would ride a little further than my regular distance or a regular lane and then see an entirely new spot for the first time. Doing that, I felt exhilarated, excited, that I went to a new lane, a new area on my own. I don’t know if I can say it felt like an accomplishment, but more like I made some new discovery and it was all mine. It is how we feel when we do something for the first time, or see a new view for the first time, while many people have probably done the same thing many times over, or many people have seen the place many times before, but because we saw it for the first time, it means everything. No one else’s experience matters or counts. Going into a new lane and coming out of it and taking another road just to see if that goes back to where I came from made connecting roads sense, without knowing that they were connecting before that. It helped me to figure out the geography of the place. I also always knew not to venture out too far from home. Without knowing, there was a sense of keeping myself safe. It almost made me feel like a grown-up in those moments. And that feeling of being a grown-up, free, light in my heart, seeing new things on my own was just pure happiness.
Now when I look back, it tells me how even as a child I enjoyed being by myself for hours without feeling the need of others. It introduced me to the concept of wandering without purpose (not knowing what wandering or purpose meant at that time), endless hours of cycling without really knowing what one would do exactly or where one would go. It introduced me to spontaneity by turning into a new left for a change or choosing a different road and seeing where that would lead. The fact that not knowing where it would go did not matter, all that mattered was just being on the bike and going where I hadn’t been before.
In childhood, that bicycle is an extension of us and reveals how far we can take ourselves should we choose to. In adulthood driving a car, a licence is the same extension in a different form. The comfort of knowing that we can go anywhere we want and all that we need to do is pick up our car keys and transport ourself away to another place on our own is the same as that of a bicycle. The comfort of knowing that all we need to do is to take our bike and ride away, no questions asked, no set destination or path just a stretch with many connecting lanes and we can pick and choose which ever lane we fancy that day. There is a certain romanticism to this and without knowing we start feeling it since early age and seek the same exhilaration throughout our lives.
Romanticism in the art movement was about, “emphasis on the imagination and emotions, an exaltation of the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy”, and a bicycle in childhood is our mode of transport to get to that romantic state.