Friday, February 12, 2010

Bike Lane Bliss: Intro

Bike Lane Bliss: Introduction

I’m Richard Fries. I’m a cyclist.
This means more than 40 years as a racer, tourist, advocate, publisher, historian, commuter, journalist, announcer, and now, blogger. (And a woeful mechanic I might add.) I ride year round in pretty much all weather. And yes, I have a car, a house, and a sort of normal life, too.
This blog will hopefully be random. I think about a lot of things but from the vantage point of a cyclist.
But having watched a lot of bad cyclists somehow get accredited to teach others how to ride, I felt something had to be said. This blog will not be intended to dismantle the teachings of 'effective cycling' and 'vehicular cyclists' and other experts. Its just that I see a lot of folks who are quoted in newsapers and television interviews on the subject of cycling doing some of the most curious things in traffic. This book is not about replacing those teachings, but enhancing those teachings.

Although you’ll get a smattering of elements on history and politics and personal anecdotes, there will be two primary themes: travel logs from me as I work as a race announcer and cyclist; and a sort of zen guide to urban cycling.
Towards the latter, this blog is intended to be a first draft of a book designed to help people love bicycle commuting. I’m trying to let people realize I do not ride my bike to and from work every day because it’s the correct thing to do. I love, indeed crave and require, that time of each day when I ride through the congested and seemingly daunting streets of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and Lexington. And when I got my latest job offer in the heart of Boston, I saw the commute in the city actually as a plus, not a minus.
Where others find fear, I have found bliss.
I hope that these words expedite somebody else’s development as a cycling commuter. But when one finds that bliss between two automobiles traveling at 28 mph one finds a release from all sorts of fears that prevent us from enjoying other things in life.
There are certainly some skills that I will write about. And there are observations of what to study in those canyons of steel and glass. And yes, there will be “things” to discuss in chapters on equipment and clothing, so you suburbanites can read on comfortably knowing you might be able to buy something to speed up the process. But this is not a step-by-step, how-to blog. There are plenty of great bike shops to help you there.
But the overarching lesson is the simple Buddhist phrase: “Be here now.”
As one cycles in a city, one makes a lot of observations of others inside of automobiles. We cannot help but recognize just how much of their life is abuzz with distractions. There can be mobiles phones, texting, Top 40 radio, hot coffee, cold drinks, Yorkshire terriers, Greek salads, dashboard gauges, fellow passengers, eyeliners, one shoe off, crying children and the occasional squirt of cream filling from inside a donut.
If the cyclist makes a mistake, the cyclist gets hurt. If the motorist makes a mistake, the cyclist gets hurt. So guess who pays extra attention? But having to be hyper aware IS the gift. I want others to recognize the gift. To overcome that fear is liberation.
The payoff in urban cycling is achieving that meditative state of being relaxed yet vigilant. The stress is being processed with rhythmic breathing. The balance is achieved between the physics of the bike and the wheels and the body as engine.
I’m not trying to frighten readers. The average year round commuter hits the ground about once every eight years. And most of those are minor. Although much of what I do may startle some, I can assure you that as I approach my 50th birthday with three children, a wife, and a mortgage, I would not do this if I perceived it as risky.
The urban cyclist is stripped down to the simplest and most elegant of machines, the bicycle. The urban cyclist must be hyper aware of the surroundings. Study the seasoned Manhattan bike messenger who may shock us riding confidently with a fixed gear, no helmet, and often no brakes. But look again: that rider will not have headphones. Rarely will there be a cell phone on their ear and only in a safe place. That rider is coolly studying the entire flow of the landscape. That rider will have 260 degree picture of awareness. That rider understands the importance of paying 100 percent attention to the surroundings.
Few Americans – some of them extremely smart people - ever achieve that degree of awareness….ever. Study the health club and find folks “running” on treadmills while plugged into CNN. They have divorced their bodies from their brains and their souls. Rarely do I find an American all in one place at one moment.
These writings come mostly from observations made in my life as a cyclist. Others come from my cycling heroes such as Scott Chamberlain, Alan Rodzinksy, Gene Oberpiller, Chris Iglehart, and a legion of impresarios too numerous to list. But for the literary types out there, I hope you’ll recognize that I am applying several elements taught in the books by Eugen Herrigel (Zen and the Art of Archery), Timothy Gallwey (The Inner Game of Tennis), John R. Stilgoe (Outside Lies Magic), and Richard Louv’s (Last Child in the Woods). I also have applied stuff learned from Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly.
And, oh yeah, I like Star Wars movies.
Please read, comment, forward, etc. But all I ask is that before motorists make any comments here, they would be well served to try riding a bike the city to comprehend the experience.
Thanks for reading.


  1. This is Great. Thank You.

    I was told that is you want to have readers coming back, you need to post every day. Please let me know if you need a camera and a how to, to expaaaaannnnnnddddd your blog,

    I would Love to help.

    Thanks again Rich! Keep up the Great Work!

  2. When someday I write a book on Cyclocross as a form of Budo, I want you to edit it. Consider yourself asked and forewarned. :-)