The spirit of the bike
‘Friends’ Season 7 Episode 9
Ross: If you’re not going to ride this bike, I’m going to have to take it back.
Phoebe: What!? Why?
Ross: Because… because, it would be like you having this guitar and never playing it. This guitar wants to be played. And this bike wants to be ridden. If you don’t ride it, you’re killing its spirit.
Phoebe: OK, Ross (disbelieving)
Phoebe (whispering to bike): Please don’t die!
I have a bicycle that I keep under the bed. It’s my round-Britain touring bike, a Ridgeback Voyage, which only comes out for long rides or touring holidays. It’s safe under there – safe from thieves, rain, damage and the needless wearing of the parts when I only ever use two gears in London. I would be heartbroken if it were stolen.
Instead I ride a cheap Giant hybrid bicycle. It’s not a good bike – at less than a year old there’s a knocking in the bottom bracket and the wheel hubs are wobbling. But it gets me from A to B and I don’t mind if it gets damaged or stolen.
This weekend I’m taking part in a ride from the west coast of Wales to the east coast of England. It’s not a ride that I can do on my town bike. I drag the tourer out from under the bed, dust off the cobwebs, and begin to piece the thing back together: wheels, mudguards, handlebars, pedals. I lean it against the wall and take a step back. There is much to admire with this machine. The frame is a sleek silver, the geometry well-suited to my shape. The group set is perfectly capable of sending me over hills with ease. It’s a reliable ride and looks good. Though an entry-level touring bike, it’s a very well-made one. It has seen many miles and facilitated many adventures. The top tube is pocked with the knocks of long rides, the plastic windows of the gear shifters blistered through exposure to the sun. This bicycle tells stories.
The chain has rusted in patches so I give it a good spray and take it for a quick spin. The wheels whirr across the towpath, silent and smooth. I feel comfortable and safe; this bike is beautiful to ride. With a rush of affection I remember how important it is to love the machine you are riding. Loving cycling alone is not enough.
Guilt-ridden at having left my beautiful touring bike under the bed for so long I realise that, by trying to protect it, I am mistreating it. The cables are sluggish. The chain has rusted anyway, through non-use. Bikes are meant to be ridden, not kept in stasis. Wheels are made to spin, chains to run, pedals to turn. By tucking it away under the bed I am leaving it to decay.
As I spin further from home I call to mind Phoebe’s scene with her new bike. Because it’s not just the mechanics that suffer through abandonment. The sole purpose in a bicycle’s creation is movement, to go, to explore, to facilitate travel, to instigate adventure. Hiding it away robs the bike of its raison d’être and stifles its spirit. By riding it I am benefitting, too: the simple pleasure of cycling has caused a huge grin to spread across my face. It’s joy, satisfaction, freedom and health. I vow never to mistreat it again.
While I can’t guarantee that it will be safe from light fingers or the creeping progress of rust, I can give it the life for which it was built, and in return receive those intangible rewards that riding brings.