Sunday, September 5, 2010

Friends on bicycles

Usually, I ride alone. It’s not that I don’t like the company of others—I do—but I like riding at my own pace and stopping for a view here and there. Sometimes, however, I ride with other people, but it would seem excessive to describe these as “group rides.”

One of my most frequent companions has been my friend Jean Claude. About three years ago, he inspired me to get on  a bike again, after decades of neglect. He’s stretched the variety of my rides, taking me to places I didn’t know, along country lanes in the South Bay. He’s also made me climb Mount Hamilton, possibly the longest uphill ride in this part of the world. But J.C., as I call him, was recently in a bike accident and now goes out a little less frequently than he used to. I miss him not only because of the gratitude I feel for getting me to love bikes again but also because of the conversations we had while riding.

Good conversation is also central to my rides with Menghesha, another friend. Strictly speaking, these are not even rides, as he jogs and I ride along at 3.5 miles an hour, usually in Golden Gate Park. It’s good that we are not moving very fast, because we tend to discuss everything that goes on in the news and in politics. The problems we face in today’s world are so difficult, that their solutions require all of our attention. As it is, other cyclists, joggers, and young mothers with baby carriers manage to avoid us while rushing past on the bike lane.
Occasionally, I come across other friendly riders. Once, for example, another rider waved at me while dashing by. I waved back. Unfortunately, I had bought my road bike only a couple of months before, and my bike-handling skills were limited. The end result of that little gesture was a crash. The other rider saw my accident and stopped, while I recovered enough to stand on my feet, torn clothes and all. I thought I tested his patience, but he felt that it was his duty to another human being. There are still people like that. We took a ride together a few weeks later. He is a photographer, but we talked mainly about bikes.

Then there was the airplane pilot, a visitor from Canada to the Bay Area. He rented a road bike for the day and, while I was riding in a blissful state of abstraction, asked me if he could ride along. He did, and we took on the hills in northern Marin County. We spent a nice day, he bought me a cup of coffee, and I took some pictures of him with San Francisco as a background. He was supposed to send me his email address for the pictures, but he never did. Perhaps I had a better day than he did.
Another such casual bicycle encounter was with a young woman, who had recently moved to the city from Humboldt County, in Northern California. I convinced her that it wouldn’t be a big deal to ride from Golden Gate Park all the way to the top of Twin Peaks, the highest hill in town. It wasn’t. She asked me if she could call me to ride again, maybe crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County. It was hard for her to find people to ride with who weren’t creeps. I thought that was a compliment. I’d be delighted, I said, but she never did.

The most recent of these bike friends is Michael, or Misha, as he is called at home. He rode by me with irritating effortlessness, while I was climbing on Panoramic Way from the coast. I managed to stay on his wheel but felt he was making it easy for me. We talked about his bikes, coffee, and pizza. He invited my wife and me to his home to sample his pizza-making ability. I was surprised by his hospitality, but we enjoyed ourselves enormously. We talked more about the bikes he keeps around the living room. Michael is old school, a firm believer in steel frames and tubulars. Each bike has a different story. He’s been riding across the Bay Area ever since he was a child. We’ll ride again.
Car drivers live in their cockpit in isolation from the rest of the cosmos and always think about their next move. Bike riders must be in touch with the surrounding world and live in the present. Bikes are friendlier.

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