Sometimes I wonder whether the love I feel for my bicycle is unhealthy.
To be fair, my bicycle is a very special bicycle. It’s a 1973 Raleigh Supercourse Mark II, custom-made for my father, purchased direct from the Carlton factory in Worksop, England,collected in person at the Raleigh showroom in Nottingham . It sports a solid yet graceful cherry-red steel lugged frame, delightfully reliable friction shifters, a Brooks leather saddle polished smooth from wear, and a workhorse of a Carradice oilskin saddlebag.
And my bicycle’s value is not just sentimental. It has practical value, too. I ride it to work every day, in fact, my commute is the best part of my day. From the moment I emerge from my driveway and swing my leg over the saddle each morning, my bicycle becomes a natural extension of my body as I navigate the streets of downtown Boston. It feels alive underneath me.
I’m convinced I love my bicycle so much that I’ve imbued it with a kind of life. Just like the eponymous stuffed animal in the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, my bicycle is now Real:
“When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. [. . .] That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” (Margery Williams Bianco)
Like the Velveteen Rabbit, my bicycle is old and shabby, but to me, it’s beautiful. And that’s an important lesson for me to keep in mind as I get older.
I’ve accepted that I will never be in the kind of shape that I was last on August 2, 2012, the day I rowed in my final Olympic race, in which my teammates and I won gold. My body is slowing down: not only do the demands of my job as a corporate lawyer preclude the time-intensive training I used to do, nagging injuries and fatigue conspire to remind me that I’m not the athlete I once was.
But these things don’t matter because I am beginning to understand that I, too, am becoming Real.
These days, I find myself seeking out activities and events that encourage me to slow down a little, to delight in simply being alive. That is why I so much enjoy riding a Farm to Fork Fondo. My bicycle and I thrill at the buzz of excitement on the start line: it reminds me of the start line at the Olympics, except this time nobody is in a huge hurry to get out of there. We relish the farm visits, taking the time to chat with the individuals who have lovingly prepared a snack for me using ingredients from their own backyards. We marvel at the sweeping vistas of undulating countryside and sparking rivers and lakes, ever-changing as the road rolls by underneath us.
And most of all, we bask in the camaraderie of joining other like-minded cyclists in the journey, many of whom I imagine are experiencing the same love for their bikes--and perhaps their bodies, too--as I have for mine.