Two wheels. A bicycle isn’t much more complicated than that.
In its simplest form, the bicycle is made up of two wheels, a frame, a chain, pedals, handlebars, and a seat. It is the most beautiful of machines, as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional. Today’s bicycle isn’t too far from its first incarnation in the early 1800s. Certainly, the bicycle has evolved, but ultimately its basic form has held up, and it is this lack of changes that speak to the bicycle’s one true power: its simplicity.
One of humankind’s greatest inventions was the wheel. The wheel was revolutionary; it changed everything—how we work, how we travel, how we live. Over the centuries, the wheel has been used in many machines and contraptions, but its basic form and function haven’t changed at all. And wheels—two of them, to be precise—are exactly what make a bicycle so incredible. It’s thanks to those two wheels, in line, that the bicycle is such a simple wonder. Just like the wheel, the bicycle, too, is revolutionary.
The bicycle is a simple mode of transportation, a simple way to transport cargo, a simple way to get out and exercise. You don’t need any type of fuel except your own two legs to power a bicycle forward. Bike maintenance doesn’t require a computer; a few tools and a little elbow grease will get you far. The bicycle is simply fun.
In a day and age where we are looking for ways to live more sustainable lives, build better communities, and be healthier, the bicycle has emerged as one of the best ways to achieve all three. If we have begun to embrace the bicycle with renewed interest, it’s because the bicycle is in many ways the easiest solution to a multitude of problems. It won’t fix every problem out there, but it’s a good start—one that individuals, urban planners, and politicians are seeing as a meaningful tool to create positive change.
Why embrace a life on two wheels? Because above all, a life on two wheels is a simple life. It’s about slowing down. It’s about enjoying our surroundings. It’s about finding beauty in the everyday. It’s about going on rides with friends. It’s about finding and building community. It’s about feeling the wind on your face as you charge down a hill. It’s about the feeling of pushing one foot down and then the other, that rhythmic meditation that is so enthralling and addicting. It’s difficult to ride a bicycle without smiling. Bicycling feels good, and in our hectic, fast-paced modern lives, we need this.
But despite the bicycle’s simplicity, the world of cycling can easily feel intimidating. If we haven’t ridden one for some time (for quite some time), we don’t know where to begin; we feel overwhelmed by all the things we think we are supposed to know. But here’s the thing: it’s the overcomplication of something simple that makes it intimidating. Want to get back to that exhilarating feeling of being a kid on a bicycle? All you need to do is strip away all of those overcomplications.
That’s what this book is for. This book is for those of you who remember the excitement of getting your first bicycle. It’s for those of you looking at those bike commuters on your way to work and wondering if you could do it, too. It’s for anyone who ogles the bike parked at the store with a basket for groceries positioned on the front. This book is also for those of you who already ride but want to do a little more— change your own tires, plan a cycling tour, or even find the inspiration to launch a pedal-powered business. It’s for anyone who has ever said to themselves, “I want to ride more, but . . .”
It doesn’t matter what comes after the “but.” What matters is that you want to ride. That you are excited about the mere prospect of getting on a bicycle.
I think about the “why” of cycling a lot. As someone who often rides in an urban environment—dodging buses, ringing the bell at unaware pedestrians, internally cursing the lack of bike lanes—I can’t help but look at myself and my fellow everyday cycling friends and wonder why we do it. Why throw ourselves into the middle of traffic, when we are so much less protected than if we were in a car? Why put up with buses and taxis and motorcycles, whose drivers seem as if they couldn’t care less that a bicycle is on the road with them? The rational person would look at the intensity of cycling in some urban areas and think, “What on earth is wrong with these people?” Why do we ride? Because we love it. I could say that it’s because I want to make a positive impact on my community, or it saves me money, or it gives me exercise. These are all excellent effects of cycling. But ultimately, if I peel back all the layers, it’s an activity that I do simply because it makes me happy. I love to be on a bicycle.
Of course, love can often be undermined by fear. Not all of us live in bike-friendly communities, and for some people, deciding to ride a bicycle isn’t an easy choice. It’s an act that takes a lot of work. That being said, many of us live in places where we could ride more. I think part of the reason that we don’t ride is fear—fear of traffic, of the lack of bike paths, of the limited amount of shoulder space to ride on, and so on. But I also think that it’s partly because we haven’t had the opportunity to reignite our love for cycling. Because there are a lot of cyclists out there who do put up with all of this scary stuff. All that hard stuff that should put them off cycling. But they ride anyway. Why? Because at the end of the day, they just want to be on their bicycles.
Someone recently told me about her trip to Amsterdam, where she spent the week on rented bicycles with her kids. “I always liked bikes, I own a bike, but it wasn’t until I spent a week riding one in an urban setting where the bike rider rules the road that I fell in love.” As an urban cyclist, I would love to live in Amsterdam, where bikes aren’t just a mode of transportation, but a way of life. But I don’t live in Amsterdam. Most of us don’t. We have to learn from bike-friendly capitals like Amsterdam and Copenhagen so that we can start pushing for those same policies that encourage people to get on bikes in our own communities. How do we start doing that? First and foremost, we begin with rediscovering the love of two wheels.
The point here is to get back to that initial love. That simplicity. Find it and you’ll never look back.
The world of cycling is open to anyone who wants in. This book is here to help facilitate that process. It isn’t a technical guide or a book about how to train for a race. It is a book inspired by a love for cycling, and by a desire to see more people in the world doing it. It is a book for inspiring you to do more by bicycle.
Where to begin? Maybe you’re wondering about what kind of bike to buy, or what gear you need in order to bike commute, or how to take things to the next level and plan a bike trip. Whatever you are searching for, this book is here to ensure a smooth transition to a two-wheeled life. It’s about embracing cycling, not just as a sport but also as a lifestyle. It’s about slowing down and living intentionally. It’s about celebrating, packing up a picnic and biking to your favorite park, throwing on your rain wear and pedaling off into the nastiest of winter storms. This book is about cycling, 365 days a year. And even if you miss a few, I want to make sure that you’re looking forward to the next time you take your bicycle out for a spin.
People often say that bikes have the power to change the world. I definitely believe that they do. Why? Because they’re simple. Because cycling is easy to learn. Because bikes are found around the world. But most important, again, because cycling makes us smile. It makes us feel great—and when something makes us feel great, we want to keep doing it again and again and again.
Let’s fall back in love. Let’s start pedaling.
Hello, Bicycle was born out of a love of bicycles, but also my first book The Culinary Cyclist. I wanted to do another bike themed book and my editor Kaitlin suggest that I take a broader look at the world of bicycles.
At times, if you’re new to cycling, breaking into the world of two wheels may seem a little intimidating. Since I believe that the world would be better off with more people on bicycles, I wanted to make cycling less intimidating. Because after all, all you need to do to call yourself a cyclist is to ride. It doesn’t matter what you ride, or how far you go, the important thing is that you’re pedaling. It’s good for you, it’s good for the environment, it’s even good for the economy.
There are a lot of obstacles to riding a bicycle. Among them, infrastructure. If we don’t already live in bike-friendly cities, riding a bicycle can be tough. But one of the ways that we can ensure more support for bike infrastructure is just to keep riding. Even if it’s a short distance. Even if it’s only a few times a week.
Let’s get pedaling.
Like bikes? Like books? Join Anna Brones and Nutcase Helmets on June 10, 2016 for the Hello, Bicycle release party, 5-7pm.
Reprinted with permission from Hello, Bicycle, by Anna Brones, copyright 2016. Published by Ten Speed press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Art copyright © 2016 by James Gulliver Hancock