As Maine temperatures creep upward in the next few weeks, bicycling starts and lots of us are thinking of the joyous days of pedaling from now until sometime in December. A few folks may bicycle all winter, too.
Recently, quotes from a bicycling magazine editor and from the late Albert Einstein – a bicyclist himself – caught my eye and started me thinking about this fantastic pastime that offers joys and exercise galore.
Sports generate metaphors, similes and straight quotes, and in a letter dated Feb. 5, 1930, Einstein offered a great bicycling simile to son Eduard.
“Life is like riding a bicycle,” the brilliant physicist said. “To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
With apologies to the great physicist, though, when stopping at signs or red lights, skilled bicyclists can “balance” the machine upright without moving forward and without putting their feet on the ground, but Einstein’s quote has endured for 84 years – a testimonial to the man.
In the April issue of Bicycling magazine, Peter Flax, the editor-in-chief, grabbed my attention with a bicycling quote, when he wrote, “Believe it or not, physicists still don’t fully understand how a bicycle stays upright.”
Many bicyclists understand that remark, particularly after taking a spill and lying there, looking at the sky and pondering what we might have done to avoid the crash.
In fact, four Aprils ago, I dumped my bike without knowing the true cause – without knowing for certain anyway. While sailing down a hill, I fell and reasoned that a 60 mph gust had caught me off-guard. One second I was pedaling in the breakdown lane and the next, I was tumbling down a muddy bank. Wind had never toppled me before nor since, though, so inattentiveness probably led to the mishap.
That afternoon I was wearing a bright yellow windbreaker and came home caked with so much brownish-black muck that Jolie, my intrepid companion, immediately asked, “What happened?”
Flax continued with more thoughts to ponder.
“Gyroscopic forces have something to do with bikes staying upright,” Flax said, “but scientists acknowledge that they may know more about black holes and quarks than about why bikes are so stable and fun to ride.”
Yes, the mysteries of this simple yet complex machine have intrigued me during my adult bicycling phase that has lasted exactly a quarter-century this year – 1989 to 2014.
After working at Bicycling magazine, Flax wrote that he has ridden more than 400 bicycles, conversed with hundreds of industry engineers and leaders, and spent countless hours “riding and debating” with a group “that collectively has ridden more than 10,000 bikes.” His credentials wowed me and fit into an analogy of mine about bicycling – and fly casting.
In 25 years of serious bicycling, I have pedaled five bicycles a lot – a lawn-sale 3-speed Huffy, two Bean cross bikes, aluminum Specialized road bike and composite Felt road bike. Lack of experience with myriad models limits knowledge, and a fly-rod analogy has convinced me of that rule.
I have taught fly-casting since April 1974 and because of that, I have cast an untold number of rods from a $2,500 Halstead to “cheapies” – some of the latter without manufacturing names on the blanks. The number of rods I have cast is well into the 3-digit range.
With that experience, I understand how riding so many bikes has helped Flax with his bicycle knowledge and a logical conclusion. “Almost everything you can currently buy (at a real bike shop),” Flax wrote, “is reasonably light and stiff and comfortable and nimble.”
Flax went on to say, “It’s rare to find real duds.”
That’s my attitude about nearly every fly rod that I have ever cast. They’re adequate, and I can say with certainty that most fly rods cast better than the casters. Also, for competent fly rodders, the poorer rods can work better with casting adjustments or going up and down in line weights.
So I believe Flax’s words about bicycles. These two-wheel marvels impress me in the same way, but I lack Flax’s experience, so take my opinion on the lack of modern bicycle duds for what it’s worth.
If getting into bicycling interests folks, early spring is a fine time to start. For frugal types, a lawn-sale bike may be a first step. If folks desire new, Bean has a $499 Sports Trail bike with 33mm tires that strikes me as an inexpensive starter model, a good price for what buyers get. In fact, I just picked up this bike for fishing backwoods brooks and maybe for hunting.
For a beginner, the Sports Trail model can handle paved roads and woodland trails – great versatility – and the wider tires allay fears for folks timid about narrow, 23mm tires that measure the size of a man’s thumb.
And, yes, Maine is a great state from April though early December to participate in this fine sport. Even winter has moments. For me, the only problem in spring is finding time for both bicycling and fly fishing.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: