September 2012

A remembrance of things present – Part 4

by Steve Brock on September 25, 2012

In the process of rediscovering, cleaning up and retuning my old Motobecane Grand Touring ten-speed road bike, I realize how my entire perspective has changed.

I previously viewed my bike as a step up from junk. My bike is old: it predates not only the iPod but the original Sony Walkman (I probably just lost half of you as you toggle over to Google to look that up). And in our disposable, consumerist society, old usually means obsolete or about to break.

But I discover that despite the lack of paint in areas, my old bike is quality. And with a little attention and care, this old bike soon becomes a machine that runs as smoothly and precisely as a Swiss watch.

After my tune up, I begin riding it everywhere. Almost immediately, I come to experience the same delight in riding that I had with the mountain bikes in Whistler. In fact, there’s a particular gear – it would be, I think, fourth gear – on my road bike that is pure bliss.

I still can’t tell you why, but it seems effortless to pedal from a stop in that gear, almost as if the bike propels itself. Riding in that gear makes me smile every time. It feels like the most natural form of movement you could ever imagine.

All this bike riding may be a passing fad that fades with the sunny weather. But I pray I do not lose the awareness of something induced by the riding: joy itself. That sounds funny, but how often are you acutely aware of experiencing joy as it occurs?

The wonder is that I know that this joy isn’t just about riding. Taking the bike for a spin is merely an expression of deeper associations. When I ride, I’m aware of movement and speed, but also of exercise and health, family and friends and connections to both the past and the future.

But most of all, I’m also aware of something that almost makes me gasp when I think of what it might mean.

What if rediscovering my old bike was no accident? What if an odd form of divine favor has come my way in the guise of my old Motobecane, in a package that initially seemed too dated, obsolete and beyond redemption?

What if God actually delights in delighting me…us?

I want to believe that’s true. I tell myself I believe it’s true. But too often I chalk up such ideas to wishful thinking. Doubt creeps in. I forget what I have learned in life of the unlikely nature of grace.

Then I ride my bike.

And I know.

I rediscover…


If you haven’t done so, coast on back and check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

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A remembrance of things present – Part 3

by Steve Brock on September 19, 2012

My rediscovery of the value of my old Motobecane ten-speed bike came in part experientially from my riding in Whistler. But it also came conceptually through reading a book at the same time. In fact, with travel, reading about a place or activity and experiencing it simultaneously adds meaning to both. You have both theory and practice intersecting and informing the other.

Before our trip to Whistler, I had loaded a library book on my Kindle for reasons I still don’t quite understand. It was titled, It’s all about the bike: The pursuit of happiness on two wheels by Rob Penn.

The book chronicles Penn’s journey to build his dream bicycle. He travels the world to select the best components, from the custom-built frame he has designed in the UK to the world-class stem and wheels he finds in the US to the artful handlebar and derailleur he acquires in Italy.

Nice trip.

As he describes his odyssey, he also tells the story of the history of the bicycle. And in so doing, I came to learn several things.

  • The modern-day bike, despite improvements in materials such as titanium and carbon fiber, has not really changed since the first incarnation of the “safety bike” back in the 1890’s. Take a look at a photo from the turn of the last century and you’ll see how remarkably similar bikes are in their geometry and design to today’s bikes.
  • I wasn’t alone in my newly discovered enthrallment with the elemental act of staying upright on two wheels and going at great speed based solely on my own efforts. Others seem to be at a similar loss of words for their delight in such a seemingly simple (though actually quite complex) act. See Bruce’s comment to Part 2 of this series for an example of someone who is able to eloquently explain part of the joy of riding.
  • My new love of mountain biking didn’t replace any desire to ride my old road bike. It enhanced it. I discovered that many others enjoy both forms of riding and have multiple bikes.
  • My initial shock at the price of new bicycles became replaced by an appreciation for what it took to create the various components, many still made by hand. It’s still an expensive hobby if you buy new, but it is one I now understand better. It furthermore made me realize the value I had in my old bike.
  • My old French ten-speed may actually be as good a bike as many of the new modern ones. Good basics never go out of style. We merely change our labels from “old” to “classic.”

So when I returned home, I checked out books from the library on bike repair, picked up a few new tools and supplies, and within a week I had renovated my old Motobecane ten-speed road bike. And that is when I came to my greatest understanding about this whole journey with the bike…

To be continued…

Read Part 1 or Part 2 if you haven’t done so. Or go to Part 4 for the thrilling (well, maybe not thrilling, but at least meaningful) conclusion.

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A remembrance of things present – Part 2

by Steve Brock on September 12, 2012

So what two things changed to help me rediscover and better appreciate my old ten-speed Motobecane touring bike?

  1. I took a trip
  2. I read a book

So many of life’s most transformative moments occur in the course of carrying out these two simple activities.

First, the trip. My family and I traveled to Whistler, British Columbia this summer. Amidst the discovery of places like HemLoft and Train Wreck, I spent part of each day mountain biking.

I did so initially because my teenage son, Sumner, was so excited to ride the many marvelous and world-renowned bike trails in and around Whistler. I wanted to share in his enthusiasm. So each day, I rented a different mountain bike with the thought that if I liked the sport, I’d have a better idea of what bike to one day buy myself.

I’d been mountain biking a bit before, but on an old garage-sale bike that was too small for me and thus about as enjoyable to ride as fish oil is to drink. But when I got to Whistler, I realized that my previous experience on a mountain bike compared to my current one about as well as the music quality of an AM station on a transistor radio stacks up against state-of-the-art surround sound.

I had been practicing on my son’s bike before we left for Whistler to avoid the inevitable pain in places you don’t want to talk about when you haven’t ridden a bike in months. But it still took a few days to warm up leg muscles that somehow don’t get used on a stationary bike at the gym. Then, after that, something magical happened.

When I was a kid, I never delighted in riding a bike. Sure, I appreciated how much easier it was to pedal my Motobecane over my old Huffy, but my focus was on transportation not pleasure. In Whistler, it was exactly the opposite.

I remember the precise spot when it happened. I was leaning into a berm on one of the many Lost Lake singletrack trails. When I straightened out, I suddenly had the sensation that I was doing more than riding a bike. I was gliding through space.

Anything I write here to explain that moment will likely sound corny or cliché. I’ll only note that my awareness of the experience shifted. All the minute details of balance, motion and self-propulsion came alive. The entire experience of riding changed from that point on. It was more than just the fun of racing downhill over roots, rocks and banked turns. I became aware of the sheer joy of movement in general.

I had a similar experience once while snorkeling off the northwest coast of Oahu. I had been pursuing a sea turtle underwater. When it swam off more swiftly than I thought possible, I sensed my own movement through the ocean. I seemed to awaken to each muscle and action. It felt as if I could swim forever without tiring – reach, pull, reach in an ongoing rhythm of delight.

I was fully attuned to my body, my breathing, the water and all that was around me, keenly aware of the very act of swimming itself, probably (at least to that degree) for the first time in my life. We take for granted and ignore the most basic blessings until in moments like this when we’re blown away by the simple motion of a body moving through water.

So it was on the mountain bike. That day and each day thereafter, I would have episodes of pure exhilaration, not due to the speed or terrain but just because I was riding a bike. I can’t explain it any more than that, but if you can remember that first day as a kid when you rode a two-wheeler on your own – no help, no training wheels – you’ll have an inkling of that feeling.

The photo above isn’t of a mountain bike or one of the many singletrack bike trails. But it does show you one of the many bike paths in and around Whistler that also contributed to that inexplicable joy of simply riding, a joy that only came about by taking a trip.

To be continued…

You can read Part 1 here or Part 3 here

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A remembrance of things present – Part 1

by Steve Brock September 4, 2012

Rediscovering a joy from our youth can be as or more powerful than discovering something new, on a trip or even under a bed…

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