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Sports series: Frames and muscle / the bicycle and the body

July 19th, 2013     by Josée Madéia     Comments

There are people who ride bicycles and there are cyclists.

I’ve appreciated pedaling since my early tricycle days, but it isn’t until I got an old beater bike to get around while I studied in Sweden that I really embraced the bicycle as a mode of transportation. Everyone rode there. They pedaled to uni, cycled to the stores, to the clubs, the libraries, train stations and everywhere in between. It is here that I learned that recreational cycling is one thing, and urban/lifestyle cycling is quite another.

After experiencing the freedom of getting from A to B quickly, with my own muscle and energy, I got back to Canada, unpacked, and went to my nearest bike shop to get me some pedals. I got a safe run-of-the-mill mountain bike and proceeded to work up my courage and urban know how, negotiating busy streets and heavy traffic. When that bike got stolen, I graduated to a hybrid.

For folks involved in environmental organizing, for whom bicycles and bike alternatives are accessible, bikes just make sense. They’re a statement and a solid ticket to self-reliance. They’re a testimony to an alternative, and a rejection of car culture, oil dependence, and the pernicious asphalt take-over of both our municipal budgets and our country sides.

I took my honed yet still somewhat theoretical love of bikes on the road and pedaled for two months along the west coast, learning how to ride and fix my own loaded bike along the way. When I got back, I felt like a cyclist. I felt like I had earned my badge and I had the thighs to prove it. For the first time in my life I loved my thighs—loved the girth I had grown to get me places. And the body that had too often felt too much like something to work on and to sculpt, became an active subject, an assertive and strong set of frame and muscle for me to use. Not for show but for living untrammeled.

I took advantage of my hybrid not being in tip top shape to retire it as my winter bike and I got myself a road bike - the symmetry and speed of which I had sought for some time.

The world of bikes is pretty male dominated which I didn’t fully appreciate until I walked into bike shops, asking to test ride road bikes. The bike dudes, more often than not, took for granted that I didn’t know what I wanted, asked questions with a scoff, and assumed that I cared more about colour and baskets than components. I had stumbled upon a tired old gate-keeping turf war.

I took a pass on supporting those businesses and I stopped letting mean bike dudes get to me.

Because few things can match the freedom of pedaling through my city and zooming past traffic jams. Of taking my bike out at the latest hour and riding under the stars to places I wouldn’t feel safe walking to. Of having quick conversations with passers-by at traffic lights, appreciating how, sitting on a bike seat, I am a part of our rich urban tapestry. Of getting all grease stained fixing up a steed that gets me where I want to go. And of helping fellow women cyclists with bike repair, happy Doing It Ourselves, flying by the seat of our emancipated (and mobile) pants.


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