We all have factotums, signs and signals that mark events or the passage of time. For me, spring truly arrives not with the first push of a daffodil shoot from under the mulch or the first open window on a sunny afternoon, but the day I bring my bike to the shop.
There's a ritual involved. Barring some consequential damage, either to the bike or myself, I carefully twist the retaining bolts on my indoor trainer loose and slowly lift my bike, Saphira, out of the niches that her rear axle has sat in for months.
She's everything I'd want in a woman. She's mellow but not submissive, letting me know when she's uncomfortable with what I'm doing, even reminding me from time to time of my own limitations. She's supportive but never lets me forget that she's there.
I place her gently on the floor, because by now, the air in her tires had leeched out a little and I need to inflate them without pinching a tube. I'm not light, and pinched tubes have provided large surprises, like the unusual view of my handlebars while handstanding on them.
I hook her up to the floor pump, and inflate her to the recommended 100 psi and then a little extra. She has Kevlar tires because, you know, city streets are not bike friendly, and the extra psi helps the Kevlar stay in a structured matrix.
I don't do up the whole kit. I don't put the spandex and wicking nylon, cleated shoes, gloves and helmet. I ride naked, essentially. It's only a quarter mile and while I'm aware of the dangers of city riding (and live in a particularly well-traveled neighborhood,) this ride is for Saphira. I trust her to carry me safely the quarter mile uphill-- seven and a half percent grade-- to the shop. No bike computer necessary. I've made this ride so many times that I can by feel tell you the grade.
I push myself harder on this first ride than usual, because I know I don't have to leave anything in the tank: the ride back is downhill, and even if I leave her overnight, it's a downhill walk. Saphira loves the shop. She knows when she's there she'll be treated well by good mechanics and maybe she'll get a treat, like a new bottle cage or a light.
There will come a day when Saphira becomes my back-up bike. I've already logged something like 7500 miles on her and I've only had her for three seasons (this will be four.) I'll put a kickstand and some panniers on her, and she'll become my town bike. I'll still wash her weekly, and lube her chain and give her a twice-yearly polishing with car wax, and she'll still be my first love, but she'll be the workhorse. A younger, faster, sleeker model will come along, one that's better for my ego.
Typical guy, right?
The first day of Spring 2012? That was yesterday. I kicked up the hill, no glasses on, no contacts in, in gym shorts and a T shirt. On March 12. That's about a month earlier than I ever have before. Spring came early this year.
This is important, because my bike means freedom to me. It means getting away from the office from the four walls of my domicile, the packed fish can of the subway, the tin of the car.
I can clear my mind and think.
See, I'm basically an introvert and this world, and this city in particular, is not designed for folks like me. I prefer my own company if I need to think, if I need to work something out. My bike gives me that, along with the other thing most modern urban dwellers desire: variety. A change of pace. A new vista. Next.
You extroverts can have the bar scene and the gallery openings and the desperate attempts to get out of your head by getting out of your own way, or your TV shows with Kim Kardashian where the best way to ignore yourself is to laugh at some other shlub.
I prefer to get out of my head by going through my head to my heart. My bike provides a challenge to me: each pedal stroke brings a new opportunity or new obstacle into view. Turn a corner, you never know what you'll encounter no matter how many times you've turned that same corner. You have to stay alert because you're at speed, even if that speed is barely faster than a miler running in the Millrose Games.
And in that distraction and focus, I find my thinking is clearer. It's funny how that works, that by making my consciousness direct itself to safe riding, my subconscious is suddenly unburdened and uncensored. I've had some of my best thoughts on my bike.
Hell, I've had times where I've stopped riding, pulled out my iPhone and dictated stories or blog posts to myself so I wouldn't lose the thread if I had to swerve around a truck later. But usually, it's just a stream of consciousness that starts to wriggle its way out, and I find myself talking out loud to myself, trying to corral something intelligible from it.
The first day of Spring becomes more than just a happy occasion, it becomes my first close encounter with myself.