it takes 2 (wheels) to tango

The Man Who Loved Bicycles
For the bicycle possesses ethereality, it floats along on those gossamer
wheels that give themselves away only when they twinkle in the sun.
Daniel Behrman's classic Memoirs of an Autophobe

You and the Night and the Knobbies
It was pure adventure, dodging hidden branches and smelling hot summer chaparral
one minute, cool fingers of fog the next, rippling along in the zebra-lit trails. It felt
like there was no one else on the whole planet as alive as we were.

Jacquie Phelan finds love under a full moon

It Takes Two
We knew two people on one bike was against the law. We did not care.
We were in love. I was quite happy to be the back half, like a pantomime horse.

Half a century later, and Rietta Loch still hasn't soloed.

Déjà Vu
The speedsters snorted by me with scornful pity, poor souls... rushing furiously
nowhither like Maenads astray, their quest all, 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'
Peter Henshaw unearths some less familiar quotations

Life Cycle
If you're not already addicted it may be, that after the first few turns of the cranks,
you will hear the call and, converted, at the end of your ride the sound
you'll hear is your own elemental heart applauding.
Geoff Maxted doesn't want to hear any excuses

Alfred Jarry: a Cyclist on the Wild Side
Jarry soon became notorious. He took, for example, to riding around Paris with
two revolvers tucked in his belt and a carbine across his shoulder. Some say that
he fired off a revolver to warn people of his approach.

Jim McGurn cycles the left bank

Call it Slaughter
An act of political terrorism would be considered more remarkable,
more unusual than a road 'accident'. David's slaughter is an awful tragedy
but an unremarkable statistic, a small part of public life.
Patrick Field pays tribute to a lost friend

What Goes Around
I didn't just want to cycle, I needed to cycle. I needed to spin and to turn and to
twist and to roll with the wind. I needed to puff and to pant and to fly
and to float and to force my legs faster.

Josie Dew grows weary without wheels

Machines have Feelings
If life and a whole teeming planet can start from a rock, you'd best treat a machine
like a bicycle with respect. Who knows what transmission micrographs may be
taking place in the dark, convoluted innards of an SA three-speed hub?

Richard Ballantine offers proof that your bike is alive

Highway Code Words
There is a good feeling -- I would hesitate to use the word thrill, but the feeling
is close to that -- to be derived from small acts of inconsequential disobedience
in which the only potential victim is yourself.

Robert Crampton civilly owns up to his disobedience

How to Ride a Bike Forever
The first objects you'd grab if your house caught fire are probably the old ones,
because they can't be replaced. Grow old with the best bike you can afford.

Grant Petersen cycles down from the mountain
with some choice commandments

Rip Me, Gianna
Gianna dipped a giant popsicle stick into her jar of molten wax and honey,
then spread the goop on my left upper thigh. I laid back and savoured
the music, warmth, and fragrance. Then she pressed a 3-inch by
10-inch piece of cloth onto the cooling wax and ripped it off.

Lee McCormack cheats on his Lady Bic

US vs UK
The English language, as I'm sure you know, has always been influenced
by other languages -- French, Latin, Anglo Saxon, but more recently
we've seen a distressing influence back from the US.

Chipps Chippendale translates

Making Waves
It is no longer assumed that two cyclists have something in common.
Even their love of cycling is not necessarily a common cause.

A half smile, a surly nod, or nothing at all:
It must be Steve Worland

Wave Dynamics
What is with these guys? Are they refugees from the road, where etiquette
long has dictated that no friendly gesture go unpunished? Unlike other
trail users, I generally wave with all five fingers on a given
hand, and there are no pentagrams tattooed on my palms.

Patrick O'Grady has a few theories on trail etiquette

Fool Crisis
This little local difficulty brought many benefits in its wake: primarily clean air
and a little extra safety for the cyclists, youngsters and assorted mammals
forced to run the gauntlet of our roads on a daily basis.

David Henshaw whittles the Great British fuel
Crisis of 2000 down to size

By the Seat of Their Pants
I should have expected a country that largely dismisses cycling as a viable mode
of transportation would fail to understand the subtlety of riding skills
that ultimately led to their plonking a man on the moon.
Ever feel like you're flying when you ride your bike?
John Stuart Clark visits the birthplace of the Wright Brothers

Time's Arrow
Things were, unsurprisingly, a little confusing. His relationships with women, for
example. They'd start with acrimony and heartbreak, every moment protracted
agony. Then they'd become more comfortable and almost exciting, all the way
up to the point where every moment was heart thumping anticipation.
backwards things gets Ferrentino Mike

Don't Hurry; Be Happy
Look at you: veins bulging, eyes popping, mouth twisted open like a toddler's in full howl.
The other day you leaned on the horn to warn us you were going to run the red light,
and you did -- only to skid to a stop at the next red light a block away.
Richard Risemberg counsels the man in the Beemer

The Unspeakable in Pursuit of the Unseatable
All cyclists quickly make up their own bestiary. My own list of the most hateful
drivers in London ends with one particular car, the Mercedes, since it seems to
attract people not merely blind to bikes but homicidal towards them.
Jeremy Paxman vs London motorists

A Convivial Life
Illich's view of the world is often received as almost crazy. He once said "I often have the
impression that the more traditionally I speak, the more radically alien I become." Such
sentiments are often echoed by campaigners trying to convince technology-obsessed
audiences of the merits of that traditional form of transport, the bicycle.
Edgar Newton examines the life and thinking of Ivan Illich

Getting Rid of Cyclists
Davis, California, where the tasteless American tomato was invented, also invented
the bike lane in 1966 as a compromise between banning cyclists altogether
and having them swamp the streets to the discomfiture of drivers.
Jeremy Parker serves up a little history

Lousy Samaritans
We are women. Every day we deal with sexually frustrated construction workers,
Republicans, and bike store employees whose idea of catering to the female
rider means pushing floral-print saddles.
Diane Vadino doesn't need a hand, thanks

I often wonder why one bumps into quite so many things when one is
driving a car. After all, most of us have two eyes and a brake pedal and
all we have to do is to drive slowly in a straight line between traffic jams.
The Grim Reaper (as channelled through Tony Ambrose)
has some worrying news

NYPD (Black and) Blue
Convinced at last that patience had ceased to be a virtue, he quieted his assailant with
a smash on the head that took all the fight out of him until he was brought before the judge
and fined. Like the other 'bicycle cops' this officer made a number of arrests of criminals.
Teddy's boys always got their man

Uncivilised Pleasures
I can't tell you how much longer it now takes me to get to work because
I haven't bothered to time it. The only near miss has been with a deer.

Carvel Lonsdale commutes via Walden Pond

Cycling as Viewed in Literature
When James Starrs surveyed cycling in literature in The Noiseless Tenor,
he considered that his "selections are paeans, some simple, some lofty, but all singing
the praises of the bicycle." Are they all? Just how does literature describe cycling?

John Forester hits the books

Come and Get Me, Officer
I observed that they were all extremely fat. I observed that their car was effectively
just as wedged in as they had been, until recently, in their comfortable seats. So I swung
the bike around, sped off down the hill and left them clutching just a cheerful expletive.
Robert Baker, professional middle class scofflaw

Call That Cycling?
Sweating and breathless, I muttered angrily about the futility of it all. Skinny riders
overtook me regularly, looking like gaudy caterpillars curled round their twiggy machines.
My bike wanted to be ridden, I could feel that, but my lungs had other ideas.

Helen Curtis prefers the taste of tarmac to trail

Real Mountain Bikers Wear Skirts
Immediately after impact, I jumped up and instinctively lunged to my bike's side
with apologies and words of ardor, promising her those shocks she so mournfully
stared at in Gunner's Cycle. I looked skyward, proclaimed my sins, and wept.

Saddled with some maternal-type inclinations

Why has Everyone Got It In for Cyclists?
What strange double standards we have when chauffeurs can wait for hours, their engines
filling the air with fumes, while ministers debate environmental matters and
a few yards away cyclists have their bikes disposed of like IRA bombs.

Deborah Moggach has a simple question

The Freedom of the City
Cycling is, as the philosopher Wittgenstein (a bicycle owner himself) might have put it,
another way of 'being in the world'. It's an intensely physical form of transport, and brings into play
nearly all the senses. This makes cycling the ideal way of travelling in a city like London
Ken Worpole's got the keys to the city

Love on a Bicycle
The bicycle has always been with me, its two-wheel theme running through a long and misspent
life as smoothly as a well-oiled chain. It was not at first an abiding passion, merely the magic
carpet of a carless age, transporting me to... boys.
Eileen Palmer reminisces on old flames and burnished bicycles

Signs and Wonders in the Heavens
Oh, skies of those days, skies of luminous signals and meteors, covered by the calculations of
astronomers, copied a thousand times, numbered, marked with the water-marks of algebra!
With faces blue from the glory of those nights, we wandered through space pulsating
from the explosions of distant suns, in a sidereal brightness... a human
river overshadowed by the cyclists on their spidery machines.
Bruno Schulz writes up a storm

Watch the Churn
The secret of recovering a sense of place at the level of the individual is to take
to sitting, standing, walking and cycling so that that you achieve the intimacy of contact
with the ground that you miss with a car. Try arriving at a lone rail station in town or country
and sample the sudden silence as the train departs, leaving you on the platform.

Bear with Simon Baddeley for a longer set of reflections

Peace Sign
Still wearing the high-heeled shoes I had worn as I left my own house in a Pompeiian
flurry two days ago, I bicycled on empty streets past Washington Square,
where a crowd was singing "Kumbaya"
Alissa Quart navigates the aftermath of September 11th

Take it Easy
As you sit there, watching the world without the normal oppressive frames (door, windshield,
or TV screen), your body settles down. Your back and knees crack with glee. You start
to breathe instead of pant. Your hair gets combed by the breeze.
Your skin gradually frees itself from the sweaty grip of your T-shirt.

Stuck in the middle with Rob Story

Fending for Yourself
The only cyclists who seem to accept me now are the ones who ride on the sidewalk.
They're the moms riding department store bikes... They always wave vigorously
when they see me, and I can imagine that they're saying to themselves
"Isn't it nice that people like that are still able to get out?"

Richard Drdul retires his plastic shorts

Bike to Work
"Cycling is basically a solitary activity," a man on a fifteen-speed Peugeot remarked
to no one in particular "When you ride a bike, you kind of go into a trance."

Hendrik Hertzberg joins the mayor of NYC and friends for a ride

Cycling in Hell and Loving It
Midday lunch tempests of young lean girls in summer will kill you. "Don't look at the girls"
is the first advice the veteran cycle messengers give. The Summer of the
Short Skirt will wrap you round a light pole.

Christopher Ketcham mainlines some adrenaline

Spin City
There is nothing to mark this tiny splotch of sidewalk in East Meadow, Long Island.
No marker. No sign. Not so much as an errant scrap of police tape.
Michael Smith and Charles Komanoff examine media bias

The Social Ideology of the Motorcar
Unlike the vacuum cleaner, the radio, or the bicycle, which retain their use value when everyone has one,
the car, like a villa by the sea, is only desirable and useful insofar as the masses don't have one.
André Gorz takes apart the car

How Green was my Green Team
The East Riding of Yorkshire Council had a 'Green Team': a collection of officers who were supposedly
interested in lessening the environmental impact of the authorities' activities. Feeling
that encouraging employees to walk and cycle to work might fit in with
the aims of the Green Team I went along to a meeting.

Howard Peel offers his Confessions of a Cycling Officer

Little Victories
When was the last time you saw a roadie smile, really give a smile that wasn't actually
a grimace? Of course there is fun to be had, but it seems to be sandwiched between thick
slices of pain and effort. Why should I go all Catholic about just riding the downhill?

Jo Burt goes climbing

The £50 Bike
I used to take ridiculous pride in my possessions. After all, did they not demonstrate my success,
my achievement? But I'm older now and with age comes a kind of wisdom. I have recovered and
I can show you how to recover too, and you need not send me large cheques.
Although you are always welcome to send me cheques.

Mike Adams bucks the law of diminishing returns

Alley Cat: Of Sickness and Success
History could just roll right over our heads and forget us all. Young men and women
with years of hard living inked or etched into our skin, with the jeans and sweaters that we've worn
since we ran away from home, with limited resources and limited opportunities, we, some of us,
were still striving for glory with the will to be remembered for what we do well.
Travis Culley and The Immortal Class

Hot Pursuit
When you race, you feel that that is what life is for, its whole aim and purpose.
All racing cyclists may be addicted to the opiates that the brain releases to tamp down
the discomfort of extreme exertion, but more than that they are junkies for the
subculture of their sport, its secret knowledge and fraternal spirit.

Matt Seaton is The Escape Artist

The only thing you have from moment to moment is the freedom to experience your own life
and make your own decisions. It is a freedom you can lose at any moment, a fragile thing,
but the central ingredient that makes any life enjoyable and satisfying.

De Clarke is pro-choice on helmets

Bikeman, in one of his myriad incarnations, is a friend of mine. He is over 30, fashionably hirsute,
works downtown and lives in his own Park Slope brownstone. Until recently he was a mortal being
who thought not infrequently of his wife, his children and his plumbing disasters.
Now all that is forgotten. He has fifteen speeds!
Behold Owen Edwards

This Way
Just take a ride through the countryside and see how many cycling signs you see that point
to nowhere in particular. I mean, they all go somewhere, but because we're never allowed
to know where, the signs are of strictly limited use.

Where's Woodland?

Bicycle Brains
It's interesting that the expression isn't you never forget how to row a boat or drive a car.
Not that we're necessarily more likely to forget how to do those things, but the bicycle is a machine
that interfaces so well with its human software that it serves as the perfect example
of how the brain adapts to new platforms.
Mark Roland on how two become one

Going Mobile
For too long, I and my kind have kept our preferences in the dark, and in this bright, kind, inclusive,
touchy-feely new universe, it would be hypocritical of me to hide it from you any more.
Boris Johnson is accused of careless talk

I was transfixed by the news. Not even a half-hour before, my mind, just like the trucker's,
had been elsewhere. We both had endured accidents. Yet the trucker had killed three
people while I had a mere scrape on my hand and a broken bike reflector.
The only difference had been the firepower of our weapons.

Eli Knapp gets caught between the moon and Goleta Beach

Urban Cycling
Take five years of higher education, 20 years of swimming upstream and 30 years
of thinking how a person can leave their mark in the world: it all comes together
and makes sense when you decide to ride.

Tim Parr on why bicycles are cool

Race Riot
These precious places grab their foothold on the planet in a timescale where the life of a
two-wheeled transient doesn't feature as the tiniest blip. Make your presence momentary,
harmless, as beautiful and magical as the trail itself: a flash of mechanical rainbow,
so brief that you may or may not have ever been there at all.

Unhappy trails for Jenn Hopkins

Horribly, Britishly, Wrong
The problem is not the moving traffic but the stationary stuff, plonked in the middle
of cycle paths, red routes, bus lanes, and other traffic-management schemes complete with
big signs saying, apparently, 'Do not, under any circumstances, even think of parking here,
or you will completely and utterly get away with it.'

Euan Ferguson finds the ox in Oxford Circus

How to be Alone
We don't count. We're not a car. We're not a truck. We're not the blue van from Publisher's
Clearing House, come to give them a big check and balloons. We don't exist, and that's ok.
People may look up and see me, but then they automatically go right back to whatever
they were doing. As a result, I can cruise through any neighborhood,
rich or poor, and cause hardly a ripple in my passing.

Chip Haynes is the invisible man

Instant Personality
Sculptors sometimes say that they can see the finished form inside the original
stone block. It's there, you just can't see it yet. In the same way, thousands upon
thousands of cheap, quality hack bikes are out there right now;
they're just spread out a bit at the moment.

Dan Joyce meets Heath Robinson

Ah, Is This Not Happiness?
It's a cold, frosty night in January around 6 pm. Orion is rising in the eastern sky as I
wheel out my pushbike from the garage and put a bottle of orange squash in the cage.
I'm snugged up against the wintry chill in my Gore-Tex jacket, tights and gloves.
Simon Mason tunes in bliss

It turns out that when it comes to bike messengers, "Who are these people?"
is actually not the most important question to be asking. The most important
question is: Who are you, and where are you looking from?

Eli Sanders: courier

The Texture of the Roads
In the mountains, where the winter cold bites into the tar, and the summer heat resoftens it,
the road's texture is rough and dark: a Beluga that livens you up with tiny vibrations,
stiffening your perineum and, little by little, making your hands tingle through the gloves.

A new feel in the ride for Paul Fournel

Heinlein offered gauntletted spacesuits, prismatic and gyroscopic navigation systems,
electrical circuits embedded in protective lucite -- almost-material goods, things you could
imagine hefting in your hand, tainted with the unmistakeable hydrocarbon whiff of the real.
And there were bicycles.
Will Meister on a SF master

Traffic Zoology
While much has been written about manipulating traffic waves, the dynamics
of traffic jams
and phase-transitions in traffic density, very little time has been devoted to
the observation and cataloguing of persistent multi-car zoomorphia.

Matthew Frederick Davis Hemming, ethologist

Kraftwerk and the Ultimate Man-Machine
“When your bike functions best, you don’t hear it – it’s silent, there’s no cracking,
just shhhh – you’re gliding. It’s the same when you’re in good shape and your in form
and you’re riding your bike, you hear nothing – maybe just a little bit of breath.”
Jack Thurston plays the Beach Boys from Düsseldorf

Dancing on the Pedals
All of the fears have been realized / the Col du Galibier is being swept /
by what the French describe as a veritable tempest, /
with winds blowing up to seventy miles / per hour /
the riders cannot possibly / cross over the mountain

Doug Donaldson rediscovers the found poetry of Phil Liggett

The Virtue of Selfishness
If you don’t care about me, I don’t care.
But start caring about yourself – and then we might have a deal.
Fi Glover
, Ayn Rand, and a careless trucker

Complete Essays Index