I was biking the East River Road in Saint Paul the other day when a young man on the kind of single gear bike the kids call a “fixie” came toward me, riding no-handed, sitting upright, texting as he pedaled. He was past me and gone before I realized what I’d seen, but the image has been with me ever since.
It’s a complex image. I am partly in awe of his bike skills, partly amazed at the times we live in, and partly in fear for his health and well-being.
It isn’t easy to ride a fixie. With only one gear and no brakes, it goes when you pedal and stops when you don’t. It’s a purist’s bicycle, certainly not the kind I’ll ever be able to master.
Fixies are for urban male riders in their twenties—guys out to get somewhere in a hurry and on their own terms. Deep in my Baby Boom heart, I’m in awe of them. If I could shave off three decades and fifty pounds, I’d probably be out there on a fixie too, blowing stop signs, swerving through bike traffic on the Greenway, running from Uptown Minneapolis to any part of the Cities I chose, radiating the scruffy insolence of the young male fixie rider too.
Not to be. My half century bicycling career began aboard a hand-me-down Schwinn and has included a variety of other bikes from newspaper delivery bikes to college era ten speeds, to road bikes, and, now, comfort bikes—cycling’s answer to a maroon four door Buick. But no fixie for me. Not at my age.
And, while I used to be able to ride no-handed, I acquired a deep and abiding love of self long ago. I want to preserve me. I don’t want to see me hurt. I keep both hands on the handlebars—usually on the brakes.
Then there’s the matter of the kid’s texting. If you should not text while driving a car, you for darned sure should not do it while pedaling a bike. Your eyes leave the traffic and the trail. There’s that concentration lapse texting always causes. You’re riding on tires less than a quarter-inch wide. You’re a small pothole away from a trip to the emergency room.
I was dumbstruck by the stupidity, then again, I was in awe of the convergence of youth, dexterity, balance and insouciance. It was la-de-frickin-da, up the East River Road at 18 miles an hour with no brakes—and the kid didn’t even need bifocals to see the little screen on his phone.
From the exquisite vantage point of late middle age, I sense an aura of Darwinism surrounding the young man. Either he evolves \ or he goes extinct.
But, darn. He sure was something to see coming down the bike trail, no hands, no brakes, not a care in the world.