Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Easy Breezy Squeezy

Lately I've been getting a kick out of cycling through tight spaces. You know, like claustrophobically narrow alleys. Skinny gaps between poles. Openings in fences. Interruptions in rows of dense prickly hedges. Doing this opens up a whole new world of shortcut possibilities. And delivers a physical rush from zipping through a gap that, while wide enough to fit me and my bike, is just wide enough and leaves no room for error. Anyone else enjoy this, or am I just being weird?

But it's about more than the fun factor. For me there is great satisfaction in being able to make that "will I fit through this?" judgment correctly, quickly and with reasonable confidence - something that would have been out of the question a couple of years ago.

I've always had problems with proprioception (awareness of the body in space), and in turn, with spatial rotation. I'm the sort of person who routinely bumps into furniture. Who tries to kick a ball and misses. Who ducks for a tree branch that hangs nowhere near low enough to hit my head. Driving a car was always stressful because of this; the detached, abstracted feel of being inside a vehicle distorted my sense of movement in space even further.

There is a unique physicality to being on a bike, that communicates balance, motion and speed in a way that, however slowly, gets through to me. And it is doing more than teaching me new skills. Essentially it is repairing sensory motor deficiencies that I thought were permanent. It is a gradual process, not a quick fix. But year by year, and sometimes even month by month, the improvements are noticeable. Ironically, I would even feel more confident driving after these years of riding a bike.

There are times I think life is complicated. But then I fly through a gap in a fence without breaking stride and feel so happy, that I remember it is not that complicated after all.

37 comments:

  1. Was anyone else briefly visited by a horrifying vision of Constance riding a no-brakes fixie with 8" wide handlebars, weaving in and out of downtown traffic like some LSD fueled shark?

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    1. Oh! Was that you who waved to me the other day?

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    2. Unlikely, as I am roughly 1200 miles away from Boston. [waves anyhow]

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    3. I can't comment on the no-brakes fixie, but I am 100% certain that we will never see Constance with 8" wide handlebars!

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    4. Nathan: A video I saw of a British rider getting injured as he tried to squeeze between a bus and a delivery van (or should I say "lorry") actually did come to mind as I first read the post.

      Fixie Pixie: Velouria once wrote that she could safely say she would never go mountain biking, but remember what happened last summer. So I wouldn't rule anything out with regard to the size of her handlebars.

      Velouria: Once again I find your honest descriptions of how your physical limitations (in this case your issues with proprioception) affect your experience of cycling very interesting. One of the many idiosyncratic strengths of the blog.

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    5. A tweet from ‏@lovelybicycle May 27

      riding @fixie_pixie's bikes always an otherworldly experience (what are those, 20cm handlebars?) @honeybikes pic.twitter.com/cIQf95GkzT

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  2. Yes, I enjoy this challenge too. There is a place where I regularly ride and there's a flower bed on one side and a bollard on the other so I have to coordinate both pedals and handlebars so I don't hit the bed with the pedals and the bollard with the bars. I've managed it every time luckily!

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  3. Remember when I said, many many times, riding is PT back in the days where everything was, "NOOOOOO!"

    Every. thing. is about threading the needle, bikescarsmotoswalking. Fewer and fewer people know how to drive, park, ride. Starting a blog about bikes is all about jewelry when, in fact, bikes are about riding, skill building, fun.

    Oh and all of those authority figures in lab coats who proscribed fear - bunch of idjits. Anyway you seem to have a native respect for the coats, prestige, etc. It's something you have to take responsibility for.

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    1. Bikes used to be used a lot for PT. Went out of fashion by WWII. But it worked.

      This story is hard to tell without compromising confidentiality but I'll try. A 12-year-old with one of those awful diseases you don't want your offspring born with. Nothing in front of him but custodial care and an early dismal death. Wealthy family though and there is an army of specialists and therapists working with the kid. Family calls the bike shop to have someone come over and fix the kids' stationary trainer. The bike mechanic modifies the trainer so the kid can ride it. Within 6 months the kid is out riding bikes with his mechanic. Kid who could not stand up without appliances and assistance rides a bike. It's 25 years later now, the kid is an entertainer. Half the people reading this would know who he is.But you would never know how crippled he was. His shtick does not include sympathy or his incurable disease. He's a hell of a bike rider.

      Bikes work. Ride your bike. Good things will happen.

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    2. Nice story. Google "parkinson's cyclist" for further examples.

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  4. I come home to store my bike inside a walk-out basement, meaning my house is situated on a slope, and there is one floor visible in front and two in back. If done properly, my approach consists of riding my brakes gingerly down a steep incline, tapping an unlatched gate with my front tire, then timing my entry through the small space before the gate flaps back to clock me, all while remaining seated on the bike. It is a stupid human trick that gives me great pleasure.

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  5. Well, with the bike lanes obstructed by mounds compacted snow and ice, I've been doing this daily between cars that are parked and those waiting at a red light. Somehow there isn't much thrill in that.

    But I do enjoy doing it in a different sort of way, in the woods, where the path is something in between that of a foot path and that of a bike path, and sometimes gets too close to trees to confidently navigate. It's fun to push the limits and breeze by tree branches and other things, sometimes ducking or holding an arm out to protect oneself from getting brushed in the face by a branch.

    I tend to stay away from back-alley type shortcuts through narrow fence openings, because I never know if a pedestrian is going to suddenly appear.

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  6. Anyone else enjoy this? Yeah, like since getting my first two-wheeler. And it's still fun in old age. Why we ride.

    Next you should learn about getting air. Not the kind where you 'take the air', the kind with your wheels off the ground. And soon you can be seven years old again.

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  7. Sweet post! Stirs memories of flying past all the summer evenings' trees & fences & fireflies in the abandon of childhood's hide&goseeks. Thanks for sharing, Velouria. Jim Duncan

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  8. Every now and again I remind myself of just how close a space I can squeeze through. The real difficulty is when I forget which bike I'm riding, as the roadster is a bit wider at the pedal caps than the roadbike, and vice versa with the handlebars...

    Still, have not klunked anything yet.

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  9. There's a church I play in sometimes where they don't mind if I bring my bike inside, and I get a silly kick out of riding it out of the building. That involves riding up to the door, leaning far enough forward to reach the door handle and push the door open without bumping the front wheel into it, and holding it open while I ride through and clear the panniers before letting it swing shut. We gotta get our kicks somehow. :D

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    1. Emily OBrien KICKS ASS. Imagine the asking of permission/forgiveness the first time this event occurred.

      I myself and my still best friend once layed a 10 foot skid mark down the aisle of the West Main Baptist Church on our way home from school one day, the next Sunday it was gone and they started locking the sanctuary door.

      He Who Shall Not Be Named

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    2. Hehehe, I've never *asked*. I only ever do it when it's fairly late at night and there's hardly anyone around. The old caretaker never said anything, and the new one has never said anything either... but I've done it from time to time in that building for years.
      But I never leave skid marks. I figure that as long as I don't scuff up anything, I'm not doing anything by riding on the bike that I wouldn't do by walking the bike. And if it's raining out and the bike is all wet and messy I don't bring it in.

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    3. picturing Emily's bike serenading her with Take Me to Church...

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  10. I get mild enjoyment when I *successfully* navigate a tight space, but I suspect its mostly relief from the anxiety of expecting to not make it through. There are enough obstacles in the road already, I tend to avoid creating more!

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    1. Funny, my anxiety seems to create magnetism.The more I get the feeling I;m not going to make it the more I'm drawn to an obstacle. :)

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  11. The next level is riding indoors.
    I sometimes go to the office on weekends to finish off some work, and there is nothing like riding through the empty offices, weaving past the chairs in the meeting room, tires on the carpet, with no one about. A small-wheeled folding bike is good for this :)

    John I

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    1. A Kawasaki KZ1000 works too, if the elevator is big enough.

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  12. Funny, this skill is something I've had to "unlearn" now that I'm riding a mid-tail cargo bike with a kid on board. I know I fit through that gap, but I don't know if my kid is leaning his head to one side or another, and I don't know for sure if his knuckles will get burned skimming past that telephone pole or whatever, so I've learned to be cautious with tight squeezes on my cargo bike.

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  13. Hand guards. Because the little finger got a bit flayed once.

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  14. Then there's this, in Los Angeles, which I rode one-handed, the other hand holding the camera. I too am one who bumps into furniture....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIpkoTZEFXQ

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  15. the brain is plastic, you can retrain and teach yourself new things. As someone with similar problems with space, it has improved , but it does take time and effort. I have never had a problem driving. With biking it only comes up during descents where I get scared and crawl down.

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  16. My cheap thrill is riding up a narrow handicapped ramp that features three 180s. I try not to cheat, but occasionally I rub the front bag on my Brompton against the handrail as I swing wide to make those corners. I know I haven't ridden enough lately if I flub one.

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  17. Funny you should bring this up. I love weaving through gaps but last week tried it, going into Botanic Gardens, snagged a bag I forgot I was wearing and ended up with another weird sensation you sometimes get, that you are tripping over your own bicycle. I'm fully recovered now.

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  18. Okay, it IS weird. But it also sounds like fun! I used to do something like that, when as a kid, me and my Schwinn Collegiate used to zip through similar gaps in my pursuit of the ultimate shortcut. Be careful though, I went back home with a motorcycle, and without even one bit of thought, I found myself using the same shortcuts! Whoa big boy! Back to the boring ol' street with you!

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  19. But please do confine the experiments to inanimate objects.

    I stop at traffic lights when there are other vehicles around. It is bad enough many autos see the need to stop directly beside me even though I am in the lane.

    Frequently some idiot who believes traffic signals do not apply to cyclists will thread the needle between me and the car, curb, or incredibly ignorant, a pedestrian entering the cross walk. Especially disconcerting when traffic is just starting to move with the green.

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  20. Carice can tell you that one thing that will forever separate us as bike friends is that, absent a bike lane, she will always wait her turn behind cars in a red, and I can never resist zipping through them to get to the intersection.

    Anyone else enjoy zipping through tight spaces? All the time. (though to Matthew's point I do stop behind other cyclists who may have arrived at the light first. Shoaling isn't cool)

    Currently, my latest daily fun in this realm is crossing the river at the Musical Locks by the Charles River Dam. It's a pleasant zig-zag set of railings that you can ride through with -just- enough space to pass a pedestrian if needed, and I enjoy riding through that space without dismounting.

    There are, in fairness, big old signs saying that you shouldn't ride your bike across the locks, and if pedestrians appear skittish or uncomfortable at the sight of me approaching, I'll dismount. But, all the same, there's a pleasant focus that is required in these efforts, that is not unlike those moments when we're in a good rotating paceline or trying to maintain optimal cadence on rolling terrain. The challenge that is presented to you is simple, straightforward and solvable, but not necessarily easy so there is still delight in succeeding, and would that all of life's challenges were like that.

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  21. If you enjoy that, you would love mountain biking. It's all a game of can I get up, over, through, under, around the next obstacle.

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  22. One of the places I mountain bike has a tunnel connecting one state park to another. It runs under Amtraks Northeast Corridor and is just a little taller and wider than myself when hunched way down on the bike (essentially kissing my stem). It's definitely a tight fit and a bit of a right of passage with new riders since you have to be able to hold the center of the tunnel with enough speed to coast thru to daylight. Clipping a wall is not to be thought of...

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  23. There are moments on a bike when one achieves Wu-wei on a bike , other days its Calvin's dangerous bike days. Think cat whiskers !

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  24. Hi,
    I love that Mixte! One day I will build myself or get myself a 650b bent twin tubes bike like that. I already have 1 1/2 Peugeot PX-50s that I love.
    Here is a link to an old Le Cheminau step through with a lot of cool features I came across on Classic Rendezvous.

    http://bikeville.blogspot.com/2014/03/cool-shop-bike-le-chemineau-ladies-bike.html

    Cheers !

    vsk / Brooklyn

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