Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bicycle Day and Bike Month: Cycling Your Way to Enlightenment

Despite the fact that it is officially the start of Bike Month today and as cyclists we should all be cycling around some Maypole somewhere singing songs of happiness, it would appear that a certain segment of the readership feels that there's been an absence of acidity on this blog recently. In fact, valued commenter, commie, and Canuk Commiecanuk has taken it upon himself to organize a "Bring Back Bitter " campaign, and he has even managed to enlist other actors with mugshots to stump for his cause:

For the record, I'd like to assure Commiecanuk and others that, like the blossoms of Spring, bottom bracket creaking, and herpes, my bitterness is guaranteed to return. Indeed, I promise to leave this world as bitter, sticky, and defenseless as I was when I entered it. However, for the moment, there are still certain profound matters of cosmic synchronicity that require examination.

Astute and/or drug-addled readers will note that the past two posts contained references to mescaline. Well, unbeknownst to me at the time, it turns out that on the very day of the first mention, Dr. Albert Hofmann, the "father of LSD," died at age 102.

In addition to being LSD’s baby daddy, Hofmann was also the father of the “ride report” as we know it today. If you’ve spent any time on internet forums, you’re certainly familiar with the ride report. It’s a really long story people write that’s mostly made up and involves lots of references to people you don’t know as well as frequent repetition of the word “epic.” Of course, power meters are killing this unique form of prose, as the modern ride report now looks like this. (Yes, there are humanesque beings who can actually read this.) At any rate, after making the first batch of LSD Hofmann took some on April 19th, 1943 and hopped on his bicycle, thus undertaking the world’s first intentional acid trip and inventing the ride report simultaneously in one mind-bending “Eureka!” moment:

I asked my laboratory assistant to accompany me home as I believed that I should have a repetition of the disturbance of the previous Friday. While we were cycling home (a four-mile trip by bicycle, no other vehicle being available because of the war), however, it became clear that the symptoms were much stronger than the first time. I had great difficulty in speaking coherently and my field of vision swayed before me and was distorted like the reflections in an amusement park mirror. I had the impression of being unable to move from the spot, although my assistant later told me that we had cycled at a good pace....

Of course, according to my own definition, Hofmann was not a cyclist as he only rode out of necessity. Still though, this is a monumental event, and his “impression of being unable to move from the spot” surely resonates with many a pass-fail racer to this day. In fact, so significant is April 19th that it is now celebrated as “Bicycle Day.”

Now I admit that I have taken LSD, but the truth is that while I did put it in my mouth I never inhaled. Consequently, any sensations of throbbing cosmic oneness and/or ineffable insight into the mathematical workings of the Universe glimpsed while looking at a flock of ducks I may have experienced thereafter were completely coincidental, and anything I might know about the effects of LSD I learned from watching this video of a hot girl on LSD, aptly titled “Hot Girl On LSD.” But one thing I do know is that psychedelics like LSD are simply a shortcut to enlightenment. It’s like taking the cheater line while mountain biking, or like taking the cutoff in a Central Park race.

Still, though, it is human nature to strive for enlightenment, and many people attempt to attain it through bicycling. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the fixed-gear community. Listen to any fixed-gear rider explain his or her choice of bicycle and you’re bound to hear the word “Zen” come up with alarming frequency. If you were to play a drinking game in which you did a shot every time a fixed-gear rider said the word “Zen,” you’d be dead of alcohol poisoning inside of an hour. Note the reasons the website oldskooltrack gives for riding a fixed-gear with no brakes:

--There are no brakes in the velodrome.
--Brakes are not needed for safety, if you know how to control your bike, slow and stop.
--Your legs are your brakes.
--Your awareness is heightened without brakes. Many old skool riders have the definite feeling of lowered awareness of "falling asleep" on the bike if it has brakes.
--As you ride, you feel connected with everything. See
"No Brakes -- Or, Zen on Wheels."
--This is the full flavor and beauty of fixed-gear riding.
--A track bike is a beautiful, elegant machine, a piece of jewelry in motion.
--Brakes and brake holes are fugly on the frame.

Ah yes, who hasn’t experienced the phenomenon of brake-induced narcolepsy? I for one can’t stand within 10 yards of a bike with calipers on it without nodding off. Even in yesterday's post a commenter asked, “Dont ya ever feel like youre kinda falling asleep behind the bars when your coasting along...?” So apparently this is a huge problem and I’m not the only one. Conversely, the second I touch the handlebars of a brakeless track bike I can see into the infinite and beyond, like Dave in "2001" journeying into the Monolith, only with tighter pants.

Personally, I don’t give much thought to Zen. I’m not even sure what it is. I always thought it was kind of like sleeping but without all the drooling and snoring. I also thought it had something to do with the question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Now that I certainly don’t know, but I do know what the sound of one bullshit artist typing is, and it’s whatever sound came out of that guy’s keyboard when he wrote those reasons for not using a brake on the street. (I should know—mine makes a similar sound.) But I do applaud him two-handedly though for invoking “Zen” and “fugly” in the same post. I’m sure all the great Zen masters avoided fugliness at all costs.

So in conclusion, I’ll just say that while cycling and enlightenment may be inextricably intertwined there are no shortcuts to universal awareness. LSD won’t do it. Riding brakeless won’t do it. And while I don’t recommend riding on the street without a brake, I definitely don’t recommend cycling on LSD. Unless you want to wind up dead at 102 like Dr. Hofmann.