What Goes Around, Comes Around

When I was twelve, I cared about only two things, and the bicycle wasn’t one of them. I lived for playing football and reading science fiction, especially that genre’s dark prophet, H.G. Wells. I imagined the future the way he did: filled with invading Martians, human evolution gone awry, world anarchy, nuclear chain-reaction, a sputtering, cooling sun, you name it. When Wells imagined the shape of things to come, he saw frightful scenarios. Disaster loomed.

sheet music, New York and Coney Island Cycle March Two-Step, 1896, from the collection of Strong National Museum of PlayBut Wells was also a dreamer who had a hopeful streak and imagined shining outcomes. He thought science could save us if coupled with our best instincts, and so Wells liked the engineering of a near-perfect machine. “When I see an adult on a bicycle,” he once wrote, “I do not despair for the future of the human race.”

Today, I admire the efficiency of the mechanism like he did, especially the way it saves energy. (There is no greener vehicle.) And I love using it to make better time than cars in heavy traffic. (Sometimes there’s no faster vehicle.) But these grownup virtues are beside the point. I don’t bike for transportation, I bike for fun. I ride every day that the weather cooperates, and sometimes when it doesn’t. For me, bikes are about play: balancing on two wheels, rolling down hill, passing huffing joggers, splashing through a puddle, bunny-hopping over a bump.

If Wells could see the millions who take to the roads and paths on two wheels now, he would be smiling.

A version of this blog first appeared in Ed and Woody Sobey, The Way Toys Work (2008).