Letting Go

When it comes to riding a bike in Los Angeles, I bounce between two philosophical states. I have found that mainstream politics, and my own political ideology, have sometimes kept me from enjoying the simple pleasure of riding a bike.

First, bike riding in this city takes grit. It takes physical strength. It takes mental toughness. You have to be alert, and you have to aggressively advocate for yourself, to yourself, while you navigate our profoundly dysfunctional, car-centric, streets, politics, economy, and culture.

Second, riding a bike in Los Angeles is usually an incredibly good feeling. It is so easy, so refreshing, that the broken glass, insanity, noise, dysfunction, poverty, violence, trash, pollution, strife, inequality, and vice that you breeze through count for very little. Instead, you have direct access to the story of this metropolis, the people who live here, the food they cook, the architecture they build, and the ideas they espouse. You roll through a rich fractal of human life and the fragments of the natural world that still eke out an existence in the city. The sun rising, and the sun setting, the wind, coyotes at dusk, the freedom to experience a day as a human should without the penalty of tired feet or an aching back – it pulls a person into the experience of being alive and costs only the time you would spend anyway running an errand or fulfilling an obligation for work, or school.

I have written, in earlier blog posts, how the politics around making this city a better place to ride a bike (more bike lanes, better bike lanes, full consideration of cyclists needs in the halls of power) has just about collapsed in on itself. Various political factions and non-profits turn on each other – shattering the fragile, diverse, coalitions built up in the mid-2000’s to support cycling.

Cycling politics, however, is not the same as simply riding a bike. For too long, I focused on the grit, on the fight, on the aggressive advocacy for a better city to ride a bike in. The end result: a loss in city hall on a policy issue could make me stop riding a bike for weeks or months in frustration. The words of a non-profit executive director could take away the simple joy of coasting down the streets in my neighborhood to pick something up from the store.

The city will go bike-crazy again, some day. It took almost 100 years for the late 1970’s bike boom to hit after the first cycling craze in the late 19th and early 20th century faded away. Then, the early 2000’s came along and we had a little surge of interest which is now fading away. Maybe my grandchildren will be shouting down a group of bike crazies asking for routine accommodation in road design in a public hearing some distant day in the future.

For the time being, I am trying to take it easy. Let the machine I am riding give what it has to give. I stopped demanding that every day be a victory for safe-streets, a better city, or a happier-people ideology. It takes grit, it takes strength – but it also takes letting go. With practice, I will be able to simply enjoy being alive in this profoundly messed up town.

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