Like many, I got my first bike as a young boy, a bright red coaster from my maternal grandfather. Although I had bikes throughout my high school and college years, I really didn’t start riding until my early 20’s when, as a result of a physical examination for a new job, I was advised to lose 25 pounds or suffer serious consequences in later life. This doctor pulled no punches. Years of sedentary college life left me overweight with high blood pressure. I reclaimed an old 5-speed from my godfather’s garage and began riding in the evenings to visit my girl friend. She owned horses and kept them at a stable on the outskirts of the city. It was an hour ride in each direction. I made the trip several times a week and, over the course of the summer, lost a lot of weight, became more energetic and began a lifelong adventure of riding, exploration and inspiration.
My next bike was a 10-speed racer from Canadian Tire, a step up from the reclaimed 5-speed. I began riding more frequently and longer distances. I also began commuting to the University where I taught and, in the evenings, explored Toronto’s many ethnic and beach communities. I would even ride to the family cottage, a 100 mile trip each way. I remember this was an 8 hour uphill pedal there and a relaxing 6 hour descent back. Next, I progressed to an English made Dawes touring bike, more suited to the distance riding I enjoyed. When it was stolen, I purchased a handmade touring frame and built it up with the best Campagnola and Cinelli parts I could afford at the time. This bike was never left unattended and occupied its own bedroom in my flat. Originally built for touring – throughout southern Ontario, parts of Quebec, BC and England – it has been adapted over the years as my interests and time available changed. At one point, when my children were young and time limited, I built a set of light weight wheels with tubular ties and used it mostly for training. Today, it has been fully restored with the original hubs, rims, changers and brakes and I use it as a city bike for commuting, errands and regular training rides. I also have a hard tail mountain bike but the Roberts’ remains my favourite ride.
The more I ride, the more I want to ride. I am not fast. I never was. But I enjoy being on the bike exploring and challenging myself to longer distances and steeper climbs. For 50 years I have enjoyed riding and plan to continue as long as possible. Riding gives me a wonderful sense of freedom, the ability to go where I want, when I want. There are no traffic jams. No congestion. No waiting. You keep moving, exploring new routes and talking with like minded riders along the way. I frequently whistle when riding. I don’t do it consciously but catch myself breaking into a familiar tune, particularly on warm, sunny rides. It is a throwback to childhood years, a time before obligations, responsibilities, careers and families, a time when we lived to play. And that is what riding is. It’s play. Sure it is also a means of transport, a political statement and a form of exercise. But mostly, it’s unadulterated play, no matter the age.
I do my best thinking on my bike.