on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

experiencing life with a bicycle

I bought my first bicycle when I first moved to SF. Everyone there seemed to cycle, and I had grand visions of commuting to work with a bicycle. In the 2-3 years I lived there, I probably cycled to work less than 30 times even though it was less than a 5km ride, and I probably took it out for fun to Golden Gate Park less than 10 times – basically I cycled more here in Singapore in a month than the entire time I lived in the US.

I am so intoxicated with cycling now, that I almost don’t understand why didn’t I fall in love with it the first time around. The weather then and there is so much better than the hot, humid weather we have here. My hypothesis is that I was much more unfit so I struggled with the inclines, much less experienced so my saddle was at the wrong height, didn’t handle the bike properly and use the gears efficiently so cycling felt like a drag, and consciously held a negative view towards anything that required physical energy. I was also a much less fun person because my entire life revolved around work, and in whatever free mental space I had I pined for unavailable people.

So much in life depends on our mindset, such as having the capacity to experience fun. My partner has a fun spirit. Apart from seeing the fun in things, she tries to make everything fun even if they are not fun. It annoyed the grinch in me at first, because I felt like she didn’t take life seriously enough. I may change my mind, but my current stand is that life is too serious and holds too much suffering to be walking around like a heavy weight all the time. There are appropriate times to be serious, but people like me are just so serious all the time that we suck the life out of everywhere we go. Till today I have issues with activities that requires active play because something feels wrong about it and it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable.

I think when our minds are used to being filled with noise and our bodies are conditioned to expect stress all the time, we lose the capacity to notice things. I guess that’s why in zen they keep talking about emptying the mind and the self. It is almost impossible to be empty, but it is the act of trying to empty that makes one realise how much we carry. I think for me it took me years of actively and uncomfortably trying to slow down to get to a point where I can genuinely enjoy something like cycling. Take a look at people on reddit falling into depression after early retirement, and we can have a sense of how commonly challenging it is to slow down when we are so used to having something to chase all the time.

There is something about being on a bicycle, having an elevated vantage point, feeling the wind in our faces, and experiencing the feeling of moving at speed with nothing else but a mechanical machine and our legs to propel us forward. For me, it is similar to the experience I had with running – the knowledge that our body can be capable of such power, and also experiencing how much our bodies can improve with time and effort. It is amazing to me that I am nearing 40, but I am now fitter than I was 12 or 20. It is empowering to know how much one’s self can transform: everyone who knows me when I was younger knows how much of a slob I was when it comes to physical movement. I was the person who would walk an extra distance to ride an escalator than to walk up or down some stairs.

I think I would enjoy cycling less if I didn’t have some foundation of fitness that came with my running, though for me the stamina doesn’t really translate in both directions. After a long period of cycling I find myself running less well, and running a ton doesn’t make me cycle up slopes better. They complement each other well when I need to take a break from one.

I learned counter-intuitive things like cycling leisurely after a hard day of cycling can help with recovery compared to simply resting, that handlebar grips can make or break the cycling experience, that pedalling too slowly can cause knee pain, and if we want to prevent knee pain we have to strengthen our butt muscles. I never knew our butt was useful apart from cushioning us when we sit.

I am lucky enough to live near a park, and one of my favourite things to do these days is to cycle early in the morning. What a wonderful experience it is to cycle along the still, mirror-like water with cold air swirling around my body, and then admire the sun coming up behind a beautiful cluster of trees.

sunrise while cycling
sunrise while cycling

I don’t have the courage to cycle on the road (besides, the drivers in Singapore are crazy and we don’t have protected bike lanes or bike lanes on the road at all), so I cycle with a foldie on the park connectors. I like looking at people doing their various exercises, walking their assortment of dogs and babies, cycling their variety of bikes. Seeing people enjoying the park in diverse ways makes me smile, and I get really impressed with old grandmas and grandpas who seem way fitter than me.

two people sitting on a rock in a park

I enjoy noticing how Singapore’s dense urban architecture contrast with intentional green spaces:

HDB blocks along apiapi river

I also cycle while doing food delivery of course, which is almost an entirely different experience, but I enjoy it all the same. I get opportunities to marvel at the way people decorate the public spaces in front of their urban apartments while dropping food off:

a hdb block’s public space decorated by a private individual

I think it is very easy to live life in a way which every day might seem like a repeat of the previous day ala groundhog day. That is why it amuses and moves me when I notice moments of interest even if I’m participating in similar routines on a regular basis. I am not sure if the pictures I took and shared above are interesting or beautiful to other people, but they are to me.

Whenever I feel an impulse to stop my bicycle and take a picture, I notice this very subtle feeling in my body. I would describe it as a lift in my spirits. It is like scrolling a hundred tweets and noticing one interesting tweet, but much better. Like I’ve written in a previous post, it is an ongoing realisation that I have been living life too disembodied-ly (my partner calls me a walking brain) – my body seemed useless and my entire existence revolved around my mental and digital existence. It felt like my life and my feelings were completely dictated by what was happening on the internet, in my mind and with work.

But life is much larger (as I write repeatedly) than thoughts, opinions and competition. There are direct experiences (direct experiences is a very zen thing which I never truly understood before) that cannot be translated into words, as much as I attempt to. There are plenty of moments meant to be lived, not described or critiqued.

I am not sure how long this bicycle thing will last. Right now the extent of my interest makes me want to learn how to be a bike mechanic or at the very least, learn to maintain my own bicycles, but I tend to jump from interest to interest so I am skeptical myself of how long this will endure. But my own philosophy is to live life in whichever ways that makes life liveable, endurable and enlivening, and to do as little harm as possible, so in my grand scheme of things what matters is not whether something endures, but rather if my life has consisted of moments and experiences that makes me contemplate or feel that it is worth living, even if it is just for a split second.

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