Day has yet to break; the sun’s probably still lighting some bald person’s scalp several time zones away.
Anyway. Early is good.
I carry my bicycle down four flights of stairs, my cycling shoes tapping away at the tiles. Tap, tap, tap.
On weekdays, for my daily commute to work, I use a mountain bike as the sorry state of our public roads makes for a gnarly ride.
On weekends, when I’m going the distance, I ride my road bike. Both are tuned and maintained as obsessively as a mild hypochondriac guarding against a cold.
Tap, tap, tap. Ground floor.
Water bottle, check. Its contents currently frozen will quickly turn back to a liquid state. By then, it would be time for a cool drink.
Lights — two in front, one at the rear — check. I just wish their batteries would last longer. Helmet and gloves, check (stinky as always).
Small snacks, tools, a spare interior, air pump, patch-kit, tire levers, zip-lock bag, sunglasses, and a speaker that doubles as a powerbank, check. Oh, and a bit of cash.
It looks like we’re all set to go. Where, exactly? Well, the glorious Sierra Madre mountains, as usual.
The only question ever has been what route to take and how far I’ll go. I’ve found that by the time I get to the junction at Masinag, my mind’s made up. It’s one of the pleasures of cycling alone: unadulterated freedom.
Hands on the bars, I clip my left foot in to the pedal, take off with a gentle push, clip in my right foot, and set my ass on the saddle.
I listen to the chain moving across the crank, derailleurs, and cogs; test the shifting of every gear; and listen intently for any sound from the bearings on the hubs and bottom bracket.
A silent bicycle is a beautiful thing. It means that you’re taking good care of your weapon of choice.
Over time, we cyclists develop a hypersensitivity to our surroundings: It’s what keeps us alive.
And when there’s a sound being emitted by our rides, a sound that should not exist, that is present all throughout the ride, it irritates us no end. We’ve been known to take apart every moving part of our ride just to find the perpetrator.
I pedal and roll from Anonas to Aurora Boulevard, and on to Marcos Highway. The air is cool and crisp, and Metro Manila is mercifully silent. Well, mostly. Roaring jeeps and trucks blast through the streets, their drivers like lunatics aching for a crash. Best stick close to the sidewalk until they’re past.
I reach for my phone in one of my back pockets, set it on flight mode, connect it to my Bluetooth speaker, and select the play list labeled “hard.” Metallica’s “Suicide and Redemption” starts to pulse from behind me. Oh, joy.
It’s early and I want to warm up and fight away the chill of the morning.
Ascending, butt off the saddle, heart pumping, lungs working hard and fast, legs cranking, sweat pouring — I am fully alive.
My heart growls and shouts with an unmatched joy. This is power you can take pride in.
I imagine that riding a bicycle is a lot like having your own set of wings — a beautiful pair of feather-covered limbs on your back, a part of you as much as your arms and legs. With them, you can take to the skies and fly.
Well, of course you won’t get it right the first few times. You’ll need to strengthen your muscles, build your endurance, learn to ride with the wind (or against it), learn to avoid buildings and tall structures and power lines and street lamps, take a rest appropriately, and overcome your fear of heights.
With perfect timing, you jump into the air, flap your wings hard enough to generate substantial lift, and voila—Houston, we have a takeoff. That, or jump off the side of a building to
generate enough momentum… which may be a bit too risky, so let’s stick to the safe side.
What did you expect? Nobody said it was going to be easy. But with enough practice, you’ll be up and about in no time, covering great distances at exhilarating speeds, reaching faraway places, and enjoying remarkable views without having to spend a peso on fuel.
Instead, you’ll be spending more on food as all that exertion can really work up your appetite, and flying on an empty stomach isn’t the best idea in the world. But again, imagine all that you can do, all that you can go, with no other strength than what your own body can generate.
Now, back to reality: Unless you get pecked by a radioactive bird, a pair of wings will forever remain the stuff of dreams. But riding a bicycle does come pretty close, I reckon. Aside from being off the ground, it’s essentially all the same: You’ll get to go only as far as your own body and will can take you.
Most people will never have the will or courage to fly; in a world where conveniences and being pampered are the norm, it’s just too much work for most. Sadly, full of excuses and fear, they’ll never learn that even they can fly.
Back to the ground. Legs moving, feet pedaling, chasing down vehicles with four wheels like they were standing still. Battling hills and venerable mountains, cutting through the air at breakneck speed down valleys and through rolling plains, we persevere. The rush is intoxicating. The capacity of our very own bodies to propel us forward over incredible distances is exhilarating. The exhilaration is addicting.
It’s easy to fall in love with cycling; a bicycle helps enhance your awesomeness exponentially. It is a tool that helps us maximize our potential. It helps bring out the best in us: No other vehicle improves a person like it does.
A bicycle is an instrument that makes us realize our own power and the amazing things that we’re capable of—the hundreds of kilometers that we can cover on our strength alone.
I guess it’s what balls are made for, if only the thought doesn’t sound so sexist.
Yes, it’s easy to fall in love with cycling. A bicycle is the closest we’ll ever get to having our own pair of wings. Through it, we find strength that we never thought we had, friends we otherwise would have never met, and places we otherwise would have never been to. And getting to these places through our own strength gives us pride and satisfaction that are simply amazing.
I guess in the end it’ll boil down to a single question: How alive are you willing to be?
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Kevin Manuel, 29, lives in Quezon City.
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