I confess, I am a noise nazi. Peace I seek. Shhhhhhh.
Is there anything better than cycling alone on a smooth, silent, empty road? New chain on bike, legs fresh, no wind. I could be flying. Gliding silently from mile to mile, accompanied only by the soft hum of rubber licking the hardtop. This is why I ride. Nothing compares. Not a 20mph average speed, not a sub-2 minute ride up Swains Lane and certainly not the latest, shiniest bit of kit. Silence is my cycling zenith.
The quiet of bike and rider sliding through the early morning mist is evocative of a bygone era when men were men and bikes were steel. Even my own memories of such rides are in black and white. It is these scenes that help drag me from my warm bed at 5:30 am and force-feed myself porridge, never quite ready to star in my own silent film.
The neck tingles when you take consciousness of the moment. All alone, just you. Ahead an empty road. No cars, no road kill, no wind stirring the treetops, no other cyclists panting in your shadow. Moving swiftly, quietly, you are the scenery. You feel chosen. Privileged, as if nobody else has ever experienced such beauty.
In silence I find my greatness and a beauty beyond art, beyond the prettiest of faces. Combine the quiet with the kind of majestic scenery found in the Lake District and what you have is an unworldly moment all to yourself. Vulnerable and untouchable all at once, this then is the sublime. A notion dating back to the 16th century when philosophers and explorers began climbing mountains and seeking ever-greater challenges to experience the sublime, to be dumbfounded by the world around them, beyond words, awestruck. The dear cyclist simply climbs on their bike.
Nothing can compare to the pleasure of experiencing what Schopenhauer called “an overpowering or vast malignant object of great magnitude, one that could easily destroy the observer”. No doubt these words will run through your head the next time you approach that dreaded 20 percent plus hill climb!
Clunk click with every trip?
Unfortunately not every ride is car(e) or noise free. Rare are the moments you can compare riding a bike to musings beloved by philosophers past. Take the sensory overload that is the commute. Engines a-roaring and horns a-blaring, the beep beep beep of the flashing green man, all this and more competing with that inner voice, “Be sharp, alert,” it warns, “Brake, mind that car door, watch out for pedestrians… stay alive”.
Such distractions I can manage. Bike noises, however, are intolerable. Brakes squealing? Toe them in. Chain squeaking? Oil it. D-lock rattling? Remove it. Your bike frame is a thing of beauty. Treat it like your little lady. You don’t tape your wallet to your girlfriend’s leg so why would you affix your lock to your bike?
Bike noises never seem to strike mid-ride. No, they wait to catch you unawares when you’re fresh and ready to ride. Where do they come from? Contrary to my belief that it is the devil’s work, it’s usually nothing more than wear and tear, poor maintenance, road salt, rain. Eventually your bike aches and, just like tired legs, it too needs a little massage and love and attention.
Being a terrible bike mechanic only increases my fear of bike noises. The very thought of a spanner or hex key sends cold shivers down my spine. Why fiddle with the bike when I could be riding it?
The bike is a master of ventriloquism. What sounds like the bottom bracket is the seat post and that definite hub clicking is actually your pedal. Many an hour has been lost searching for the source of that little click, the one that won’t let you enjoy your ride. Despair is removing every single component, cleaning, re-greasing, and re-affixing, only for that damned noise still to be there. Strike me down with my very own spanner!
Take cold comfort that with each new noise you will learn more about how (not) to repair your bike. Just remember, years of accumulated bike fiddling will count for little when that next mystery squeak arrives.
And what of the noises emanating from the shadow that’s been drafting you for the last two miles? Be damned you noisy wheelsuckers! I will escape you and your clickety-clack bearings. Heavy breathing? Exercise more or call a chatline if you must, just please, don’t expect to keep my wheel. Away I will ride, up and out of the saddle, red-lining if need be.
Headphones and cycling
Really? Is this even a debate? Is riding with headphones safe? Who cares if it defeats the purpose of cycling in the first place? Do I really want to be hearing “My sex is on fire,” as I descend my favourite hill? Sure I like Gangnam style as much as the next drunk on their way home but I’m riding a bike not a horse. That said, I’d pay good money to see Peter Sagan ride the Gangnam horse over the finish line for his next victory. Lasso it baby.