The Boston Globe published an article in June of 2016 about outsourcing a rite of childhood . . . teaching our children to ride a bike. This cottage industry supports families who either don’t have time to teach their children to ride, or don’t know how to ride themselves. This is exciting, encouraging the two-wheeled efforts of this next generation, and tragic.
My father bought me my first bicycle when I was four and taught me to ride. I remember with crystal integrity the exact place where I learned, the warm wind on my face, and the magic of momentum in my cadence. It was a great gift he gave me that day, a gift of his time and instillation of his lifelong passion. My father occasionally rode his bicycle from Boston to Baltimore and had one hard and fast household rule - do not touch his bike. Two elements from my childhood that left an indelible impression. Since that very moment I learned to ride, I have seldom been without a bicycle.
But I wasn’t riding all that much. I grew up in Massachusetts, and the options to ride were limited at best and risky. Roadways in many suburbs are busy. And fast. So you could pack your bike up and head off for safer rides, or push your direction onto the roads less traveled. It was thrilling, thrilling like getting dental work without novocaine. And then into my peripheral vision crept a few newly opened bike paths, paved and renovated railway beds. They were perfect. I spent a few years exploring them in my free time until I bought a home in the land of my northern neighbor and moved to New Hampshire.
I had a new neighbor named Susie who was in her 90’s. I was passing time with her in the sunshine when she told me that she often walked a total of fourteen miles as a small girl to go to the movies. That tiny side note in our sunshine conversation shifted my cycling life. If my sweet neighbor walked fourteen miles for a movie, I could bicycle to work. I knew there were bike paths and covered bridges and certainly busy roads, but I did not know how to weave these together into a daily routine.
With unfounded confidence, I rode off early one morning on my commute toward the biggest neighboring city only to turn around after a mile and a half. I was nervous about the distance, new to the area, had few provisions, and little to no idea where that path was. My husband researched and found a path which opened the doors of possibility. I’ve built on my father’s early example, and Susie’s local traditions, and my husband’s support and began to ride . . . a lot.
I was in Amsterdam in early 2016 with my niece. I watched her busy on her phone updating her Instagram account. She set up an account with me over dinner and said “You love bicycling. . . why don’t you focus on that?” And a movement began . . . a movement called bellecycle and dedicated to the power a bicycle, with a mission to share the culture of two wheel travel. Focused in New England and Europe, I ride slow, ride thoughtful, and ride organized. I don’t wear spandex and prefer scenery to speed. I plan my routes and pack for the weather. I dig deep to uncover the history of place and path. I ride prepared for adventure and committed to stopping for memorable morsels and libations.
Bellecycle exists to expand the horizon for cyclists, challenge them to take on new paths, and new distances in new areas. And then challenge them to make it a habit, to nurture this addiction to the wild world on two wheels. Since Amsterdam, I have ridden close to 6000 miles in seven different countries on four different bicycles, miles tallied between work and errands, life and laughter. And I rode to share the possibility found in a simple bike ride.
My father recently went on a small weekend getaway to Atlantic City. I asked him what he was most excited to do there, in a spot where he spent many summers as a small boy. His simple answer was “rent a bike.” For the past seventy years, he has wanted to ride a bike the length of the boardwalk. I told him I’d pay for that rental. I hope I am so lucky one day.