I got a bicycle when I was in university in the mid-1970s. Those were my granola days. I was doing a liberal arts degree. My friends and I were self-consciously learning big ideas and raising our consciousness.
It was a Frisbee-throwing, blues-listening, brown-rice-eating, philosophy-reading time. I wasn't old enough to have experienced the 1960s. For me, it was the seventies.
I lived in a small university town, not far from campus, but I wanted wheels. A car was out of the question. I didn't have any money. More importantly, a car was such a Western imperialist, 20th-century capitalist kind of thing. A bike though. Now that was different.
My bike wasn't new when I got it. It had been around the block more than a few times. A friend of a friend had ridden it hard and then left it to rust in the weeds in the side yard of a student tenement. I saw beauty in the bones and for $25 it was mine.
With the help of the local bicycle shop I brought that old bike back to life. It would never look new again, but it did become a finely tuned mechanism once more. I rode it proudly, proudly because I'd rescued it and because it represented the values I thought were important.
My granola days ended when I finished my BA and went to law school in the big city. I didn't ride my bike much any more. When I graduated from law school, began working as a lawyer and got a car, I didn't ride my bike at all.
My wife and I moved from our apartment to our first house, and my bike briefly emerged into the light. I rolled it to the moving truck and felt its smooth balance. I may have even sat on it for a moment. I didn't ride it though. There wasn't time. My bike went into the truck and then into the basement of the house.
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In the late 1980s, I brought my bike up from the depths one summer and rode it again for the first time in years. It felt good. Then it went back into the basement. When there was energy, there was no time; when there was time, no energy.
New houses came, and new jobs. There was a family. Many things battled for my time and my energy. Each time we moved I saw my old bike. There was no question of getting rid of it, or of riding it again. Tires deflated, gears covered in dust, it became one of those household possessions that are kept but never used.
Two summers ago I realized I needed some exercise. I'd had too many years behind a desk. I could feel it. Worse, I could see it. So I brought my old bike out of the basement, cleaned it up and took it out for a spin. I took it out a few more times and then the cold weather came. This time when I put it away I put it in the garage. Easier to get out. A line had been crossed.
Last spring I took my bike out again. I wasn't yearning for the old granola days. Riding my bike was good exercise and, I discovered, fun. Simple fun in complicated times. I won't say that I felt like a kid again when I rode. But I didn't feel quite so grown up.
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I had one problem though. I didn't care about the people who were amazed when they saw me riding something so old. It didn't bother me when my son and his friends asked if my bicycle was an antique. But my bike and I were about 30 years older than when I got it. It was still a lean machine. I wasn't. By the time I finished a ride, my shoulders would ache, my back would be sore and my bum - well, I won't go into details.
My son and I were in our local bicycle shop getting a bike for him. I saw new bikes all around me and I was amazed at how much they had changed. I scoffed at the complication. Who needs shock absorbers, 28 speeds and a gel seat? Then I realized who - I did. My old bike was willing. I wasn't able. Soon enough there were two new bikes, one for my son and one for me. Then there was another one, this time for my wife.
What a summer it was. I rode by myself. I rode with my son. I rode with my wife and son. There were long rides and short rides. Rides on the street, rides on the trails. Sometimes I rode because I had to get somewhere, most times because I didn't.
Time passes and things change. Old can become new again, although sometimes it shouldn't. Throwing a Frisbee, eating brown rice, reading philosophy? No thanks. Listening to the blues? That never stopped. And now, thanks to an old bike and a new one, I'm a bicyclist again.
I was sometimes tempted to get rid of my old bike rather than cart it from house to house and consign it to a dark corner of the basement. But it meant something to me. I had been proud of it once. I still was. Thank heavens for that. If I hadn't kept it, I wouldn't be riding now. Of that I'm sure.
Even though I've got a new bike, I'll keep my old one to remind me of simpler times and big ideas, of all the things that have changed and those that haven't. Then I'll get on my new one and go riding.
Robert Jones lives in Oakville, Ont.
Illustration by Steve Adams.
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