The Power of Bicycles

Originally appeared in Pedal Magazine - Summer 2017

Canada turns 150 this year, but 2017 is the 200th anniversary of the bicycle. Amazing to think that the bike has been around longer than our own country! 

We’ve all felt the power of a bicycle at some point in our lives…most likely, many times. The feeling of learning to ride your first bike can never be replaced. I can remember making swooping turns down the road, feeling the flying-like g-forces pressing me into the saddle and then hitting the coaster brake hard, making a long, black streak of rubber as I fish-tailed along the pavement. Magic! And the freedom. All of a sudden, a whole new world opened up for me. I was able to go further on my neighbourhood adventures, exploring the back lanes and park trails of Coquitlam to my heart’s content. 

And then, there was commerce. With a bike (then it was a Raleigh 5-speed “Chopper”) I was able to make money with a morning paper route. Delivering papers was my ticket to ride, literally. Having pocket money was another form of freedom and gave me that independence that I craved deep down. Being the first person on the road in the early morning was very special, with the city slowly waking up as I rumbled along with 50 heavy papers in my front carrier basket. I sometimes wonder how I kept that bike going with all that weight, up and down those hills with the little power that I developed back then! 

Mechanical exploration came next. With my paper route money, I bought a used 10-speed and slowly reconditioned it in our garage using my Dad’s shop tools. A pipe wrench made a mess of the BB lock ring and a hammer and punch disassembled the free hub (once I realized it was a left hand thread!). Much to my dismay, I watched what seemed like a hundred tiny ball bearings bounce across the floor when I lifted the free hub apart! Using some thread and a lot of grease, I actually got it back together with most of the parts. Pliers were used to tighten and loosen the spoke nipples to true the rims and eventually, I taught myself to lace and build my own wheels. 

Adventure was the real reason however, that I was drawn to the bicycle. With the re-built 10-speed, there was even more opportunity to venture further afield. Fortunately, my parents had both been positively affected by bicycles in their youth, growing up in post-war Europe. My Mom still had her Dad’s cycling log book of every ride that he had done in the hills around Southern England as a member of the Chichester Wheelers. With their blessing, I added a ‘rat trap’ and some cheap panniers and did some solo trips to the Gulf Islands, camping out and riding on some amazingly difficult hills. What a feeling to be under my own power, riding as fast as I could go (or would dare) on the descents with steels rims and centre pull brakes! 

Competition was also in my blood. I played high school volleyball as well as hockey and soccer growing up. Due to some fortunate circumstances and amazing volunteers, I was introduced to the local weekly 10-mile Time Trial, organized by the Vancouver Vets. There I tested myself weekly and met other Junior riders - soon we were training and racing on the track and road - pushing ourselves to new limits.

Camaraderie and teamwork drew me further into the world of bicycles. Working on a professional cycling team created a level of trust and empowerment that I take with me everywhere I go in my post-racing world. Racing bicycles transformed my life and has given me a multitude of incredible experiences and allowed me to live a truly unique and exhilarating life.

Fast forward to today’s hyper-connected world. We definitively know that many people in under-developed countries are not able to access proper education, health care or even nutrition simply due to logistics surrounding their immediate environment. Schools are often 10-20km away, nurses and doctors cannot easily access many villages and food distribution only take place at regional markets. 

Think about where you are today and reflect on what the bicycle has done for you. I’m sure everyone has their own stories of how a bicycle effected their lives in a positive way at least once in their lives. I have recently attended WBR fund raisers in California, Vancouver and Vermont. People are responding from all walks of life and sharing their stories of life empowerment through the bicycle. 

For only $147.00, you can change the life of a girl or boy who otherwise would not be able to attend a full day of school, have adequate access to healthcare when they are sick, or eat nutritious meals. World Bicycle Relief provides a sturdy “Buffalo Bicycle” for each $147.00 donation. To date, they have delivered over 350,000 bicycles to people in need. There are many amazing success stories that will warm your heart and I’m sure, will encourage cyclists of all types to engage in their own way. Go to WBR’s website to find out how you can get involved: https://worldbicyclerelief.org/en/ 

 

Alex Stieda

Alex Stieda Cycling, West Edmonton, AB, T5R 3N3