Is there a word for a person who selects the finest bike shares from those offered at a dock? A sommelier of CaBis? A ‘cabilier’? Someone who can detect, from the look of the frame or the smell of the seat, what the quality of the ride offered by this particular vehicle will be?
For almost a decade, I have approached docking stations with an intense eye, looking for signs of wear and tear that might indicate the experience of my ride on this or that bike. What I was looking for was the fastest, easiest ride to get myself to my destination with the least resistance. It is fascinating how varied the rides I have had on Capitol Bikeshares have been. On some you can ride without hands, speeding down the National Mall feeling like you’re flying. On others, the clack of the chain as it repeatedly slips not only becomes the music of your ride, but a reminder of your vulnerability as your seat slowly slides down into the seat tube.
This morning I rode CaBi 78564, a bike that inspired this blog post. Its bright down tube shone in the early morning light and there was something about its handlebars that seemed to me to say ‘recently upgraded.’ From what I could see it was my best chance of those on offer. The lights on the console flashed as CaBi contemplated whether I was worthy of a bike this morning. Then the green light of approval which almost always gives me a tiny thrill of acceptance in the world. Off we went.
It turns out that 78564 is a relaxed personality, who does not believe in speed. However hard I tried, 78564’s message was that we should take things easy and enjoy the beautiful fall foliage. Riders on what seemed like older CaBi’s sped past me with ease. I repeatedly tried to turn the shifter to ensure it was at maximum.
However, as we gently traveled the winding streets of DC, I realized that this bike’s peculiarities were in fact showing me a perspective on the world. Take it in. Stop racing past it. Enjoy the ride. Given that it took me a third longer this morning to get to work than it usually does, I had time to really enjoy the city.
And so, I reasoned further, had each CaBi been trying to show me its own particular perspective on DC and the world at large. Each bikeshare, with its own particular way of importing an experience of the world, brings to us what we lack in so many other areas of life: a rather random exposure to different states of reality. If it was your bike, you would make it fit your preferred view of the world. But it’s a CaBi, and you are going to experience the world on its terms.
As another person on an even more decrepit-looking bikeshare peddled past me at higher speed for what seemed like far less effort, it pushed me to reflect on what it must be like to have your strength fade. To be putting in as much effort as you always had, but see yourself slowing down. To feel the strength of the human body taken away.
My ride home was on a stallion of a CaBi. The music was good, the sun bright and the Fall colors fantastic. It was pure joy. But the comparison to this morning’s ride made it all the richer. It was like I had been set free again.
I am now on my 1278th ride and have traveled 2,649 miles on Capitol Bikeshares. My hope is that sometime early next year I will have ridden a bikeshare as far as Google Maps says it is from DC to LA. But this morning I realized that I had been missing a trick. I never thought of that journey as one filled with encounters with characters as varied and eclectic as the CaBi community provides. The crouchy old war horse that rode me to Georgetown. The spirited romantic that took me to the Arboretum. And then there are the stolen CaBis. What must it be like to ride them? What lessons could I learn from such renegades?
Now I see the randomness of my CaBi rides a bit like Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” with each bike a personality along the way. And with each personality offering a different life lesson, my new morning routine will be to try to understand what this particular CaBi is trying to teach me about life. I was always surprised at how adulthood is less philosophical than I expected it to be. But I’ve been ignoring the lessons right under my bottom. The CaBi’s random features are a lens into the world that is an intimate part of my daily life.
Though I will still look for the bike that makes me feel like I’m flying, I look forward to meeting whatever personality is in store for me tomorrow morning and beyond. I will now try to listen harder for the lessons he or she is trying to impart.