I got really drunk one time, and now I’m skinny. How? Because bicycles are magic.
Words - James Raison, Cover photo by the incredibly talented Lana Adams (@lanaadams)
Bikes are magic. I’m convinced of it. How do we get more people on bikes? I think we should consider a change of tact. Screw the environment, ignore congestion, forget fun, and most certainly don’t mention Peter Sagan. We need to convince people that bikes are magical devices, most likely sent by space wizards, to transform you. Supporting my thesis I’d like to submit the evidence below.
I'm a strange creature at the office with my gaunt face, standy-uppy desk thingy, adjacent to a pile of fresh produce, and with the BMI of a man from Eritrea (seriously, there's a world BMI calculator). People look at me as some sort of guru. A savant, or God-like entity from the planet Good Habits who has lived a life full of kale, chia seeds, and organic fortified... I dunno... legumes? Is that a thing? Anyways, it's BS. I'm skinny now because of a savage hangover. Let me take you back.
The year is 2005. Charles and Camilla got married, Hurricane Katrina happened, and the Black Eyed Peas were dominating the charts. It wasn't all royal weddings and natural disasters though (looking at you Black Eyed Peas). An 18-year-old James was a few months fresh out of high school. He was fat and had been for some time. Somewhere in the mid-90kgs. He'd assumed a life of booze, M&Ms Crispys (empirically the best M&Ms), energy drinks, and annoyingly referring to himself in the third person.
That was all about to change though. On a crisp Winter's night I got blasted on cheap vodka at a friend’s house party. I know this because I woke up next to the empty vodka bottle. Glamorous. It was 10.40am on a Sunday morning and I was due to start work at 11. Necessity being the mother of invention, I grabbed my embarrassingly shitty Apollo Summit - dated somewhere before the turn of the millennium - and sweated my way to work. On arrival, I looked redder and puffier than Barnaby Joyce thinking about Johnny Depp, and smelled like an ethanol spill on a hot day. Little did I know, that was a life-changing day (not just because of the savagery of that hangover).
The magic of bikes
It can be hard to explain the transformative magic of riding bikes. All it took was one hungover ride to work for me to realise the potential. Suddenly I had a cheap and fast way to get to work. I started riding every day. Soon after I upgraded bikes to a mighty Specialized Hard Rock (fwoooooaaaar!). As the months dragged on, the weight dropped off. I started riding further, faster, and more often.
Eventually the time came for me to try and conquer the might Mt Lofty. I failed. I stopped several times, felt sick, and conceded defeat about half way up. The next time I got further with fewer stops. Eventually reached the summit. What a feeling! That became a regular thing for me. Dragging my plonker MTB, and still substantial but ever-shrinking buttocks up a large hill.
Cycling is a great thing in isolation but the true magic is in peripheral decisions you make around it that are the most meaningful life-changers. Once I saw the initial positive outcomes I decided to do more to increase those gains. I changed my diet for the better. I reduced my alcohol intake. Went to be early, got up early. Everything slowly started getting better.
The good-decision halo isn’t just me either. I was involved in a "before cycling" photo comparison with some people I know. The commonality of our experiences was incredible. So many people reversing life-long bad habits, or the cliched adult lifestyle creeps. At crucial ages too. At some point, we all become our habits. This group chose bikes, and the halo effect of positive decisions that come with that.
It. Could. Only. Be. Magic.
More than a bike
My cycling obsession is unrelatable to most people because they just see a bike as some inanimate object. A toy. A childhood distraction turned into adult folly. An expensive hobby that sensible people choose to avoid. Worse still, just some hindrance on the road.
I don't just see a bike. I see the single biggest influence on who I am. I see recreation, transport, social time, physical and mental health, fun, sweat, pain and suffering. I see the view from the top of Mount Wellington. I see the Great Ocean Road. I see the sunrises on the Nullarbor. I see the Flinders Ranges. I see a lot of friends who I would never have met otherwise.
I normally resist well-worn cliches BUT, cycling is a way of life. All day. Every day.
Committed cyclists are only moving further from the average person, and cycling as an activity is becoming less relatable.
Have you ever explained a power meter to a non-cyclist? How about why you chose to ride to work in the pouring rain instead of catching a bus or driving? Ever seen that look on their face when you respond to questions about how much your bike cost? Or when you tell them some crazy ride you did on the weekend? I bet most of us have, and will continue to answer those questions well into the future.
Maybe next time I'm answering questions about why I love bikes so much I'll say: “Bicycles are magic. Your whole life will get better when you start riding a bike.”
The best part of that? It’s true.