Jason Burkholder
Jason Burkholder

jtb

On Biking

📷35mm B&W film in Feb 2017. Bikes locked on an Amsterdam Canal.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve ridden bikes. I can’t recall actually learning, not even that glorious moment of freedom where “🎵my [training wheels] are gone, and I’ve been set free.🎵” From family vacations to perfecting wheelies on my parent’s block and exploring my childhood suburbs in Southern California—from group trail rides to constantly murdering my parent’s backyard with my brother in search of the perfect dirt track through the oak trees (armed with shovels and Dr. Pepper)—I’ve simply always ridden bikes. However until recently I never considered myself a cyclist. But as it is with things that are always there and always have been, you never pay too much attention to them. I take all those moments for granted, and sort of assumed everyone’s childhood consisted of those family vacations and backyard landscaping, that was such the norm in mine. Looking back, those were some of the earliest explorations of problem solving and teamwork, competition, creativity, exercise, and overcoming of fear that I ever had. Much of which still fuels my instincts today. Like a lion cub play-fighting with her siblings through adolescence, all-the-while preparing her for lifetime of hunting. We build the skills of adulthood in our playful pursuits, it takes awareness to keep being playful as we age though. But enough philosophic anecdotes. Simply put, I love the memory of biking. It’s a vehicle of transportation through the pockets of some of the fondest chapters in my life.

I love the pace of biking. It’s a perfect ratio of physical exertion to distance covered. Whereas with running I can barely take in the surroundings over my beating heart and gasping breath. On top of that, even before I’m halfway through a run, my mind is exclusively consumed with the path of least resistance straight back home to my bed. I can think of nothing else. While running, the birds, the trees, the sun, the people, are all nothing but torturous demons trying to suck me into a pit of breathlessness and despair. I run, but I don’t enjoy it. Biking is simply the Goldilocks of getting around. Not too fast, not too slow. Not too hot and not too cold. In fact here’s a table to illustrate my point.

I love the distance of biking. Where average rides are measured in the tens of miles, you can cover a surprising distance before you know it. Quick aside, I started surfing in high school. We lived about an hour-fifteen from an array of some really nice point breaks, from C-Street in Ventura to Trestles in San Clemente. One early morning, my cousin and I were getting out of the water from a dawn patrol at Leo Carillo State Beach at about 9am. This is a spot just north of the 20+ miles of the Malibu coastline, slightly desolate and right on the Pacific Coast Highway. As we hiked up the stairs to his car parked on the side of PCH we saw a slew of cyclists all dressed in the wackiest costumes. They started coming around the highway bend in pairs every hundred yards or so. That quickly grew from pairs to packs of 30–50 riders. We were dumbfounded, sitting their stupefied dripping from a morning session, we watched with our mouths agape as this loco crowd of people sped by hootin’ and hollerin’. We finally asked a woman who slowed to ascend the hill we were parked on “What on Earth are we witnessing right now?” Her feathered head whipped back at the question “We came from San Francisco! We’re finishing in LA today!” 🤯 H-o-l-y-c-r-a-p, my mind was blown. 500 miles on a bicycle—dressed like that?! What was I doing with my life? Are human beings even capable of that? The answers are: child please, apparently not much, yes and much much more.

Approx. Biking route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. (about 70 miles/day for a week)

Witnessing this was life changing, as a teenager it raised the bar of comprehendible possibility of not just what other people could do, but of what I could do! But alas, at age 17, I was still conquering fears of talking to girls, faking I always knew what people were talking about, and pretending I didn’t straighten my hair. It would be a few more years of painfully exploring my identity before I had my next mind-blowing encounter of human capacity, only this time, I moved from spectator to participant. But the story of 5½ college kids biking 3,311 miles across the United States, raising money for Rwanda, powered by cinnamon rolls, and a barefoot-dreadlocked faux-Rastafarian support driver is one for a rainy day.

I love the accessibility of biking. My wife and I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and we don’t have a car, so my bike is my primary means of transportation. I start each day carrying my bike 4 flights of stairs and a 7 minute ride to work. Waking me up and getting my heart rate up first thing, it saves me a 35 minute walk. Having a bike in the city shrinks the neighborhoods. It allows me to pop in and show up without worrying about the commute time or costs as I would walking, taking the train, or getting a car. It allows me to explore streets and communities that I would never otherwise visit. Ultimately it gives me control over my routes and schedules. Plus, I can literally lock my bike to anything, I even locked it to another bike once 😬. On top of the convenience and cost savings, I find that in such a congested city, cycling proves to be more efficient that driving much of the time. I don’t have to conform entirely to a centuries-old system of roads and bridges, and if I need to I can quickly dart up a one-way or walk across parks, curbs, parking lots, or dip down into the subway in case of torrential rain, dramatically reducing the time it takes to get from point A to point B. Which leads me to the fact that…

I love the discovery of biking. Warning, cringeworthy platitude approaching—Cycling is not about the destination. There I said it, it’s over, now we can move on. Director Alfred Hitchcock pioneered the dolly zoom shot in his film Vertigo in 1958. The shot’s effect is achieved by holding a steady focus on the foreground figure in the frame while the camera is dollied closer or further from the subject, creating a warping sensation that draws in a new perspective and field of view without cutting the shot. Same subject, new perspective.

Dolly Shots in order: Vertigo (1958), Jaws (1975), & E.T. (1982)

This is how I feel when mounting a bike. I’m augmented. There’s something fascinating about moving beyond the pace of walking, while your body’s still being exposed without the protection of a car frame or windscreen; it’s exhilarating. Sitting atop a bike, your vantage point grows. Your realm of reach swells as the world around you shrinks like a dolly zoom—life feels different. This new vehicle warps you into an accessibility beyond the ordinary. Combined with a new perspective, new reach, and new pace you can hit the streets and rediscover the familiar with new eyes. There’s a sense of out-of-body experience when I move exposed at such a pace. As I speed to life, the city slows to sleep. I join the current of the flowing traffic, and moving cars lose their relative speed. I pass walkers that seem to be glued to sidewalk—time stands still. I can do this for hours on end; winding, exploring, zig-zagging neighborhoods just because I can. There are countless parallel realities just waiting to discovered, all it takes is a deviation from the routine path. Finally, whether by a destination or a fascination that catches my eye, I slowly come to a halt, applying my brakes, and placing my tired feet firmly back on the ground, and the sleeping city wakes up.

I love the rush of biking. As we discovered earlier, riding offers a new way to see, hear, and feel things on a bike that just aren’t possible in climate controlled air-tight cars, and that people on foot just don’t have the luxury of noticing. Beyond even that, there’s a unique stimulation to cycling. Similar to the allure of opening up and riding down a country road on a motorcycle. You’re heart rate is pounding your blood pumps through your veins, your eyes are peeled for survival. It shifts your necessary field of vision beyond yourself and into the realm of the world around you. You’re aware because you must be. Especially in New York, where at any given time 4 different things can pop of nowhere and cause a crash. It’s fun, exhilarating, and it’s healthy—and therefore it’s addicting. One of the biggest fears I have riding about the city is the sudden opening of a parked car door. In the age of ride-sharing and rushing, my life is literally in the hands of people opening doors. I try to avoid these scenarios at all cost too. The gap between parked cars on the curb and stopped cars at intersections create this seemingly perfect lane for bicycles to thread, but don’t be fooled, this is a death trap. When I first started biking in NYC I was very fortunate to miss an unexpectedly flung open door by an elderly man getting out of a car, not parked, but merely stopped at a red light—missed me by a foot. Until then I never really considered that as a possibility—seems like common sense that cars on the street wouldn’t be opening doors suddenly, but luckily I learned that the easy way (albeit narrowly). Even still I find myself between a rock and hard place from time to time. One time resulted in a public shaming from a fire engine of firefighters calling me out and directing everyone’s attention on the “Schmuck that’s gonna get someone killed.” Or the other time when I found myself approaching a red light and thought I could wedge between the parked cars and an active garbage truck to come to a halt. But as I did there was this magical moment of coincidence where the garbage man had hurled a soggy sac of trash over my head and into the back of the truck, barely missing my face into a prefect swish into the truck’s receptacle. As it happened I was grateful for avoiding a direct hit with a duck, but not so fortunate to avoid the curtain of dripping waste that rained down from the passing cloud of compost—yes it hit my mouth, and I don’t know if I brushed my teeth before kissing my wife 🤫. So I now avoid the death path and opt for designated bike lanes as often as I can. Even in the midst of danger and disgust, it’s truly never a dull day on the bike. And for someone who loves telling stories, this is my endless source of gold.

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