Monday, 9 June 2014

Cycling at Night

There is something completely satisfying about seeing a city from the seat of a bicycle.

Calgary's beautiful network of recreational pathways lining the river valley is serene and peaceful even in the most bustling part of the city. This serenity abruptly changes to the high-energy, life-or-death "running with the bulls" on busy inner-city streets as cars, bicycles, buses and trains all struggle for space. On a bicycle this change is startlingly abrupt in a way that a runner or pedestrian doesn't really experience. Their shift occurs more slowly at walking speed and perceptions adapt. Bicycles move at a speed where this change happens instantaneously, switching from high-adrenaline (and stress) to serene quiet parkland and back before your mind can catch up.

At night it is different.

There is less sound, less traffic and less competition. Downtown through-fares are now empty and silent; a far cry from the life-or-death conflict of rush hour a few hours earlier. So much bitterly contested urban space that is now wanted by no one.

All the regular "rules" seem to melt away, you can comfortably cycle at your own pace, the air is brisk so you will never break a sweat, you can take any lane you want without having a glare or obscenity directed your way. Things like traffic and aggression are usually reduced to the occasional - peaceful - interaction.

Other minor nuisances of urban cycling become much more serious. That crack that you casually skim over by slightly tilting the angle of your handlebars? Try doing it now without being able to see it.

Night cycling makes you feel more free and yet somehow more constrained; free from the fear of traffic and the constant threat of aggressive 1-tonne metal beasts killing you at ever turn, while now hyper-vigilant of the humble crack in the road or speed bump you wouldn't think twice about in the daylight.

The combination of the two factors keeps me on the roads I know - most of the time anyway. The roads I struggle and fight for every inch on during daylight hours, I seem to know so intimately that I don't need to see them. I know every bump, every crack and every line that I need to skip, turn or bump over. The darkness is no obstacle in places you know.

Riding at night is a testament to intimate connection that cycling has to a city. A bicycle is connected to a city in a way that no other form of mobility seems to be. 

Plus the views are better from the seat of a bicycle than a seat of a Mazda.

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