The first bicycle I got still as a preschooler was an adult-size women's bike (single
speed, of course) that I inherited from a much older cousin. It was probably still of the pre-WW2 origin, with
the wide "balloon" tires, of sturdy construction that could take a lot of abuse, and
could be operated for decades with minimum maintenance (my 84-year-old mother
is still now almost daily using the very same bike to get around). In North America,
in recent years one has been able to buy rather expensive replicas of similar bikes.
On this bike I learned how to cycle in spite of that for the first year or
two I was still too small to reach on its seat, and so I had to stand all the
time while pedaling. Later on, in mid 1950's I was using it to get to the elementary school in Choltice which was about 4 km (2.5 miles)
away from Ledec where I lived.
And whenever the route of the most popular amateur cycling race of Eastern Europe,
the so called Peace Race, led within reasonable cycling
distance from Choltice (which was on many of those years), one day in May all our school decorated their bikes mostly
with stripes of colored paper (mainly woven into the spokes of both wheels) and we cycled
to the main road along which the racers went, and there we stood for up to a few hours
until everybody (first perhaps a few fastest riders, then the main peleton and then over a
much longer period of time all the trailing slower groups and accompanying vehicles) went by,
and we waved to everybody - and so it is quite possible that I may also have been waving to
Jim whom I met two years ago as a fellow rider of a Winnipeg-to-Atlanta bicycle ride, who used to take part in the Peace
Race as a young member of the Scottish team ...
But although that old bike of mine was good enough for commuting to school,
it was nothing to show off in front of my classmates, and also
it was so slow after a while ... So by the time I was about 12 or so, I managed
to earn enough money for a brand new 8-speed Favorit road bike. I earned the money
in about two years by picking cherries in the orchards of the nearby collective farms.
The cherry picking season lasts not more than three weeks and usually starts in the
last days of June. I was working from dawn to dusk, from about 6-7 am to 9 pm, seven days a week for those
two or three weeks. I like cherries very much, but after a few days of picking
I was seeing only cherries in my dreams - a huge sea of cherry-tree branches heavy
with the ripening berries. It's like after a few days into a bicycle ride when
I can see in my dreams all the time only the infinite pavement running underneath a bike.
On my new bike I could go much further. I was riding it after school several times
a week along one of my several circular routes (ranging from about 15 to 70 km) through the
foothills of the very low Iron Mountains (north-westernmost part of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands) that
were beginning just south of us. And doing some longer rides through Bohemia
during the summer break.
Then I went on to a university and later had the family, and had too little time to do
much cycling. I returned to it only in the end of 1970's when I started to get
about Prague on my bike on a daily basis. In the end of 1983 I came to Canada,
and started to cycle again a lot in Vancouver. It was at a time when there were
not yet many cyclists in the streets, the drivers were not used to them, and I
had two close encounters with cars that failed to yield me the right of way.
Fortunately, in both cases I always managed to stop (land on pavement) before
actually hitting the car. Later on I lived in southern Alberta for quite a few years,
where in spite of the nice plains cycling is not very good because of frequent
high winds (with speeds up to 150 km/h) that can make your return home almost impossible.
But the city of Calgary is close to a cyclist's paradise among the cities I know.
It boast an extensive network of more than 100 km of bike trails throughout the city, especially along its rivers and creeks.
In 1989-91 I spent two years in Japan, where I lived on the outskirts of greater Tokio, were I
never tried to drive a car, and traveled only by bike or using the public transportation.
I have discovered a network of bicycle paths along the river banks in the plains
west of Tokio, along which I could get from the confusion of the heavy
traffic in the streets of Tokio in less than half an hour into the near
paradise of rice paddies and cherry blossoms. Those bike trails must have been
built many years before, and began to crumble somewhat at that time, but were still very satisfactory.
In Japan, one was allowed in the cities to ride the bike on sidewalks among the pedestrians as
the streets may have been too dangerous for the cyclists. Sidewalks are usually
crowded enough with pedestrians themselves, and one has to develop new skills to weave
among them on a bicycle. But after a while, I was somehow intuitively able to
continuously modify and distort the position of my body and of the handlebars
of my bike to go rather fast through tiny gaps between the pedestrians.
The idea is to make oneself as flat as possible - first put through that tiny
gap between two pedestrians one shoulder and one handlebar by turning the bike
quickly to a side, then equally quickly regain the balance by leaning in the
other direction and in a wavy motion put through the other handlebar and the
rest of your body without touching anybody.
In Manitoba cycling is relatively easy. There are no hills at all. Winds can
be strong, but they never reach the intensity of the Southern Alberta Chinooks.
Here I have done a lot of cycling. In Pinawa, where I lived for four years, I cycled
to work almost every day during the summer months, and was exploring the vicinity
on the bicycle. My favorite destination was the Whiteshell Provincial Park.
And in 1996 I finally found time to participate in a three week Habitat for Humanity
long-distance ride, which was something at least remotely resembling the Peace Races
I watched as a little kid. I could enjoy the cycling, and at the same time hopefully
help a little bit others by raising money for the Habitat.