The last Saturday of May 2016. It is after midnight, and the two sounds most prominent to me in this moment are the hum of narrow, high-pressure tires on smooth asphalt and the soughing of the balmy, late-spring air flowing gently past my ears. I am keenly aware of the hush of my surroundings as I roll slowly, meanderingly through my neighborhood in the dead of the night.
Back in university, as a visualization to help me focus on my goal of living in Japan, I imagined and wrote a scenario very similar to this. The bicycle is a bit different, owing to a decade of evolving tastes, and I’m in Nerima rather than Shinjuku, but the impulse and action at the heart of it are the same.
In the right circumstances, riding a bicycle may become trancelike. The machine below you becomes a transparent conduit for a singular physical experience that is something like a flow state.
For me, this means riding late at night when the streets are empty. This means riding at a deliberately slow speed. And finally, this means doing so on a track bike.
One gear, so no shifting. No freewheel, so no coasting. Your legs are how you go and how you slow. It is the simplest, most direct experience available on two wheels.
I have no destination, just an urge to be in motion. I follow no particular route, though I nearly always turn in the direction of any cats I see crossing the street. I stick to the smallest, quietest roads I can find and continue until the urge to move transitions into an urge to be still.
On this night, I eventually find myself lying still on a park bench just a short distance from my apartment, watching the daphne-scented wind blow a zelkova’s branches to and fro, showing and hiding Orion’s belt behind fresh spring leaves.