cycling meditation

Thoughts from Rainer Ganahl, an Austrian artist in New York, on speeds of cycling (lit. and fig.) and the ‘porcelain’ nature of life:

Apart from crossing borders and distances the bicycle taught me something else: speed and multitasking. I have learned negative speed, i.e. relative slowliness in seeing things passing and drifting on the always changing surfaces of cities and beyond, complementing the metropolitan, mostly subterranean view of the city and the one of extra mural fast trains and car systems. But there is also positive speed, i.e. the multitasking and multi-presence bicycles are permitting moving you back and forth between spread out urban theaters in ways that are not imaginable by foot, with cars or by public transport. Without a bike, things don’t get done in my time, geographic priorities have to be set, i.e. life is half as fast. This relative speeding, slow when others are fast and fast when others are slow, forms agendas differently and allows velo-cyclists to set their own pace, form their own rhythms. 

Bicycling also keeps me physically in shape and psychologically alert through a permanent dialogue with cars, pedestrians and the city environment of traffic rules and its enforcers, red lights, advertisements and other distractions. Cities offer a different pleasure for each mode of transportation and the one reserved for bicyclists is often stunning and breathtaking. In fact, the beauty of the city, with and without interesting looking pedestrians, is itself a risk to bikers through its distractions and ads to the dangers of cars and other traffic. It is only last November that a mini-van hit me from behind and catapulted me through the air. I was very, very lucky that my injuries were minor and passing. Since this accident, I am always wearing a helmet and special reflective gear. This incident heightened my interest in security items – including the lock – and increased the impression on the fragility of life as such. In high-speed involuntary encounters, any protection turns fragile, and relative. In big cities like New York where I have been using pedal-driven spinning machines for nearly 20 years (with quite some accidents and many bicycles stolen), i.e. in cities that don’t yet have sufficient bicycle lanes and lack a culture of respect for bicyclists, life can to a certain degree be made of porcelain.

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