A nose for the road

19 07 2011

One of the great things about cycling is the way it engages the senses. All of them. Especially in the city.

When you’re in the car, you’re removed from the world, insulated from most of its sensations by hundreds of pounds steel, plastic, glass and fabric. It’s easy to zone out. On the bike you’re immersed in the world around you, involved with it. Zoning out can kill you.

Sight is, of course, obvious. On the bike, moving at a slower pace, you see things you might miss from a car. Even on routes I ride regularly, I often notice something new from my bike.  And your eyes are your first defense to danger as you scan the road ahead for hazards.

I've ridden past this building dozens of times, but just the other day I was struck how much it looked like it belonged along the French Riviera

Your ears can also save your life, alerting you to the size, type and speed of vehicles approaching out of your line of sight. Cyclists who ride listening to music with ear buds are tempting fate.

Shock absorbers, upholstery and insulation wrap motorists in comfortable splendor; one road surface feels pretty much like all others. On the bike, every nuance of the pavement is transmitted to your hands, arms, shoulders and butt. Potholes are to be avoided at all costs. Fresh, newly-laid pavement is luxurious. And then there’s the wind in your face, the unexpected rainstorm stinging your skin, the heat of the sun, the bite of the cold.

Taste might not be the most obvious sensory experience associated with a ride; but really is there any better reward for a good day on the bike than a delicious indulgence afterwards or along the way?

A tasty reward for a long day on the road

Smell is probably the most underrated sense tickled by a bike ride. Sure there’s car and diesel exhaust ever present. Skunk roadkill can linger for kilometers. And who hasn’t experienced the olfactory horror of getting stuck behind an oozing garbage truck on a hot day?

P.U. It's best to ride quickly past this fish plant.

But there’s also good smells, like newly cut hay fields in the country, the salty sea air, the trees in Stanley Park, the Indian restaurants in South Vancouver, the piles of fresh cedar chips at one of the few remaining saw mills on the Lower Fraser River.