Columbus Was Wrong The world is flat

By Christopher Briscoe

Get on the bike. Pedal. Feel the wind against your face. Remember riding around the block when you were a kid? You can be that kid again.

No passport required.

Travel always teaches: Tiptoe into the unfamiliar. Say yes to things that scare you. Meet the resistance. Embrace it. Push through it. Then transcend it. Move forward. Soon you'll be all in.

No passport required.

Bicycle touring alone was always my preference. I've rolled over more than 16,000 miles of blacktop on my two wheels, some of those miles with good friends, but the soul-stopping moments I most remember happened when I was alone.

1996. Dad leaves on another bike trip. Quincy always knew which direction to go—and he always wanted to come along.

Then I became a dad. My son, Quincy, grew up hearing my stories of pedaling across America. When he was in first grade he burst into tears, often, when I'd call from a lonely trans-America route. Then, right out of high school, he pedaled his own bike from Florida to California. The next summer, he rode from Alaska to Mexico. I'm getting old. My small boy has become a man.

Quincy Briscoe in 2012, about to leave on his first trans-America trip from Florida to California

Last fall, Quincy, now 22, suggested we bike across America, this time, together. I smiled at the idea yet knew he was serious. I felt honored that my son would want to take that long trip again, this time with his dad. I also thought I was done with that chapter of my life. I felt overweight, sleepy, and, frankly, old. After my last cycle across America, in 2000, I put my bike up on a garage hook. Then Photoshop came into professional photography, along with a computer. Instead of hunching over drop-down handlebars, I've been hunched over Steve Job's machine for 16 years. My bike’s only movement has been to gently swing from a rafter on its hook.

Quincy didn't give up. "Dad, we gotta do this." My mind finished his thought, “… before it's too late."

Father and son.

Then a new store opened across the street from my Ashland, Oregon, photography studio: Piccadilly Cycles. One sunny morning, on a whim, I tested out an electric-assist bike. I was planning to just go around the block, but suddenly there seemed to be a brisk wind at my back. At the end of the block, I didn't turn around. Hills had somehow become flatter. My legs had mysteriously gotten stronger. My dream of crossing America with my son was suddenly within reach.

Piccadilly Cycles in Ashland, Oregon

I put off buying the bike for as long as I could. May approached, the do-or-die month for setting out on Route 66—the road Steinbeck called The Mother Road in Grapes of Wrath. Quincy kept pushing me to buy the bike, knowing that once I handed over the cash, there'd be no turning back. Finally, I delivered a small stack of $100 bills as a down payment—earnest money. I delayed the next installment by another week. "Dad," Quincy telephoned, "why aren't you paying for it all at once?" I made up some lame excuse, not realizing I was still clinging onto an exit strategy.


The bike is mine. I'm like a teenager with his first driver’s license, looking for any excuse to take his ride for a spin. In his autobiography, rock ’n’ roller Keith Richards talks about buying his first prized guitar, then curling up next to it on his bed for the night. If only I could get my bike under the covers.

The fun of riding has come back into my life. Pure joy. A few months ago, I was thinking about moving to another town, one with fewer hills so I could ride my bike more often. With my e-bike, the hills have flattened. So the few grand invested in the e-bike has saved me a whole lot more. I don't have to sell my home and move.

It doesn't roll - it glides.

Many people think an e-bike is an electric bicycle. It's not. The Bosch system is brilliant. It won't do the work alone but requires you to pedal. Technology + your effort = magic! The rider soon learns to coordinate shifting gears with moving between the four power levels of assistance. The system forms a perfect partnership among the energy your legs put out, the efficiency of the selected gear, and the bonus energy supplied by the small electric motor. This amazing technology is built into a Felt bicycle frame so elegant that the dealer hands you a tiny bottle of touch-up paint to take with you. The bike has all Shimano parts. It doesn't roll—it glides.

Some traditional bicyclists apparently sneer at e-bikes, inferring that diminishing pain while enhancing fun is cheating. When I asked a friend if he's tried an e-bike, he scoffed, "I'm not that old yet."

I'm sure that when the first automobile came on the scene, the guys in the horse-and-buggies sneered too. Traditional skiers sneered at the first ski lifts, then, decades later, at snowboarders. Surfers sneered at the first boards with leashes. I used to have a Segway. A lot of folks sneered at that. If I was able to talk them into trying it, their sneer turned into a broad smile of joy and amazement — a lot like when they take their first ride on an e-bike.

Sneer all you want. The thing is, I get to ride 2,400 miles from Santa Monica to Chicago with my wonderful son. My legs won't scream to remind me that I'm not 25 anymore, or 35, or 55. And I'll have enough energy at the end of my day to laugh out loud, knowing that Christopher Columbus was wrong. The world is flat.

May 15, 2016. With my son, Quincy on the Santa Monica Pier, leaving on our 2,400 ride up Route 66.
Story and photos by Christopher Briscoe. All right reserved, 2016.

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