19 April 2017

Today Is Bicycle Day. And It's A Real Trip

Sometimes people give a knowing (or think-they-know) grin when I tell them I took a trip on a bike.  Yes, even at my age, at this late date. 

I'm sure many people reacted in the same way--or less approvingly--when they saw the title of Tom Cuthbertson's Bike Tripping.  It's one of those primers, if you will, that came out during the '70's North American Bike Boom.  Most of the advice in it is still pretty sound, even if some of what he says about equipment is dated.  And, as with Cuthbertson's other books, it can be enjoyed for its witty tone and those fun illustrations from his friend Rick Morrall.

First of all, the book came out in 1972--one year after Cuthbertson's first classic, Anybody's Bike Book.  Although the calendar may have said the world was in the 1970s, in many ways,  it was still the late '60's, complete with the anti-war and environmental movements.  And hippies. (Cuthbertson's books looked like they were created by hippies.  And he looked like one.) And, of course, drugs.

Among the drugs of that time was Lysergic Acid Diathymalide-25, better known to the world as LSD or simply "acid".  Although it still has a stigma from the overdoses and the people who had terrifying visions while taking it, there are still researchers who are trying to find ways to use it for which it was intended:  medical purposes.

At least, that was the way Albert Hofmann intended it.  He was the Swiss scientist who first synthesized it, in 1938, as   a stimulant for the circulatory and respiratory systems.  He learned of its true power five years later, when he accidentally absorbed some into his fingertips.  The "not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition" he experienced intrigued him enough that he did what any intensely curious researcher would do:  He experimented on himself.

On 19 April 1943, he took what he thought was an appropriate threshold dose:  250 milligrams.  That was a bit too  much; today we know that a standard dose is 200 mg. (I am using the imperial "we":  I have no firsthand experience!)  Within an hour, his perception began to ebb and flow rapidly.  Then he became the first person to "freak out":  He was convinced that his neighbor was a witch, and he was going insane.  He wanted to go home.

In 1943, wartime restrictions were in place, which meant that, like many other people, Hofmann had no access to a car.  So he rode his bicycle.  

Image by jibberjabber

That trip home was a stressful one:  His vision wavered and he felt as though he were motionless.  After he reached the climax of his condition, however, he came back from a "weird, unfamiliar world" to reassuring everyday reality.

Albert Hofmann, therefore, took the world's acid trip.  And he did it on his bike.  That is why 19 April is celebrated as Bicycle Day--though I think Bicycle Trip Day might be more appropriate.


  1. Dr. Hofmann's Bicycle trip is enshrined in the history and folklore of the alternative/ underground culture. It brings to mind another trip.

    Soon after Donovan's "Yellow Mellow" song came out in late 1966, brains worked furiously and a group of people on the West Coast, actually the SF Bay area, came up with the banana high. The story was that if you scraped off the inside of a banana peel, roasted it gently, and ground it up into a fine powder, mixed it with a little tobacco and smoked it, you could get really high. The tale was all over the place in the summer of 1967, the "summer of love". Some people actually tried it. I was never fooled because I saw the magnificant pun under the story: you can trip on a banana peel. I was raised on Laurel and Hardy.

    The point was that if the federal government has made a common wild plant that is native to large parts of the continent illegal because it gets people high, what would they do if they found out that bananas are in fact a powerful psychodelic? The point is even more relevant today in light of statements coming out of Mr. T's "Justice" Department.

    I do not advise anybody to try and duplicate Dr. Hofmann's trip. At least not with doses over 50- 75 mg. Settle down under a tree.


  2. Leo--I remember hearing about the "banana peel high." I was about eight years old when that story came out, but even then, it didn't sound right to me.

    I've never tried acid,either, and I don't think I will.

    As for the ban against marijuana: It came about in large part because, until the '60's, most of the people who got high on it (in the US, anyway) were Mexican laborers. Governments have a history of making the pleasures of the poor and disenfranchised illegal, or looking the other way when the upper classes partake of them.

    An example of the former occurred in England during the 18th Century, when gin--which had become the favored drink of laborers and other common people--was heavily taxed and its distribution severely restricted. Meanwhile, whiskey, consumed mainly by the middle and upper classes, was left untouched. As for the latter, we have only to look at Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs in the US. During Prohibition, speakeasies and small-time bootleggers were raided, while the rich drank unmolested in country clubs and the like. Similarly, the War on Drugs netted mainly the urban small-time dealers--most of whom were Black and Hispanic--but left white college kids and suburbanites, who were the biggest consumers, untouched.