Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, rode home from the Sandoz lab at which he worked on April 19, 1943. His lab assistant rode with him. As they pedalled along, Hofmann began to feel bad. “My condition began to assume threatening forms,” he wrote. “Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror.” On that day, Hofmann became the first person to trip on LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide. Since that trip involved a jaunt on a bike, the day is commemorated as Bicycle Day.
Hofmann had first synthesized the drug in 1938 with a plan to use it as a circulatory and respiratory stimulant, but it didn’t seem to gain any traction at the lab. Still, Hofmann remained curious about the properties of LSD. On April 16, 1943, he synthesized LSD once again. This time, he felt a little funny. “I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness,” he wrote in LSD: My Problem Child. “At home, I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colours. After some two hours this condition faded away.” Three days later, he experimented on himself, taking a high—for LSD—dose of 250 micrograms.
Very Little to Do with the Bike
In the his laboratory journal, Hofmann wrote, “Home by bicycle. From 18:00- ca.20:00 most severe crisis.” In his book, he added that he and his lab assistant travelled by bike because of wartime restrictions on cars. When the trip was going badly, he wrote, “I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had travelled very rapidly.” For a post-ride drink, Hofmann wanted milk, which, for some reason, he thought would work as an antidote. He ended up drinking about 2 l of milk. And his trip got worse.
In Hofmann’s account of that first experiment, the bike seems to play a minor role, possibly on par with the milk. Yet, the bicycle has become emblematic of the first trip. Maybe it’s simply the idea of travel—the bike as means of transportation, the drug as means for a psychedelic journey—that led to the name Bicycle Day. It’s also a bit odd that psychedelic enthusiasts would be keen on the bike ride as the pedal home seemed to be quite a drag.
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LSD and Performance
During that first physical activity on acid, Hofmann didn’t feel as if he was moving at all, yet his partner said they moved at a good clip. That hardly sounds like an endorsement for riding on acid. Still, writer, psychedelic enthusiast and paraglider James Oroc made some pretty large performance claims for LSD in a paper for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “According to the combined reports of 40 years of use by the extreme sports underground, LSD can increase your reflex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration until you experience ‘tunnel vision,’ and make you impervious to weakness or pain. LSD’s effects in these regards amongst the extreme-sport community are in fact legendary, universal, and without dispute,” he wrote. He didn’t cite any sources in that paper.
As for bikes, Oroc mentions mountain bikers a few times. “I also have no doubt that someone rides Slickrock in Moab on mushrooms or acid probably every single day,” he wrote. The only “well-documented” acid-fuelled athletic performance Oroc cites is that of Doc Ellis. The pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970. Later, Ellis claimed he threw the “no-no” on LSD. There are, however, still many uncertainties surrounding Ellis’s claim.
Recently, LSD has piqued the interest of Silicon Valley types. Microdoses of the drug, these new enthusiasts say, can improve your concentration, your creativity, your ability to work long hours and your mood.
In Canada, LSD is listed as a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Possession, trafficking and manufacturing of Hofmann’s drug are all offences under the act.