Two years ago I moved into an apartment closer to the town centre. After moving, it was only about twenty minutes away and those weekend coffees and trips to my favorite bookstore where that much closer but the atmosphere was less than inviting. I was toddling along at a foot’s pace while cars pounded past on the Trans-Canada Highway and then only metres away on a busy bridge. I started thinking that a bicycle might be a good idea.
I had been given a second hand road bike the autumn before but discovered that the curbs and gravel between me and my Saturday morning Americano were too much for said bike. It was prone to pinch flats and being stabbed by errant paper clips when in the vicinity of civilization. I mentioned this to an old friend who informed me that one of his colleagues had been fixing up town bikes and selling them to friends for the cost of parts. I didn’t technically qualify as a “friend” and wasn’t sure where I’d store the bike in winter. (My storage locker is roughly the size of a portable loo.)
And what if I never rode it?
I am a slow athlete. I was in university before being liberated by the realization that I no longer had to keep up with anyone else or meet a predetermined number on a stopwatch. I could run or bike or ski and enjoy the fresh air, breathe, and hang out in my body… without the emotional baggage of being embarrassed by my comparative inabilities. It was a great relief from a burden I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying. I was free. But when I contemplated the bicycle I did not relish the battle that would ensue if my 10 year-old self made an appearance and decided that three gears felt too much like junior high phys. ed.
But two weeks later I found myself driving across town to pick up a new bike. The bicycle man was an enthusiast indeed, having set up a pully system over the stairs in his condo to maximize the space available for bicycle storage. We walked outside to find the cycle he’d set aside for me. I knew I was going to take the bike home. I knew I would ride it now and then. But I did not at all expect what happened next.
I fell in love with the bike.
“You don’t have to take it if it’s not what you’re looking for.”
But I was sold. My heart had become a glorious helium balloon as soon as I’d seen it. This was a child’s joy! The bicycle was a Canadian-made CCM with a red metallic frame, black fenders and a sloping ladies’ cross bar. It had been fitted with a new seat and a wicker basket but still had the original, Sturmey Archer shifter and a few faded patches which were, to me, the charming patina of a particular vintage. It is ridiculous to love an inanimate object but by some alchemy its components – new and old, shiny and worn – blended into a personality that I liked instantly.
The bicycle man took hold of the handle bars, stood over the front wheel and instructed me to climb on. He speculated that the seat was too high and offered to lower it. I was self conscious about being held upright on a bicycle the way my father had steadied me as a child. But mostly I declined the offer because I liked how tall I felt. I could look the bicycle man right in the eye and because of the angle of the handlebars I also sat up straight. No, the seat would be just fine thank you.
The bike has become a valuable mode of transportation but it is more than practical. I love the delicious feeling of speed when I am in low gear, the ting of the simple brass bell, and I adore the delicate dance of jumping on and off because the seat is, yes, too tall. I’ve rolled all over town and down by the river and have surprised by myself by discovering peaceful paths and clever shortcuts that had gone unnoticed in a decade of driving.
And then there is the unexpected kinship I’ve discovered with other bicycle lovers. One of my friends has proposed a bicycle date this summer complete with sundresses, dark glasses, and oversized hats. Like me I guess she’s found something freeing about fewer gears. It is – cliché though it may be – not about how fast I get there but about how much I see and feel along the way.
This is the bicycle’s second season and you’ll be happy to know that while my storage locker was much too small to accommodate it I did find a perfect over-wintering spot for it – in my living room.