A friend of mine has just bought a bike. Not as in Ducati. As in pedal power. She picked it up from the bike shop where it had been specially ordered in, as per her colour request, donned the Australian regulation safety headgear and coasted over to my place, where I could ooh and aah over it with the appropriate degree of admiration. I use the term “coasted” loosely. I’m not sure of the exact timeframe, but she did indicate that it has been a while since she her rear end last connected with a triangle of torture. In all our years of friendship I’ve never once heard her talk yearningly of wanting a bike. I’ve never actually heard her discuss bikes at all outside telling her own children to “For God’s sake! Go for a ride on your bike!” Anyway, she arrived at my front door red faced, sweaty, breathless and complaining that she was probably “a little unfit”. You should know that the distance between our homes is about 700m by road – pretty much without incline – so I figure her self assessment probably had some truth to it.
I don’t like bikes. My relationship with them has been tenuous since childhood. I didn’t even learn to ride a bike until I was about twelve and in high school. This had nothing to do with me not wanting to learn, rather it was a parenting blip that probably had a lot to do with lack of interest on their behalf, coupled with my older brother’s history of having several of his bikes stolen from our front yard. I was the youngest by ten years and my folks were really a bit over it all by the time I came along. They were also, by then, very skilled in the art of deflect and ignore, so even my most well aimed and executed childhood pleas, whinges, blackmail attempts and tantrums for a bike fell on them like zephyrs on a pleasant spring day.
All of my friends had bikes. Early on it was the golden age of the Dragster. Kids would congregate after school and on weekends on the corner and outside the local shops with their two-wheeled totems of collective neighbourhood terror, comparing spoke decorations, handlebar grip streamers and the intensity of glitter in their ridiculously long low-rider saddles, while dripping melting ice block juice onto crossbars from Sunnyboys, Razzs and Glugs. When dragsters were no longer cool, they all upgraded to 10-Speed racing bikes. Not that one of them raced anyone or anything except the roll-call bell on school mornings. But they all had gleaming machines and would jockey for space in the bike rack, oblivious to my sensitivities and bicycle envy.
So imagine my surprise when, after restarting a campaign of particularly potent and incessant pre-teen badgering regarding my state of humiliating bike deprivation, my father took my mother’s advice (a startlingly unique occurrence), and retrieved my sister’s bike from the dusty, redback spider infested recesses of the back shed. My sister’s bike. My sister’s bike. My sister is sixteen years my senior and let’s just say a few things had changed in bike design in the intervening years. The woman had been married for six years by that stage and I have zero recollection of her ever pedalling anywhere. It was a bottle green horrideous fright of thing that looked like it could have actually belonged to my mother before it had been my sister’s. It bore no resemblance to the sleek machines I desired so covetously. It had an obnoxiously oversized white chain guard that might have been the height of cycling fashion when Elvis was hitting the big screen in “Love Me Tender”, but was seriously cringe-worthy within a generation of Flashdancers who thought the “Star Wars” series was a getting a bit tired.
Undeterred by my look of horror and extremely rare inability to utter anything other than a strange choking sound, the old man declared that he’d get one of his mates “to have a look at it and give it a bit of a cleanup. Be as good as gold, Tupp”. He delivered this news while balancing on his left leg, trying to hold the thing with a hand unsteadily gripping a recalcitrant saddle, the other hand vice-like on a handle bar and his right foot trying to push the jammed left pedal without any success. I just wanted to die.
When the bike reappeared sometime later after having had its overhaul, I wanted to look grateful. I really did. But I know I failed. It took me weeks to find the “right time” to get the bike out and have a crack at teaching myself to ride the thing. During these weeks, my parents clearly congratulated themselves on not having wasted money on buying me a brand new bike due to the lacklustre reception I’d given its return. Of course the “right time” was at night with low visibility, when the streets were deserted and, most importantly, when none of my friends could see the bike or me wobbling about on it.
Eventually I got the hang of riding, but I never got to like it. I would occasionally ride to one of my friend’s houses on it, taking back streets, and only because she didn’t have a bike and didn’t care for them at all. She thought they were all equally stupid. Consequently, my lack of experience led to a lack of confidence which led to a lack of desire to ride. When you added this to my underlying seething resentment of not having a bike like all normal kids at age 4, having to teach myself to ride in high school, and the ignominy of the fossilised bike itself… well, I don’t like bikes.
Some years later this was confirmed when my now ex husband got it into his head that I should have a bike one particular Christmas. He had a bike that I’d bought for him for his birthday when he’d asked for one. He’d ridden it about half a dozen times – he was such a committer. Was he aware of my cycle history? Yes. Was he aware of how I felt about bikes and my personal engagement in the pastime/sport of cycling? Yes. Did I tell him: A) I didn’t want a bike for Christmas; B) Not to buy me a bike at that point or at any point in the future; C) If he bought me a bike it would be stupid and a complete waste of money as I would never ride it? Yes. Did he buy me a bike a few weeks later for Christmas? Yes. It was a goddamn girlie bike. And it was Barbie pink. For anyone who knows me, and you would think that a woman’s husband would be somewhat clued in, when it comes to my sporty pursuits, they know I’m not a “girlie” type. I am into solitary gym style activities that involve cardio and free weights, and would not be seen dead anywhere near pink. I wanted to take the bike back but he wouldn’t let me. He sulked and I believe there were even tears about how he just wanted us to have a hobby together.
Through my deepening bike-bitterness I reneged on my stand of never riding it, just to shut him up, and we went for a ride together one weekend. Two blocks from home I hit a pothole in the road and came off over the handlebars. I limped the bloody thing the rest of the way home, spitting vicious invectives at his retreating back through a split lip, and hurled it in the garage. He never mentioned it again. We parted company not many years later but the bike remained there until recently when I put it out for a council cleanup and someone helped themselves to it from the front lawn. Good riddance.
I’ll wait and see how seriously my friend takes her new bike and how soon the novelty wears off. She informs me that it’s going to save her on a gym membership, that she’s going riding with her boys and her husband, and that she was a fanatical rider in her youth. Okay. I remember when another friend of mine spent six months paying off a top-of-the-line bike for exactly those reasons about seven or eight years ago. It had a pretty good work out over the first summer of weekends. Now it does a tour of duty once a year I think, if that. I guess her intentions are good. At least she’s bought a good looking, current model town bike. Sadly though she special ordered it in pink. I could almost live with that. It’s the matching pink safety headgear that brings me undone.