Methinks it was Ernest Hemingway who once said that there’s no better way to experience the contours of a country by sweating up and coasting down its hills through a bicycle. It’s as if a bicycle leaves an imprint of sorts in body and mind: the wind in your hair, the brush with bushes and shrubs, the mere manner of riding and balancing can take you memorable places a car won’t. And on that day that I trucked my bicycle off to a friend who bought it from me, a little twinge triggered in my cold, cold heart: that in three or four months of trying to learn to ride that bicycle every day, I could never seem to get the hang of it. The bicycle deserved more than I could ever give it: a familiar feeling, an elegy of sorts that I gave it as I gave it one final tap on its handlebars.
My bicycle wasn’t just any other bicycle: to call it a “bike” is to lose a bit of its sense of beauty. It’s a lot like that scene in De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves where he looked for the stolen family bicycle in a row of so many. It had 24″ wheels, thick enough to withstand potholes; and had the novelty of being easy to fold. Among so many bikes in the store – Dahons, Bickertons, other new brands that came in – that Tern was the one that beckoned to me: shiny fenders, high-tech handlebars, Shimano groupsets, and finished in black and bronze. There will be many like it from wherever they make it, but at some point, it was my bicycle.
Pandemic doesn’t leave a lot of options for people in their mid-30s to pursue whatever is in the throes of one’s midlife crisis, without the benefit of vaccines or RT-PCR tests or the rash of documents required to do something. A bicycle makes sense: the government made lanes for it, the stores are awash with people looking to buy one, and you don’t have to worry about contracting Covid from a passenger. Plus, “everyone knows how to ride a bike.” Until you realize that “everyone” does not include you, and riding astride a fat self-balancing motorcycle doesn’t count when it comes to bicycles.(more…)