I live in bicycle paradise – or something. The last time I was regularly on a bike was during a visit to Beijing in 1991. Portland is noisomely smug about its bike amenities and there’s always a bunch of people in spandex wearing their bike shoes into a coffee shop. There are fancy bike shops all over town, there are green lanes for bicycles, the office buildings have lockers, racks and even showers for bike commuters, there are serious bike races and novelty bike races (like the Naked Ride, where you can see a peloton of nude white dudes zipping down the hills in some elegant eastside neighborhoods). My husband bikes 8+ miles to his office fairly regularly. A number of my former law partners used to bike to work and ride up the elevator in their bike shorts while the young associates studiously averted their eyes. We have a number of friends who are Serious Bikers. They have road bikes, touring bikes, race bikes, commuter bikes, cargo bikes and probably dress casual and Sunday bikes.
Today was a beautiful day. And I saw an article recently proclaiming the health benefits of simply being outdoors. So I decided I would bike to take some edge off my malaise. This required a bicycle and other accessories. I actually have a bicycle. My husband bought me one in 2003. But that’s not the one that I dusted off for my adventure. Instead I pulled the tarp off a heavy, decrepit mountain bike that has been sitting in the yard since some time this summer.
The other bike was very fine, from the company with the cutesy-brash name Surly. My husband got me a bike when we were engaged, for his own peculiar reasons. He feels strongly about bikes, it was high quality and on sale. Had I been asked, I would have said I did not want a bike and if I had, I would have bought the cheapest second hand granny bike I could find. Nonetheless I had a bike – that was uncomfortable and too big for me. For the next ten years the bike was a convenient source of mutual marital vitriol. I think I rode it maybe half-dozen times (mostly to the grocery store). It’s not that I don’t like biking. It’s that I was working, pregnant, toting an infant (or all three) pretty much continuously for those 10 years. Biking meant getting the bike out of the special hell of the basement, figuring out what to do with the sundry infants or toddlers (usually my husband put them in the bike trailer on his bike) and mounting An Expedition.
My husband on the other hand, used the surly bike nearly as often as he used his own. Then one day early this year he rode it to work before a two day business trip. Shunning the parking garage bike rack (and disdaining the idea of simply driving and leaving the car near work), he locked up the bike outside his office. It was stolen, from in front of the security guards and camera on a federal office building. He discovered this at midnight the night he returned. He informed me “my” bike had been stolen and railed against Portland’s national sport of bike theft (he’s pretty sure he saw it on Craigslist a couple of months later, minus some of his add-ons).
Now bikeless, I felt I ought in good conscience to have a bike. A couple of the children were nominally old enough to participate in Portland Bike Culture (like Sunday Parkways rides). I went to the goodwill and found a battered, muddy, extremely heavy mountain bike for fifty dollars. The frame was small enough for my short Asian inseam. My husband greeted it with colorful language. I took it to the ubiquitous neighborhood bike shop where the shaggy young man with the giant ear gauges did not use colorful language, but clearly felt that it was barely worth the additional forty dollars I paid him to check and oil it. Then it sat under its tarp for some months (except for one episode where I rode it to the grocery and wrapped the lock cable under the front tire, greatly discomposing my son).
This morning I got out my bike, wiped off the seat, found a helmet (which I’m pretty sure is mine and not the children’s) and a lock. I do not possess anything remotely resembling bike clothes, but I found knee length trousers and after some false starts, two gloves. We have latex gloves, garden gloves, work gloves, military surplus gloves, leather gloves, ski gloves, mitts and several hybrids of the above (plus gloves for multiple sizes of child), but none in pairs. However, I figured that in a town where people tool around on Mary Poppins bikes in tweed plus fours and caps, or velveteen equestrian helmets, I wouldn’t look too peculiar in my one red and one grey glove, boots, cotton ticking capris and sweater dress. I put my laptop in a backpack and set out.
I panted and struggled to get my heavy bike up the hills near my house, puttered through the neighborhoods I used to walk my babies through and looked at the houses out along the Willamette River. I turned my bike around to pick up a quarter left behind in the street, but did not scavenge the tail off the road kill squirrel in the gutter by U of Portland. The sun shone and the sky was very blue. The bike lane was strewn with every size of twig, and in one place blocked by a downed tree from last Thursday’s wind storm. I biked along the Willamette bluff, overlooking the industrial park in the river bottom. My bum got numb and I got pins and needles in my “undercarriage.” I guess if ones feet can go to sleep, other parts can as well. When I reached a madrone tree in the curve of the flood plain I parked my bike and made some phone calls that I’d been putting off for quite a while.
On the way home I stopped at a café, provided with a bespoke welded bike rack of rusted square stock and furnished with locally made pottery and tables of reclaimed timber and polished concrete. There were other folk with their bike helmets, although they had tights and clip-in shoes. I had a damp spot like a potty-training child from the wet foam in the torn bike seat. After working an hour or so, I took the last little piece of the route home, almost all downhill, past the community garden with its view of the St. Johns Bridge. My butt is going to remember this tomorrow. But I hope it is sunny at least one other day this week, so I can try again.