I like to ride my bicycle

The spring is sprung, or at least a bit more springy than previously. In fact, the arctic blasts have reappeared this week, but we were doing well until Tuesday. At any rate, the Siberian winds have eased off enough to allow me back on the bike. The bike I’ve been looking forward to for three years. The bike I purchased with my settling in allowance about two weeks after I arrived in Korea. The fanciest-looking and best of all the bikes I’ve ever owned. Not including the one I borrowed from a friend (for a year – a very good friend) which inspired this purchase because her bike was so great.

Introducing…. Madame Maxime



Those readers who’ve known me since my serious cyclist days may (or may well not) recall that all bikes earn a name. The first was Binky, a silver Raleigh which was a chunky warhorse that got the job done. The name came from Death’s own steed. If you aren’t aware that the Grim Reaper will come for you riding a stallion called Binky, you haven’t read enough of the right kind of fiction. Binky got me back on the road after nearly 20 years without riding a bike and a morbid fear of roads. A nasty road accident and countless commuter-cycling hours later, the Reaper finally came for Binky. She went out in fine style – totally conking out from a shagged-out bottom bracket halfway down a picturesque hill somewhere in north Wales. It was what she would have wanted, I consoled myself.

Back home I let Binky rest up, planning to get the bottom bracket issue resolved, and coughed up for a reconditioned road bike. Four years of warhorse and a highly developed sense of road confidence told me I wanted something small and light, with mean-looking slim road wheels. At the tiny, tucked away Bicycle Boutique I picked up just the thing: a bright green racer. My new baby – The Green Goblin. Bursting with newfound speed and arrogance, and grievously lightened in the wallet department, I was devastated when two weeks later I came down from band practice in the centre of the city to find some light-fingered gitbag had relieved me of my pride and joy leaving no trace.

Skint from the recent purchase and in desperate need of wheels (cycling saved me a fortune in bus fares which are crippling in the UK – particularly in cities like Manchester – and got me around faster and drier than anything else could) I put aside my dream of restoring Binky and took her to the great bike park in the sky. Or, as it happened, in Gorton. In Gorton, she was traded in to an amazing man who worked from a municipal office and had an arrangement with the bin men. I’d read this article about him only a few months prior to Binky’s final gallop. Oscar rescued and hopefully reformed Binky for a new user, and I took home The Midnight Cowbow, a dark pinky-purple bike with Marlboro stencilled along the downtube.

Sadly, a couple of spins on The Midnight Cowboy showed that although she would be fine as a pottering about bike, and was undeniably wonderful as a free bike, there were too many minor issues that needed urgent attention to be a reliable commuter bike. The upside of this was that through the wonderful world that is Gumtree.com, I met a friend with whom I could tinker with bikes, practise and improve my Spanish, and eventually two years later, tour around Quito with when I paid him a return visit on his own turf. The downside was that I had to bite the bullet and shell out for a new bike.

I turned, of course, to the Internet, where I found a lean-looking sleek white all-Shimanoed-up no name bike from China. It was shipped from Austria and, as the only two personalities I could think of from Austria were the famous mid twentieth-century dictator and the Baroness from The Sound of Music, ‘The Baroness’ she became. The Baroness was a super purchase: nippy, roady, thin and light. Unfortunately my lofty ambitions (to be more lofty than I really am) were my undoing with The Baroness. On reading the specs, which did clearly state that it would suit a rider 5″2 or taller, I decided that a couple of inches would surely be neither here nor there and spent the following year with my leg awkwardly propped along the crossbar whenever I stopped at lights. This eventually led to a minor hip issue (now long resolved, thankfully, but troubling for quite some time) and a peculiar gammy-legged waddle on occasion. One further road accident later (front tyre caught in the tram lines where they veer across the road in a manner that seems calculated to ensnare the unwary cyclist – I sailed straight over the handlebars) I decided that until I could find something more appropriate, I’d start walking to work. The Baroness and The Midnight Cowboy sat in my hallway gathering dust and I wore through numerous pairs of shoes until a friend rescued me with the aforementioned year-long lend.

The end of my cycling, until now, was the end of that year when I set off on my current trajectory. I took the borrowed bike in to a friend’s bike shop: the Bike Barn. There – with help – I stripped down, cleaned out, regreased and reassembled it before returning it in tip-top form to my friend. The Baroness I sold to my lovely (and much taller) housemate. The Midnight Cowboy I donated to the bike-shop owning friend, along with most of my tools and bike bits n bods.

Aside from a brief cycle alongside the beautiful lake Chapala in Mexico only a couple of months into my journey I haven’t been on a bike since. The mean streets of Lima were always a little too treacherous to venture and besides that it was a 40km commute. Seoul, with it’s relatively sane and law-abiding drivers, clear traffic regulations, excellent leisure cycling facilities and small but persistent community of cyclists, seemed to be a good place to get back in the saddle. In fact, this desire even influenced the decision on where to live. My optimum cycling distance is up to 6km: far enough that you work off a cake or chocolate bar a day should the need arise but close enough that sweat and endless hard work are not a real issue. A real joy of my current journey is a kilometre long stretch of downhill which makes having to ride in to work at 6am a pleasure rather than a chore. At no other time of day would I be able to enjoy it so unreservedly! And fortunately, the traffic is so bad on that stretch on the way home that I discovered an alternative route which avoids having to go up the hill again! 

And the main joy is of course my beloved new friend, Madame. Yes, I do speak to her in French. When I pick her up from her home on the balcony I greet her with a cheery, “Bonjour, Madame,” and when I leave her at the bike rack at work I take care to say, “Au revoir.” Occasionally I’ll emit a random stream of the rest of the French I know during the journey: “Mais oui, Madame, les oiseaux sont grises et marrons, quiche lorraine mon petit champignon.” I got an A in my French GCSE I’ll have you know.

Bikes. They’re bloody brilliant.

On yer bike!

On yer bike!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cristin's Adventures
    Apr 09, 2014 @ 08:00:32

    Looks like fun 🙂 I did some bike riding last spring after many years of not doing it. It was wonderful!



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