Thursday, May 3, 2012

Find yourself on a bicycle


         May is national bike month, and in the spirit on infinity mpg, I find myself reminiscing about a bicycle past. She was a Gitane Grand Sport DeLuxe, and before her I  had rarely ridden a bike.
         Growing up in car-choked, suburban LA, I learned to ride a bicycle but never employed that skill. At my house, learning to ride was more like baptism or memorizing state capitols: a right of passage you endured but would rarely use. Then in college suddenly everyone was a cyclist. 
         What the car is to Los Angeles, the bicycle is to Santa Cruz. On any given saturday you can expect to see families headed for off-road riding, surfers lazily pedaling their cruisers along the seaside cliffs (board up under one arm), and hipsters zipping around on their fixies. Cycling is omnipresent.
          Bikes were everywhere and I didn't fit in. It was isolating and embarrassing to say the least. Where so many of my friends saw the bicycle as an extension of self, I saw an untimely death machine.  Fed up, I decided to make a change. 
          But what to do? Funds were limited, and I didn't know where to begin. Step 1 was to thoroughly understand how a bicycle works. After learning the mechanics, maybe this machine would feel more personal to me.  Building a bike became my next move. 
          A friend of mine volunteered at a cycling coop where plenty of neophytes came to learn. Known as the Bike Church, this place was run on donations. It was the affordable answer, but the patrons were a little scary. An overwhelming number of pacific northwestern hipsters passed through with culinary tattoos and Skrillex haircuts, giving off a special brand of condescending ennui. 
         When it came to bikes, I was already intimidated by my friends, let alone the cooler-than-thou strangers at the Bike Church. At that point though, I just felt too lame without solid cycling skills. Putting my insecurities aside, I went searching for a frame to work on. On a tip from a friend, I visited a bike thrift shop and found my Gitane. She needed more than a little love, but for $75, it was impossible to say no. 
         Walking my ramshackle baby into that coop for the first time was a pretty scary thing. What is it with hot guys and bikes? They just seem to gravitate toward one another. Surrounded by hipsters and hotties (and praying not to embarrass myself), I found a work space, an old beat up bike repair manual, and a wrench. Over the next month, I meticulously dismantled, cleaned, and reassembled my bike. It was a group effort, with so many people helping along the way. Four weeks later, my bike was road-ready, and I found myself at ease with the milieu of novices and cycling snobs who ride. After that, it was just a matter of learning from the road.
        My Gitane was stolen about a year ago, and it's ok that she's gone. The real beauty of that bike was getting to know her. Although she's probably chopped for parts, I would like to think that someone else is riding her these days. It's funny the way an inanimate object can define a time in our lives. For me, getting comfortable on that bike meant much more than balance and mechanics: it meant finding confidence around new people, and in many ways, finding confidence in myself. 
 Happy bike month and happy riding! 

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