Saturday, April 4, 2009

Yearning for a Lovely Bicycle

Before all of this began, I had not been on a bicycle since my teenage years in the 1990s. Back then, my trusty beat up bike felt simply like an extension of my body -- I rode it everywhere, wearing anything I wanted. Riding did not require any special preparations. The bike was easy to operate and it gave me a sense of independence.

[image: from an advert of Triumph Cycles, early 1900's]

Somehow in adulthood, things became different. It seemed impossible to simply buy an attractive, comfortable bicycle and ride it. There was a bike culture, where cycling was positioned as a formalised, athletic, and often political act. This culture has done a great deal to keep me away from bicycles.

My associations with bicycles from seeing them ridden in American cities included hunched-over postures,  blotchy, sweat-stained faces communicating a curious combination of misery and self-righteousness, commitment to a wardrobe of lycra or t-shirts with anti-car slogans, and constant risk of collisions with motor vehicles... none of which appealed to me. Combined with the bicycles themselves - aggressive, awkward monstrosities that I wouldn't begin to know how to physically negotiate - bike culture was not something I found compatible with my ideas of dignity and aesthetics. If it were possible to ride a bicycle with grace and without the need to sacrifice my personal tastes - perhaps I might want one again. But what I had seen on the streets and in bike shops was not encouraging.

[image from http://sellwoodcycle.com]

Only on vintage posters and in old art films did I see the bicycle portrayed in a manner that made me long to cycle again. The relaxed style exuded by the fictional ladies of yore was alluring and enticing; it made cycling seem feasible. But did such bicycles still exist in today's world?


On a sunny Spring day in Somerville, Massachusetts, I found my answer. Chained casually to a parking meter, it was the first bicycle I had seen on the city streets that I would describe as lovely. It had a beautifully shaped ladies' frame and gracefully curved handlebars. It was fitted with all sorts of fascinating components including a chain cover and a basket rack. It was decorated with flowers.

I jotted down the name: Gazelle, and did some research. And suddenly, an entire new world had opened up: a world of relaxed-style urban bicycles that are very much in production today using the same traditional design elements that I so admired on the vintage posters. These bicycles were most definitely lovely, and I immediately began my search for one to call my own.

5 comments:

  1. I so so understand this! Before we bought our bakfiets, I hadn't been on a bicycle since 1996. Because we have three little fellas, my bike search was more of a utilitarian nature (cargo capacity) but since getting our lovely bakfiets, Johann, a world of bicycle love has been opened. Our newest purchase, the Radish, was also a practical one for boy/grocery carrying capacity. However-- my next bike (maybe in a few years), will certainly be just for me with many of the same criteria as yours!

    Have you yet connected with MamaVee of suburburanbikemama.blogspot.com in Newton?

    ReplyDelete
  2. 1996-1997 was the last time I rode a bicycle prior to this spring as well. I think it was a low-end Giant, but I am not even sure anymore. It was black, with neon insignia on it that I had "sharpied" out. I had it since the early '90s and it was a very "grunge era" sort of bicycle; I remember riding it in a dress and combat boots. Ah, memories.

    Your utility bikes are stunning. Good luck with your next, personal bicycle... though somehow when you say "in a few years" I am skeptical whether you'll really hold out that long : )

    ReplyDelete
  3. You've put this so well... captured my thoughts on bike culture exactly. i've been enjoying your bikes and posts for some time but just now discovered this long-ago intro.

    I'm typing w/ one hand after first great fall (on my Specialized, not the mercier or other vintage LB). broken clavicle and 8 weeks to recover... keep posting so i can ride vicariously until then!!

    give me a look at mikespokes.blogspot.com if you get the notion. a new effort and still feeling my way around... yor blog is my role model and what i hope to develop mine to emulate. thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh no, Mike! I am sorry to hear this. Get better soon. Thank you for your very kind comments and I am off to check out your blog.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow! I just discovered your blog yesterday after doing an internet search for bike bags. This (your first) post has described my current mindset to a T. Unfortunately, I just bought a bike (Felt Cafe 8) at a local American bike shop a couple of weekends ago. I got it because I thought it looked as "classic" as I was likely to find these days, and it felt pretty stable. I sure wish I had found your blog earlier. Oh well, perhaps once I get my bike on (an keep it on) I'll get the perfect bike in a couple of years. (Perhaps after my son starts riding one of his own.)

    Thank you for such a lovely blog!

    ReplyDelete