I met Lisa shortly after she opened her knitting shop in the small market town of Limavady. Despite the clever name Row by Roe (the river Roe runs through the town centre), I didn't realise at first that the shop sold yarn and knitting supplies. It was purely by chance that I stopped in. But once I did, the rest was history. The shop itself is knitter's paradise. But moreover, Lisa turned out to be one of those people with whom I had instant rapport. I told her of my plans to open an online handknits shop, and soon we were taking trips to South Donegal together to research local wool production.
When visiting Lisa's shop I would leave my bike leaning against the glass storefront, so that I could keep an eye on it from within. And seeing it there, on occasion she would ask me about cycling - mentioning that it looked like fun and she'd like to give it a try. So I gave her some feedback, but, to be honest did not expect her to actually start bicycle commuting: Lots of people ask me about cycling, but in the end most decide it isn't practical and never manage to give it a try. So it came as a delightful surprise when one morning, Lisa sent me a text announcing she had cycled to work that morning. As it happened, I was in the area that day and so I hurried to pay her a visit.
"I inherited it with the house," said Lisa by way of a greeting, seeing me kneeling in front of the gray and purple machine that now graced her storefront.
A Huffy Valencia Trekking model this was. Aluminium step-through frame, upright handlebars, v-brakes, wide tyres, mudguards, a low-geared drivetrain with a triple chainring, and a touring-style rear rack. It looked like a suitable bike for plain-clothed commutes over hilly terrain - and considering what she'd paid for it... well, how could she go wrong!
This had actually been her third attempt to cycle to work, explained Lisa. On the first try, she discovered a flat tyre - and not an ordinary flat, but something gone wrong with the valve. Happily, Limavady boasts an excellent bike shop (Roe Valley Cycles), where, despite its mainly racing-oriented culture, the staff are happy to work on utility bikes. They replaced the damaged tubes and the following day Lisa set off again. Alas, this time the chain came off and wouldn't stay on. So it was off to the shop again, where the bicycle got a full fledged tune-up and also a new mesh basket - equipped with which both rider and bicycle made it to work without further incident.
Although Lisa lives about a mile and a half from her shop, bicycle commuting is not an altogether easy-breezy affair in Limavady. It is the only town around for miles and it is packed with businesses, which means the narrow streets are often dense with car, lorry and tractor traffic. And it's completely lacking in cycling infrastructure. A certain degree of competence and courage is required to brave such conditions. As it turns out, this lady is not lacking in either, and upon her first successful work commute she is radiant with good cheer.
To be fair though, Lisa is nearly always radiant with good cheer - which, no doubt, is one reason Row by Roe has grown so popular over the past year and a half, despite its remote location. People come from Derry, Belfast, Donegal, and even points further South, not only for her well-stocked shelves but also for the experience of merely being in the shop.
Nearly every day of the week at the shop there are classes and knitting circles. There are also private lessons, free advice galore, and in general a club house atmosphere that just makes you want to stay and hang out - which many do, for hours.
It is one thing to run a shop selling such niche goods as yarn and knitting supplies. It is another thing to turn that shop into what is essentially a community centre, at one's own expense. For both of these things, Lisa has my admiration.
But getting back to the topic at hand, what does Lisa think of her "inherited" bicycle? Well, frankly she is not entirely in love with it. For one thing, she finds the gearing unnecessarily confusing for the kind of cycling she wants to do. "Can't there be just one, NORMAL, gear? This is nuts!"
"Actually yeeeessss, yes there can be just one gear," I say, stroking my own single speed bike. Although in Lisa's case, I think a hub-geared 3-speed would be ideal. Something from Bobbin would be up her alley I should think - especially since another complaint about the Huffy is that the fit is not quite right (the ultra-compact "comfort bike" geometry is both cramped and overly-upright, with a high bottom bracket to boot, which makes it tricky to adjust seat height for beginners).
No matter, for I think the Huffy is serving its purpose nicely - that purpose being, to give Lisa a taste of what bicycle commuting is all about. And, if she keeps at it, she can eventually buy a bike that suits her better. The question is, will she keep at it? Maybe! But maybe not. There is no way to tell.
Having said that, today I was in Limavady again and passed Lisa's shop. Unlike the glorious sunny day last week when I took these photos, today it was drizzling rain, the skies a yucky gray-brown. Yet, there was her bicycle, leaning against the storefront. Ladies and gentleman, I believe we have a resilient one here! Good luck to Lisa as she pedals and coasts, knits and purls.