Monday, 7 June 2010

Romanticising wrecked bicycles..

Nothing reminds me of my grandparents like bicycles, all for completely different reasons. On both sides of my family there was a net split between cyclists and walkers. Incidentally the one who wouldn’t cycle wasn’t much into driving either – which makes me think of a character trait rather than simple disinterest in two wheel joy.
On my father’s side the cyclist was my grandpa. He had lots of bikes in the garage at the back of his enormous garden. They were all strictly gentlemen’s bikes, Michelin mostly, black or racing green, with the gear levers on the frame rather than on the handlebar, some with rod brakes. He had been cycling up and down the mountains throughout the war, sometimes even 95 miles at a time, to go and visit my grandma before they got married. He would hop on and off with the elegance of the gymnast he was, stepping on a pedal to gain speed and lifting his other leg high over the frame to get on – I watched him and learned, much to the dismay of my grandma who was very proper and ladylike and disapproved of almost anything I could possibly learn from him – whistling, absailing, tree climbing and daggers-throwing to name but a few. In her opinion, girls should not cycle, definitely not mounting and dismounting like that! But grandma was a little bit extreme on the what-girls-should-do front: she never in her life wore trousers, or a pair of flats, and she wouldn’t be caught dead on a bus.
On my mother’s side of the family things were reversed. Grandpa wasn’t about speed and hated having his hair messed up, so no windswept look for him. He was an artist, a patient portraitist and would rather play checkers, go fishing or make beautiful sand sculptures on the beach. This he would do with the aid of an ice lolly stick, he would get down to the beach early and start digging ballerinas, ice skaters and mermaids out of the sand, he even got in the papers a couple of times because of it. So you can see what kind of a man he was.
Grandma, on the other hand, hated the seaside, the sun and the heat. What she did like was playing cards for money, drinking cappuccino, smoking a million cigarettes and cycling to church with me standing on the rack behind her, singing hymns together at the top of our voices. She’d always wear her flowiest skirts on the bike, and so did I. We had great times together on that bike – and it was a great ploy to get me to go to church. She was clever all right.
So really what I associate with my grandparents are old, noisy bikes. The metallic rattle of the pedals, the accidental, joyous ringing of the bell over potholes, the repetitive groan of a wonky wheel rubbing on the brake pad… my bikes always have these characteristics. I can only ride battered bikes, hopeless time warpers that might not get me to my destination but always get me traveling back in time. Living in London I see fancy new bikes all over the place, and yes, they look really cool and I’m sure they go really fast but where on earth do you need to go in such a hurry? And although I get the Shoreditch trend for minimalist super customised bikes – I did, after all, install a coaster brake on my 1980s Raleigh Caprice – why would you spend more on a bike than on a holiday to Morocco?
Anyway, I guess each of us is allowed to indulge in their chosen obsession. I’m sure someone somewhere on the web is blogging about people who spend more on underwear than on Moroccan breaks so I can shut up about bikes already.
With Boris' efforts to make London as cycle-friendly as Paris, and with the help of a few sunny days I am certain I'll see the number of bicycles on the road multiply, what I will do, then, is keep an eye on the pavement and see if I can spot some beauties to put on the blog.
A tribute to my grandparents, cyclists or not.


  1. next time you should write about our grandpa flying under the bridge! and then you'll talk about planes.