Friday, October 17, 2008

Baby and the Bat

San Francisco is a bicycle city. Everywhere you go, there are swarms of them, even on the insane hills of California street. When stopped at a light in my car, I am usually completely surrounded by urban cyclists. It is interesting to observe. Every type of person can be seen on a bike- twitchy, edgy guys in a big hurry on a fixie; middle aged professionals on hybrids with squishy seats looking nervous about that delivery truck; thrift store girls on old Schwinn three speeds peddling in high heels; older guys with graying beards and old spandex on touring bikes with lots of water bottles (or recumbent set ups with flags)...

The thing about a bicycle is that it becomes very personal. When you ride a bike daily, you start to think of it as almost a part of you- mostly because it is a machine that relies entirely on human input to function and must be fit to its rider exactly in order to function properly. You can tell a lot about a person by looking closely at their favorite bike. Mine are something else. I have two bikes that I consider my favorites- A 21 year old Specialized Rock Hopper Comp that has been modified quite a bit to meet my taste and needs (I have owned it for all but 1 of it's two decades), and a new Batavus Soccorro trekking bike all the way from Holland (it is beeeeeeautiful!) which has received just a few cosmetic changes to suit my taste.

My bikes, while sharing certain traits- upright, european style seating position, rack and luggage set ups that allow me to haul almost anything I would haul on a bike, fenders- are very, very different. My old, beat up, well loved Specialized (Baby) is tacky, there is no getting around it. What Pepto Bismol is to the colour pink is exactly what my bike is to the colour green. Baby has yellow fenders (plastic) and a huge black metal basket hanging off the handlebars. The bell is painted orange with multicoloured flowers painted on it. The blue panniers that hang off the back are the same ones I have had since I first got the bike. When I ride Baby, she makes me happy (try to ignore how that sounds and just go with it). Just looking at Baby makes me smile, her utter silliness is pure joy to me. Baby is regular, old me who can't believe I am not in college any more. Baby wants to ride out to the beach and smoke a fatty.

My new bike (The Bat) is many things, but tacky is not one of them. The Bat is shiny black and brushed silver, with a step through frame that sweeps like a swan's neck. The panniers on The Bat are bright red with a Japanese floral design. The saddle is a deep, lovely brown leather, and the handle grips are lacquered cork. As for the bell, it is brass and sounds like a Tibetan talking bowl. This machine is sleek and architectural and European. Riding The Bat, I have to step up my game and make sure I pay attention to the niceties of grooming and style. The Bat is grown up and focused and much prefers a smoky scotch in a jazz club to a gritty joint.

These are sides that are equally representative of 'me'. I could not pick one over the other. My many sides are only bits of a whole, after all. Some days seem to call to different parts, and I surely do see the world differently from these different 'bicycles'. 'Baby' days are coloured by humor and fun and utter lack of concern for schedules or convention. 'Bat' days are productive and stylish and urban. Both take me all over the place, and each is with me even when left at home. Each teaches me more about myself and how I fit into the grand scheme of things.

Pretty cool for two wheels.