Erg, there are other things I’d like to post, like my obsession with getting my new (to me) touring bike “perfect,” and an epic argument I had via facebook about shoes to wear while touring and why I don’t go clipless and possibly never will…but that’s not the subject of this post!
The subject of this post, is how I fell in love with/became obsessed with bicycles.
Some (hopefully short) background info: I moved to the Portland area in 1995 just after my 16th birthday because my dad had retired from the US Navy and been hired by Intel. I lived in the westside suburbs and rural areas until 2006, when I realized my dream of living in SE Portland by moving in with my then-boyfriend of less than three months. The household consisted of myself, said boyfriend (Jarrod) and the mutual friend through whom I’d met him, Jen.
I still worked in the suburbs, and getting to work involved a bus, the MAX commuter train, and a mile’s walk. It was an hour and a half or more each way. I was spending over three hours a day commuting, and I hated it. Jen and Jarrod both had bicycles, and Jarrod also had a car, so when the three of us wanted to so somewhere farther than walking distance, we had to take the car, which didn’t make any of us all that happy. Every morning I’d stand at the bus stop, which was on a major bike route (SE 21st and Clinton, waiting for the 10), and watch, easily, a dozen cyclists or more go by.
Which is to say, I needed a bike.
Enter my friends James and Zoe! James had a hobby of buying bikes off craigslist, repairing them, and reselling them. He said he had a bike to loan me, and so I went to their apartment to pick up a 1961 lady’s Raleigh 3-speed he’d tuned up. (I did later pay them for the bike, he only charged me what he paid for it on craigslist.)
I quickly fell in love with the bike. I spent time on Sheldon Brown’s website looking up everything I could find. I found out by looking at the Sturmey-Archer hub that it was made in 1961, which matched the images I found from Raleigh catalogs of the time. I admired the herons on the chainring. It seriously cut down on my commute, because I could bike downtown, take the train, and then bike to work; it shaved about half an hour off each way’s trip. Yeah, I got passed a lot, but oh well. I could bike places with my roommates! It was awesome.
I loved having a classic bike. I remember one trip, early on, when I was on my way downtown to catch the train, and waiting at a red light just before the Hawthorne bridge. Next to me, a bus slowly creeps up to where I’m stopped, and the window opens (my first thought was, oh shit, I didn’t cut that guy off or something did I?), and the bus driver leans out and yells, “Neat old Raleigh!” I had just enough time to smile and yell “Yeah!” before the light turned green and off I went.
Learning to commute by bicycle was occasionally a comedy of errors: “Auugh! Where did the bike lane go?!”
I started checking out other bikes, everywhere I went, even though I knew nothing about them. And yeah, the bike was slow (I did have a bigger ring put on the back to lower my gears for help getting uphill, but it didn’t make me much faster), but so what? And yeah, it was an Epic Journey to go more than five miles. For a while I lived at the top of a hill (SE 35th and Gladstone, for you Portlanders) and my trip from downtown (where I now worked) was just over five miles each way. That last five blocks at the end felt like it was going to kill me every time I did it, I often had to stop halfway up to catch my breath!
Oh, and there’s not a single truly flat spot in Portland, except parts of bridges that go up. Even in Ladd’s Addition, I was in second gear going one way and third the other.
But June of 2007, almost a year after getting the bike, is when I well and truly fell in love with cycling. Before that, I appreciated my bike’s classic beauty, and the freedom that two wheels gave me, but riding longer distances, or up hills, made me cranky and ponder taking the bus instead. It was a useful object that was also pretty.
So this is what happened: First, I went on my first World Naked Bike Ride. I went to the dance party beforehand, and slowly stripped off my clothes, and had a stranger paint on my back, “less gas, more ass!”, a slogan I’d read online earlier that day. I tied goofy neckties to my handlebars and put a glowstick bracelet on them as well (which is still there!), and at midnight we took off, hundreds of us. I rode over the Hawthorne bridge on the grating (which I don’t recommend) and through old town and NW 23rd and “bombed” down Burnside (okay, I rode my brakes, but whatever). I high-fived bystanders so many times my hands were sore. It was exhilarating and awesome, and I highly recommend the experience. I’d never been in a big group ride before, and I found that I really enjoyed it.
Secondly: The very next day, I went to an event called Bike Porn, the first one Rev. Phil put together. It was a collection of movies about bicycles and people’s relation to them. Some were silly, some were romantic, and a number of them really did contain pornography. The audience was filled with other cyclists, hooting and yelling at the screen and generally being fun and rowdy. I had a good time. I also went on my first Midnight Mystery Ride that night–a ride where everyone leaves a previously-announced location at midnight, and only the leader knows where it’s going. It ended at Oaks Bottom, which is totally dark, and since I didn’t know anybody, I left fairly quickly. But the ride out there–with dozens of people, and loud music, all out on our bicycles, put a huge grin on my face.
But there was a moment, on the way from my house to Bike Porn. I had just started going downhill on Gladstone, neckties still on my bike from the night before fluttering in the breeze, and I realized: I want to ride bicycles every day of my life. Bicycles are the best thing ever. This is what I love. I want this to be my life.
And, in a lot of ways, it is.
(Me, delivering Valentines by 1961 Lady’s Raleigh in February of 2009. Unfortunately I’d taken the partial chaincase off due to mechanical issues. I still have the Raleigh, even though I almost never ride it, I can’t bear to get rid of it.)