Friday, December 28, 2012

Love and Loss in the City of Light

Fanny, just about to sneeze, with Bike #2 (a steal at €40 from the Porte de Montreuil marche aux puces) in the background 
Before I fell in love with cycling, I was deeply entrenched in a torrid, head-over-heels affair with smoking.

It was a cough-all-night, borderline-emphysema kind of habit, and I loved every stinky, finger-stained minute of it. But after my 500th sore throat and one last-straw lung infection, I traded in the tobacco and rolling papers for two wheels and a bike helmet (which came in handy when I made a dramatic face-first wipeout near Montmartre a couple of years ago).

In a life loaded with questionable decision-making moments, this was definitely one of my better moves. Fifteen years in a dysfunctional relationship is far too long, and even though the breakup was protracted and sad, the heartache was worth it.

Bikes for rent in the little town of Mahabalipuram, in south India, 2011.
My real motive for taking up cycling was to avoid having to take the bus (San Francisco's public transit system is notorious for its horribleness), but it's gradually morphed into something more than a mere form of alt transport. Today, I actually enjoy riding so much that I sometimes structure vacations around it, and generally try to incorporate biking into every last travel experience. 

Besides the obvious places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, I've rented bicycles in China, Laos, Cambodia, and India. In Vietnam, I even used my two-dollar-a-day bike as a getaway vehicle after finding--and releasing--a basket full of dogs destined for I-don't-want-to-know where.

I found this fishing basket full of dogs on a sidestreet in Mui Ne, Vietnam in 2009 while riding my bike. After about two seconds of contemplation, I lifted the lid, whispered "go!" and watched them sprint for their lives. 
A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by Bike NoPa for a "Women who bike" feature, and I've also nudged my freewheelin' hobby into the professional realm, writing for Momentum magazine, aka the world's coolest bike rag. But more than anything, I just like pedaling around town, zooming over to Marche d'Aligre, or to meet friends at a restaurant (OK--a bar), or to shuttle the dog to the forest for a good, long walk. I love the ease of it all. It's quicker (and cheaper) than the Metro, and definitely more convenient than Velib'. Which is why I'm so bummed that I've now cycled through my third bike in less than three years.

Dubbed "Moneypenny" by her  last owner, I kept the name and gave her lots of love and attention over the last year or more that we've been together. 
My first bike was stolen (not uncommon here). Not cool. The second bike, a cute little red number I bought at the Porte de Montreuil flea market for €40, snapped in half (literally) after about six months of everyday use. My third and latest bike is/was a hand-me-down Peugeot with a step-through frame and missing headlight, but she was sturdy and reliable and I really loved her. Still do, even though she's damaged goods now. It's only a guess, but it looks as if one of those Parisian side-walk cleaning contraptions backed into it, since the frame is bent beyond repair and the back tire is practically folded in half. 

Today I walked over to BicyclAide, a non-profit bike shop/atelier in the neighboring banlieue of Clichy-la-Garenne, in the hopes of finding another cheap and functional set of wheels to get me through the rest of this Living Abroad in France experience. They were closed. Until they reopen, I'll be fantasizing about my bike-to-be; I'm thinking orange, with a pair of red panniers on the side, and a obnoxiously noisy bell. I'll plaster her with stickers and park her in a safe spot, free from the hazards of thievery and municipal street cleaners.

What does your bike look like? (And does that question feel kinky to you somehow?) What are your tricks for keeping your steed safe from harm and greedy fingers?

I wouldn't mind if my next bike looked a little something like this.

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