Monday, 23 April 2007

"Cycling" published April 22

When I took a long hard look at my carbon footprint recently I realised I have very sooty feet indeed. So much so that the the third car has been sold, which we had kept for the adult kids to borrow when they needed it, but otherwise was surplus to requirements. It went for a cool $700 to my son’s friends who have taken it on a fruit picking journey. Originally the idea was to reinvest that money in a motor scooter, which I would use on my excursions to the gym, Foodtown, lunch and the library. All short journeys not deserving of gas guzzling. Then we went to Rome. There we hired bikes and rode blissfully down the Appian Way, apart from my nine-year-old daughter who we had forgotten to teach how to ride a bike. None of us had realised this until the bike was hired and she looked at us with childlike anticipation that someone would soon explain to her exactly what she was doing with a bike she couldn’t ride. So I doubled her on my parcel rack illegally but it did the trick. In Rome a solid 44-year-old woman can ride a bike, because the chance of seeing anyone she knows is very slim and she can therefore pedal away enjoying a rare trip back to her carefree childhood and her much loved Raleigh 20.
Back in Auckland I wondered out loud about getting a bike and using it. The deafening laugher and guffaws from around the dinner table from people I loved and some I had raised to be polite individuals made me think twice. I visited the local Ponsonby bike shop where a very nice man showed me an $800 dollar neon sci fi machine with “enough gears to get YOU up Franklin Rd.” I told the man it looked a bit wanky and didn’t they stock nice old bikes like you see in French movies with baguettes and flowers in the wicker baskets and generous seating? “No we don’t.” he replied firmly before telling me that in the cycling world no one looks at you, they look at your bike. It is very important to have the “right” bike. And no doubt the cheesy lycra bodysuit and silly pointed hat I suggested. The look of disgust was enough to have me hurtling out the door and into the car for the short drive home.
Eventually I found the right bike. A Raleigh from the year 2000 bought at the Bike Barn by someone who sold it to me on Trade Me for $120. She threw in the helmet too although my ex husband tells me you must get a new helmet every 18 months because the plastic deteriorates. That’s just silly. All those landfills full of plastic helmets with an 18 month shelf life. Someone should have a word or at least set those Ribena girls onto it.
I then kitted it out with a sheepskin seat cover, a white wire basket for the front, a parcel rack for the back, a pump and a lock.
Then I just had to ride it. I was petrified someone would see me. Then I was afraid I wouldn’t last the distance all the way into the central library for my inaugural trip. But I did. On the footpath most of the way, and walking it up the steeper hills. When I stopped at lights I adopted a nonchalant attitude, gazing off into space reasoning that if I can’t see someone I might recognise who might laugh at me, they can’t see me.
Then my 18-year-old daughter sat me down and gave me a few tips. One was to think of central Auckland topographically. “Ride the rims” she advised rather than up and down the valleys. The other was to stay on the footpath, which I know is illegal but when someone makes some bike paths I’ll be happy to use them. I’ve only nearly run down one poor woman coming out of a shop, but I’m getting better and spotting them.
I haven’t quite ridden it to Ponsonby Rd for lunch yet, but when I stop sweating so copiously and my hair learns how to behave itself after a session in the helmet I will. And I’ll refrain from riding it right into SPQR and parking it next to the table as I once saw Matthew Ridge do.
As for the non bike riding nine-year-old, she has just come in from riding twice around the camping ground as I type away in our caravan.
“I love riding bikes, it’s very good for the legs,” she announced.

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