When I was a wee one, my bike and I were inseparable. Getting your own bicycle and learning to ride it wasn’t just a rite of passage but an entry to a whole new world. Parents were more trusting of their communities in those days, and with two wheeled transportation my little world expanded greatly. My friends and I would hook up in the morning and then take off to parts unknown for the day, often ending up lost, hours away from our old stomping grounds. Thanks to having a bike, life was an adventure.
I still can remember my inaugural ride. My parents, being of a practical nature, wouldn’t buy us bikes until we knew how to ride one. My first experience was on a cousin’s bike. To my great shame my cousin was a girl, so I learned to ride on a girl’s bike. While the debate over nurture versus nature continues, I’d like to put forth that there is a distinct possibility that being forced to learn to ride a bike on one built for a girl is possibly the real reason I turned out gay. I’d also like to put forth the idea that girls’ bikes really should be the design for boys’ bikes. That missing bar, should one slip off the seat in a forward direction, would be much more gentle on the male anatomy than the version built for boys is.
It was a big bike too. Adult size. It had blocks attached to the pedals so smaller legs could reach them. Mine barely did. My dad gave me instructions, carefully lifted me onto the seat, and then gave the bike a good push with total disregard for my safety as though I was sitting on a swing instead of a vehicle with a mind of its own. As with learning how to use any contraption that moves you along quicker than a walking pace, how to stop was lesson #1. I’ve never been good at exercising patience, and when you are learning to ride a bike, or snow ski, practicing stopping first – in my opinion – is a huge waste of time. So off I sailed down the street, over the lawns and through the flower beds of a few dozen neighbors, scared shitless and having the time of my young life until a small copse of trees at the end of our street brought my first bike ride to its conclusion. It was an exhilarating experience, I fell in love with riding bikes, and eventually learned how to stop without running into something.
Just for the record, dozens of years later it was also a small copse of trees that brought my first attempt at snow skiing to its conclusion too. I got more proficient at both over time.
By junior high school my bike had grown to a 10-speed and had turned from an instrument of discovery to one of transportation. The high school I would be attending was just down the street, and since riding a bike was now a necessity instead of a joy I started hanging with the high school kids since inevitably someone would have access to a car. And much like how my bike as a child offered me a glimpse into a previously unknown world, riding in a car without parental units around also expanded my horizons. And got me laid at a fairly early age. Bicycles are not conducive to having sex. Mine got stored in the garage where it probably still sits today.
Years later on a holiday to Bora Bora I finally hopped on a bike again. The island is small enough that you can circumnavigate it by bike, and since the hotel supplied them for free it sounded like a great way of seeing the sites. And it was. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to zip along under you own power with the wind whistling in your ears. The next morning I could barely walk. My crotch felt like I’d spent the previous day slipping off the bike and hitting that damn bar that still shouldn’t be mounted on bikes meant for men. Still not a big fan of learning how to stop before I learn how to go, I had matured enough to learn when you should just stop. I haven’t been on a bike since.
But I do like to take pictures of them. Especially older bikes that look like those from the days of my youth. The photos accompanying this post are from trips I made to Penang (at least the ones not featuring male flesh). In Georgetown Bicycles are ubiquitous. And they all look like designs from fifty years ago, which fits that World Heritage City to a tee. You don’t see bikes of any age in Bangkok much. Which, considering the local driving skills, fits that city too. But that doesn’t stop the local powers that be from a bit of wishful thinking.
To help ease traffic congestion, fifty stations holding some three hundred bicycles have just been set up around town with the first 10 minutes of riding free. The price for longer rides is minute, but might as well be priced in the thousands of baht because no one will survive riding a bicycle in Bangkok’s traffic for more than 10 minutes. Though I’m sure touri will try. I can’t see many locals falling for this trick, but unwary visitors will undoubtedly think a free bicycle ride sounds like a great way to see the city’s sights. It will be interesting to see what becomes the leading object responsible for bringing touri bike rides to their unexpected and probably bloody conclusion. My money is on tuk tuks.
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