Bells and Whistles

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Bells and Whistles


The moment I mentioned I might be open to climbing on a bike again, he whisked me down to a cycle shop. An athletic looking assistant pointed me at a utilitarian mountain bike. It was grey with a saddle worthy of a medieval torture chamber.

I shuddered and was about to walk out when a gleaming red machine caught my eye. With plump white tyres and a wide, squishy saddle, it spoke of leisurely rides alongside Amsterdam canals. It was a bike to lean against a tree trunk before unfurling a checked tablecloth on long grass. It even had mudguards.

My husband, who has more refined taste, drew my attention to a similar model in sky blue, but nothing beats a red bike. My school bike was red. Every bike should be the colour of a fire engine.

The only thing this dream machine lacked was a basket on the front handlebars. The shop assistant shook his head. As an alternative, he offered a latte cup holder. I declined politely as possible. Drinking latte on a bike is excessive, even in this Hipsteresque age.

After we took it home, I sent photos around the family to brag about my new two-wheeled status. Nobody was fooled. It stood poised like a ballerina on its stand in the spare room for weeks. I was too scared to ride it in the city.

When we took it to the beach, I ran out of excuses. The act of strapping on a helmet was unnerving. We never had to wear them when we were kids. Maybe life was safer back then, or the world has grown more neurotic.

Knowing how to ride a bike is something people are famously said to never forget. Wobbling over chunks of gravel, I wasn’t so sure. A kookaburra chuckled patronizingly as I regained balance and teetered along the fire track.

An approaching baby waved from its stroller, confident it would win any race between us. I smiled and, narrowly avoiding annihilation in a pothole, waved back.

The tang of grass and salt water tickled my nostrils. Cool air played across my face and arms. As I pedaled through a slow motion world, my mouth settled in a grin – partly to keep the flies out. It was exhilarating, though, to smell and feel the day rather than hurtle through it in a car with windows up and air con roaring.

Cyclists have a mixed reputation. Some people call us “cockroaches on wheels.” I was determined to do everything in my power to improve the cyclist’s image. When the backs of a small family group loomed ahead, I was anxious not to startle them with the Miss Trunchbull tone of my bike’s bell. So I boomed “Good morning!” as I rattled past. It seemed to work.

I turned onto a main road and toiled past a house that was emitting earsplitting music. A group of bare chested young men were gathered on the front deck.

As I put my head down and accelerated there was an unmistakable noise my wake. Ironic, of course, but definitely wolf whistles.

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