Dec 8, 2008

Biking London

When I moved to London in September, I brought a Terry Classic road bike that I put together with a new friend's tools. I was riding with Max and Ashley through central London by twilight on the way to get some curry. My rides since have often been less idyllic, but my affinity for cycling never really falters in the backwash of diesel exhaust and slippery streets. If anything, I get annoyed with the place, rather than my mode of transport. Last week at Cafe Marie I encouraged folks to speak of the joy that our lifestyles bring. So that's what I'm setting out to do here. I don't want to talk about collisions, of which I've had a few. And it's been sunny for three days so let's ignore the rain factor.

Instead, envision the independence brought by two wheels. The perfect pace of pedaling, where landscapes are on the horizon long enough to enjoy but not so long that you get bored. Your body's warm even though it's cold as hell because you're working, moving yourself along. Consider maneuvering the urban streetscape a fun technical challenge, grate by grate, pothole by pothole. Give yourself a bit of love for your knowledge of your momentum, application of precision and balance.

Sometimes we have to think about the joy. I've had a lot of wonky bike-ness lately. I think I've mentioned that I'm a shit mechanic ... and that I put my bike together when I got here. And I think I've told the story of Terry (see left), the bike given to me by Kim and Dan at Heavy Metal BikeShop in San Francisco - best shop EVER. This bike shifted like butter when it came into my life. Two collisions in two weeks gave both Terry and myself a bit of road rash and stiffness.

While I can manage my own injuries, this last fight with gravity damaged my lovely bike beyond my abilities. Yesterday I went to 56a infoshop to the women and trans bike repair workshop! Even before crash's one and two, it was my intention to attend this workshop as I need to become a better bike mechanic and I am personally better at learning such things from other women. It's worth saying here, that part of what I always loved about Heavy Metal was that Kim and Dan were never patronizing or sexist when I came in with my bike. That's not been my experience at all bike shops/bike events/bike rides/etc.

I've been to 56a on the regular open days to borrow tools and get some fab help with my recurrent troubles on my bearings. But I learned sooooooo much yesterday! Though the workshop was to be about brakes, when I showed up with a wonky wheel, it became bit of a focus. Carolyn, bike diva with in home tools on my first day in London, taught us about the theory and mechanics behind the wheel. My front wheel was warped for the length of about 6 spokes such that it swung over onto the brake. We marked the trouble spot with a marker and Carolyn loosened the right spokes and tightened the lefts to pull the wheel off the brake.

It was a pretty dramatic moment for me. I actually gasped audibly when on the first spin Carolyn had tweaked my wheel off the brake. You have to imagine that I'd just spent 20 minutes tenderly wiping all the nasty street grit off my bike. I'd poked into crevices of oily smut to free joints and engender complicity in my bike. It's more anthropomorphic than I like to get, but as I cleaned my bike, I was thinking that Terry had to want to get better. Uncertainty had briefly penetrated my bastion of confidence: I got a little kooky for a second. I snapped out of it as Carolyn demystified the wheel before my eyes. Does it make sense to say that the magic of bicycles grounded me?

The sound council of the bike gurus at 56a also grounded me. I was advised in no uncertain terms to take my bike in for a post collision assessment to ensure that nothing else on Terry needs attention. And while I took my own turns with the spoke key, attempting to true my front wheel, the magic of the tweaking was limited to pulling the wheel off the brake, not to bringing it into symmetry. So after I adjusted my brakes, tightened my rack, and accepted the wonky wheel, I got a reference to a bike shop.

This morning I popped into Bob's Bicycles (9 John Ruskin Street SE5 0NS) on my way to class. I showed him the wheel and bearings, described some derailleur drama, and asked if he could secure my rear mudguard. He promised to try to true the wheel before replacing it with a used one if required. I called at midday and my bike was finished! Bob quoted me about 20 pounds and I told him I'd come after class. I took a little spin down the street when I picked Terry up. The derailleurs felt weird but Bob explained that he'd adjusted everything so I should give time for everything to stretch and absorb lube. He also told me to come back if it wasn't better in a day or two. My bearings are smooth for the first time since I've been here. My wheel is new-to-me but used and true. My derailleurs smoothed noticeably on the way home.

In the end, Bob charged me 15 pounds. There were folks hanging out in the shop when I dropped off and when I picked up. It reminded me soooo much of Heavy Metal. Good mechanics, fair price, an effort to repair before selling something new, and respectful treatment of women cyclists. Cycling in London is OK.

My birthday's in an hour so I'm going to sleep. I'm hoping for sun so I can have a nice long ride before a long day of lectures about WWF and UNEP. For anyone hoping I'll write about Christmas, be patient. Christmas comes after my birthday and is particularly easy to ignore this year, what with my homesickness and general disinterest in gifting. But I am compiling some thoughts.


peoples_republic_of_southwark said...

happy birthday!!!


edwards' bike shop is also a brilliant one, i got my tricycle there (on camberwell road, people who work there are so good & friendly & always incredibly incredibly helpful; reasonably priced too - it's a family run business as opposed to a chain)

Anonymous said...

i've heard many stories about edwardes' involvement in bike theft, and that they sometimes treat customers (especially young/ poor people) badly

Erica said...

sadly heavy metal is a little out of my way, but i had my own happy sf bike experience today at box dog bikes on 14th at guerrero. they reattached my rack, which i had neglected until the back part detached from the frame and re-spaced my derailleur, which was giving me trouble. and the cost was half the estimate they gave me when i dropped it off! it's good to be on the road again.