bubble bike

September 22nd, 2007

I am now the proud owner of a fold-up bicycle. As the owner of a fold-up bike, I’m now so cool that I would be driving a Ford if my bank account and my conscience could afford it (what, you think I’d willingly go adding to Beijing’s already bad air pollution? Do I have the words ‘egocentric arsehole’ tattooed across my forehead?). The only way left for me to become even cooler is to buy a big, black Flying Pigeon bike.

And how did I come to own a fold-up bike? In one of the weirder parts of the wedding photo saga, the Shadow Building offered us a bike or some crappy gift as their way of saying thanks for us handing them a huge sum of money. Personally, I would’ve settled for them providing breakfast and lunch on the trip to Shidu for the outside photos. But no, we got a bike instead. I honestly can’t remember what the other gift was, I only remember that as soon as lzh looked at me, I said, “We’ll take the bike”, that’s how crappy the other option was. We were offered a range of colours for the bike, but black wasn’t one of them, and the other choices were so incredibly girly that I said green. Green, after all, is the second coolest colour in the world, unless you’re choosing a car, in which case your two coolest colours are red and black. But what did I say about my bank account and my conscience?

So last weekend after the marathon inside photo session we brought our free fold-up bike home. It’s not light, not considering its small size, but even so, I carried it upstairs and put it on the balcony. It’s not light, but it’s not as heavy as a Flying Pigeon- but half of what’s cool about a Flying Pigeon is its weight.

Anyway, today lzh had enough energy (most unlike last weekend- a day of taking photos chased up with drinks and KTV is pretty draining) to take my bike down to Pingleyuan to find a guy to fix it up. It’s easy enough to unfold the bike and get everything into the right position, but the tires need air, the brakes are a bit incredibly soft, and the various joints need tightening up so that I don’t, instead of turning, twist the handle bars yet keep going straight.

Well, she just got back from fixing the bike. The lock she bought isn’t my favourite style, but it’ll do the job (and the bike is free, anyway, so I don’t think I’ll be shedding any tears should it disappear), and the bike now has a basket (I didn’t want that, but it’s practical, so no harm done), but the brakes and the joints still need looking at. It may be that we’ve got it set up as well as we can- it is, after all, a free bike, and you get what you pay for- but I sent her back (I only had my keys on me, no money) to have another look at the brakes and the joints and see if they can’t be tightened up a little more. No big deal if they’re already as tight as they’re going to get, the bike is definitely useable, and let’s face it, I’ll only be using it to get to and from work and the market, journey’s of marginally more than 100 metres.

But still, I’m kinda fussy about bikes. I blame it on my university days when I had a cheap but good mountain bike (Avanti– my favourite brand of bike by a long shot- I took advantage of a start of semester special) and all the necessary tools and I spent a lot of time on that bike- riding and maintaining it. Then when I washed up in China I just didn’t see the same range of bikes, excellent bike tools, and superb cycling opportunities that I’d been so spoilt with in Kiwiland.

Anyways, I’ve been learning to be less fussy. Fact is China does have good cycling opportunities (road and mountain) and good bikes (if you know where to look). Actually, my favourite general road bike- provided I’m in a flat city like Beijing- is a good, old-fashioned, 1950s style big, black Flying Pigeon (but you probably noticed that already). I have one, but it’s up in the village where it has been since we left Tongzhou. I’d be a pretty happy man if I had one here at BeiGongDa and the various tools and gadgets to maintain it myself. As it is, I’m not overly happy with this fold-up bike, but, as I said, you get what you pay for, and, most importantly, it’s more than adequate for getting to and from the office and the market. So long as I don’t ride too fast, that is, and one of my biggest problems has always been my inability to ride slowly unless I’m going uphill or facing a stiff headwind. So I guess I’m going to finally learn how to ride slowly.

Hehe, yeah, that year I lived on Signal Hill I had a great time hurtling down to the university at something way beyond break-neck speed. Well, I only lived halfway up the hill, certainly not as high as from where that photo was taken from, and on the North East Valley side, no spectacular views of the harbour. But I had three main ways down the hill: The main road down past the gardens to the NEV shopping centre/entrance to North East Valley; the back way down between the gardens and the Northern Cemetery; and Blacks Road. Blacks Road was fun: Straight down to the floor of North East Valley. I rode up Blacks Road three times to get a feel for the lay of the road before I dared ride down. It’s in three sections: The top is pretty steep; the centre is less steep; the bottom is starting to remind you of Baldwin Street (alright, follow that link and see I’m exaggerating slightly about the bottom end of Blacks Road, but Blacks Road is listed on that table, and I’ve cycled other roads mentioned on that page, too. Although, I’ll admit I’ve only gone down Baldwin Street, and that with the brakes tightly on), and ends right smack on North Road, meaning you have to go from an utterly insane speed to a dead stop on the steepest section of the road. So you as soon as you feel the bike tip from that central section onto the steepest section, you haul on the brakes and lean way, way back hoping you manage to stop before you hit North Road without sending yourself flying over the handle bars. And here’s the killer: You can’t see North Road until you hit it. From the top and all the way down, all you see is Blacks Road going straight down and then hitting bottom and flattening out on the valley floor. Unless another vehicle passes on North Road or you know Blacks Road well, you think you have this nice, long, flat run-off to stop on. A friend of mine made that mistake and God has never heard a more frantic prayer from a cyclist as he flew across North Road convinced he was about to become a permanent fixture on a bus. The back way between the gardens and the Northern Cemetery was also pretty cool. The way the road was laid, there was no need to slow down as I veered off from the main road onto the back road- unless, of course, there were cars or pedestrians or saner cyclists in the way. But then halfway down, at the main gate of the Northern Cemetery, was a really tight hairpin that had me slamming on the brakes real hard, but only slowing down enough to squeeze the bike round the corner with the front tire right on the centre line at the apex and just scraping past the (really high!) curb as I came out. Hitting that curb would’ve sent me flying into bush where I’d quite possibly still be today if I did ever hit it. Then one winter morning I just about canned out as my tire hit grit left over from a hard frost a couple of days before right on the centre line. I don’t know how I kept balance, but I staid on the bike and made it to the bottom of the hill unscathed. But with forest on either side and very little traffic, that back road was always a pretty sweet ride, especially on the way up. Then there was the main road down to the entrance to North East Valley. Where I’d veer off onto the back road when the mood hit me, the main road hit a really wicked s-bend at the top of the gardens. Fortunately at the top the tarmac went really wide off the road, and so I figured out how to use that to get around the s-bend without so much as touching the brakes. This meant hauling the bike right over the centre line- and hanging my head right in the path of (not too frequent) buses- and scraping my right knee on the road (well, almost) then, as the road swung left, very physically hauling the right over the other side, with my left knee almost scraping the road, and ducking to avoid low-flying tree branches from the gardens (by the end of the year, the top of my helmet was unbelievably covered in scratches from those branches) then popping out onto the straight run down to the bottom, the bike again scraping the centre line, and my arms and legs suddenly feeling enormous relief. But, damn, that was a hell of a rush. Great way to wake yourself up on the way to early-morning classes.

No way I’ll be trying anything like that on my new fold-up bike, though.

And the title of this post? For some reason the bike came all wrapped up in bubble wrap. No, I don’t know why, either. The bubble wrap didn’t stop a huge nick being taken out of the paint somewhere between the factory and our balcony.

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