Monday, 28 November 2016

Hell on Two Wheels

My latest Home Truths column in The Australian, in which I discover riding a bike isn't just like, er, riding a bike. Here's the link to The Oz:

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike. 
I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.

Queen, Bicycle Race 

Well, thanks for nothing, Freddie. Some advice that turned out to be. I’m sure the immortal strains of Queen’s paean to pedal-powered transport were echoing in my head last week on a dark, stormy night as I coasted out of the office carpark on my gleaming new machine and my flashing red USB chargeable taillight slowly faded into the gloom. 

I’d only bought the damn thing two days earlier. With my half-century on this planet approaching like a fat-bottomed girl riding a fixie down the Alpe d’Huez and a recent fortnight in a hospital bed laid low with pneumonia, I had a mini-mid-life crisis. It was either buy a Porsche or get a bicycle and attempt to get fit after several years of indolence and a life-threatening illness. 

As I have no money and can’t afford a Porsche, the decision was an easy one. So off I schlepped to the local bike shop in Glebe and handed over $600 smackeroos (a Giant Cross City, for the bike tragics; a middle-of-the-road mountain/road bike hybrid designed, as its name suggests, to cross cities.)

Traversing urban expanses by bicycle is a perilous pursuit, and I don’t mean in the Velodrome sense. I last regularly rode a bicycle as a youth in Townsville. I can still remember the excitement of my 13th or 14th birthday, waking up to find a gleaming new dark green Speedwell racing bike with a ribbon tied round its tape-wrapped handlebars and a card affixed.

More memorable, though, later on that same birthday, sated with cake and drunk with the freedom conferred by my two-wheeled steed, was the jarring impact and hammer blow to my teenage pride and pimply dignity as, looking down, marvelling at the magic of the derailleur gears, I ran at a fair clip straight into the back of a parked panel van. 

“If it’s rocking, don’t bother knocking,” the sticker on its bumper said. “If you’re bleeding, don’t bother pleading” might have been more appropriate, as I scraped myself off the rough bitumen and wiped the claret out of my eyes. It’s funny the things you remember as you become living proof of Newton’s law of inertia. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, as a smug Reebok ad informed us, but they left out the corollary: Unless acted on by an unbalanced force. 

Pop quiz, bike dweebs: When the unbalanced force of a teen speed demon collides with the stationary mass of a shaggin’ wagon, the square on the hypotenuse equals:

a. the total surface area of road rash incurred
b. the number of individual bits of gravel to be plucked from your oozing flesh
c. the amount of buckle on your front wheel
d. all of the above  

It wasn’t my only crash. Later in my teenage cycling phase I would skid into a ‘Chinee Apple’ bush, a savage and racist shrub endemic to North Queensland, with bitter, bile-tasting fruit and covered in thorns an inch long. I also rode, on two separate occasions, into rose bushes (smaller thorns but just as pointy). 

It’s clear I’m an early adopter when it comes to two-wheeled smash-ups. My first proper ride on my new Giant was from my inner west apartment to the Surry Hills headquarters of this august organ. The commute to went off without a hitch. Unfortunately, not so much the fro, on the aforementioned dark, stormy and treacherously drizzly night. I came to grief on the designated bike path of The Goods Line, a poor man’s High Line, where hipsters can stroll where goods trains once trundled. Some well-intentioned idiot had, days before, I was informed while lying bleeding on the concrete, cleaned years of leaf litter and gunk out of the old train tracks, leaving a bicycle wheel sized slot to bring riders down to earth. 

Which is where I discovered another law - gravity. The forward motion of my bike ceased as the front wheel dropped into this perfect cyclist trap and that energy was transferred to my left hip, elbow and head, in that order. I went down so fast my head had bounced off the concrete with a crack like a rifle shot before I even realised I was having a prang. Praise the lord for compulsory helmets.

I still want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like, with the exception of anywhere within three metres of train tracks, thorny bushes or the rear end of stationary sin bins. 

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