In Amsterdam we cruised, sometimes fiercely, in highly structured bike lanes and without helmets. The Dutch didn’t wear them, so why should we?
Everything was stolen from us. Promotional seat covers, removable taillights, back wheels and wicker baskets. It rained all the time, and my chub rub would worsen from wet denim on the thigh of my jeans. On the way home from class, we’d stop at the store for a two Euro bottle wine and strap it to the rack on top of the rear tire. When I sold it my last week abroad, I felt naked, stranded, and like it was time to go home.
Zack built me a bike, part by part, in Houston. It was a gift for me upon my arrival to the Lonestar State, but I did not like it. It was a road bike, and the frame scared me, and I felt like I was going to fly over the handlebars and into the middle of traffic every time I rode it. We sold it and Craiglisted a black Peugeot cruiser I fell in love with.
Houston was not/is not a biking city, but I did not have a choice. Circling the crack corners was a way to kill time, and sometimes after dinner we’d ride to River Oaks and watch the sunset from some rich person’s cul-de-sac. A few weeks before we moved, my Peugeot was snipped and stolen from our backyard. I had to walk to work after that.
Zack built me another bike in Philadelphia. A $20 frame which he repainted in the basement of our Graduate Hospital apartment whilst wearing a gas mask. The frame was cream with three stripes: black, gold and yellow. The seat was vintage leather. I rode it to coffee shops and to my part-time job and to the grocery store and to Rittenhouse, biking home slowly with heavy Anthro bags swinging from the handlebars. Grocery bags got caught all the time and the paper would rip through the front tire like a fan. In Queen Village we didn’t have our own outdoor space, and I would sweat carrying my cruiser up a flight and a half of stairs no matter how hot or cold it was outside. It was a year and a half before I realized the bike was too short for my height. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it.
Zack bought me new bike for my 25th birthday. It came in a giant cardboard box that took up half our kitchen. It was turquoise, with a bell and a cushy seat and shiny splashguards. It was so nice I was afraid someone would steal it, so I started double locking it. That winter it didn’t snow but the temperatures were frigid. I wore two pairs of gloves and rode back and forth to Fitler Square from South Philly every single day. My mom bought me a fancy biking jacket from Lululemon that was extra long in the back and had a massive hood so you could fit a helmet underneath. I hated taking the bus. I hated being on someone else’s schedule.
That spring, we moved to Passyunk Square. Everything was packed, aside from a few random items we couldn’t place. I ended up leaving my old bike frame, the one with the painted stripes, leaning against a street sign in Queen Village. I didn’t want to throw it away. I wanted someone else to have it and keep it and make it their own. Three weeks later, we went on an afternoon bike ride to Fairmount park where Zack asked me to marry him. Every day for the next year, I wheeled my turquoise cruiser into the alley beside our apartment and secured the iron door shut.
The summer after, our bikes went into storage and we lived in suburbia, for a little while. Even after we closed on our house in Fishtown and completely unpacked, the fact that our bikes were still in my parents’ garage escaped us. My dad kept asking when we were going to take them back. I felt no rush. We had the El now, and I could be in Center City in 12 minutes if I caught it at the right time. My job paid for my transit pass. The seasons changed. I did not think about my bike, which was now in our basement, next to all the empty kitchen appliance boxes and framed artwork we’ve grown out of. I thought about how scary it would be riding down Spring Garden during rush hour if I did have my bike.
I didn’t ride my bike for 452 days.
I got a new job, outside of the city. Regional rail is now a thing, affecting my life. I am now more on someone else’s schedule than ever. I brought my bike up from the basement and dug out my U-Lock. I never took the key off my ring.
It’s getting darker earlier, and I forgot to check my bike lights before leaving the house the other night. The batteries were completely corroded, and I didn’t want to chance it, so I rode on the sidewalk most of the way home. In Japan, no one jaywalks. That’s one of the first things Zack and I noticed when we were there a month ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s incredibly obvious that a car isn’t coming, the people just don’t budge until the light changes. But they ride their bikes on the sidewalk. Everywhere, all the time. In Philadelphia, it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk if you’re over the age of eight (something I have to remind my mom when she asks worriedly, “You’re riding your bike again? On…the street?). But it’s completely normal for an adult of any age to whiz past you on their cruiser without apology.
There’s a security guard at Temple Station. She sits on her perch, which is minuscule, enclosed in bullet proof glass, and would make me claustrophobic without question. I feel good knowing there’s someone on watch. My turquoise cruiser is still in good shape, three years later. The bell is busted and there’s some rust on the frame, but the backpedal brakes still work and I feel like a dream riding through my neighborhood, and on the two-way bike lane on Berks, even if it’s mostly deserted. I like the feeling of cool air whipping against the sweat on my back after class in Old City, and stretching my legs with intent with each push forward. I always wear my helmet.