I am a serious cyclist. Why, do you ask? Well, I suppose because I take my cycling, and the bicycles that I ride, quite seriously. To the rest of the world I am but a middle-aged man, riding a bicycle every day because I lost my license by driving drunk or have no job, and am homeless. Yep, that’s exactly what people think where I live: here in South Florida, where, on weekends roads are taken over by driven athlete-like road warriors or trail-riding heroes, zooming about, fully kitted, helmeted and armored for battle, astride bikes costing more than some people’s cars.
Not me, though. I am a rebel. Sort of. Don’t get me wrong: I love cars. I really do. And I spent the better part of the last half century driving, fixing, restoring, racing, and lusting over them. Oh, and paying for them too. Got speeding tickets, I did: thirty of them over the years. So everytime I see a big huge building that turns out to belong to an insurance company, I smugly think to myself “I helped build that!”
I never planned to become a daily cycling commuter: it just sort of happened, I guess. A number of years ago my trusty Ford SUV gave up the ghost. Yep, right before Christmas. So the decision had to be made: repair the car, and spend the money I had been saving on Christmas presents, or figure out another way to get to work for a while, and ensure a Merry Christmas for all? The choice was made, and I began taking the bus to work, for a while.
When I lived in Chicago, buses and trains were taken by people from all walks of life. My neighbor was an attorney, and on snowy days, when I took the train into the city instead of driving, I would see him. Always nicely dressed, complete with fine shoes and Patek Philippe Calatrava, he rode the rails daily, as did others from his social strata. Drawing on this experience, I thought “taking the bus to work won’t be so bad; it’ll be a piece of cake.” Boy was I wrong…
Public transportation in SE Florida is way different than it is in other cities. Instead of people like me riding the bus I encountered mostly poor people, those who could not drive, those who were disabled and many, many others. I saw a woman get punched, was called racial names on several occasions, and learned first hand just how unpleasant homeless people can smell in the heat of a south Florida summer. Then one night while waiting to transfer to another bus, I was robbed.
During the course of my bus odyssey I would regularly see one of those crazy commuter-type cyclists: you know, the kind of person who rides in the rain, wears a helmet with a mirror, and carries all his stuff to work on bags on his bike. Not real friendly, was he, but from casual conversation I learned he held down two jobs and cycled, along with taking the bus, as a means to save money. I call him Cycling Guy.
One morning, as I was getting on the bus, I spied a really cool-looking balloon-tired bike: no fenders, single speed, black with red rims, and-get this-slicks. That’s right, real honest-to-goodness, ungrooved, racing slick tires, the kind that look totally worn out when you buy them. I leaned over to look at the bike: it was bitchin’. The driver became impatient, tooted the horn, and I got on the bus.
As I selected a seat, I saw Cycling Guy, and not seeing his usual bike in the rack, asked if he got a new bike. He said that he did, and that it was an inexpensive bike he bought to use when he had to go places where his “good bike” might get stolen. He told me the bike was a 3G Venice, where he bought it, and that he paid $250 for it. I asked him how he liked the slicks, and he said they were “very grippy, even in the rain.” Shortly after that, I had to get off at my stop. I bid Cycling Guy a fond adieu, and resolved to get a 3G Venice on payday, which I did. On the following Sunday, an off day from work, I rode the 12 1/2 miles to work, just like that. Single-speed with coaster brake, you can see the bike in the photo at the beginning of this post. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t too hard either. And that was it. Monday morning, I was ready to go…