Once upon a time I had a beautiful bike. She was stolen. I cried. I came to Berlin. Trudel lent me her old bike, heavy, slow, upright, but a bike nonetheless and I made many journeys on it, riding most days for an hour at least from home to the west-end of Kreuzberg and back, all through winter even.
And of course I courted disaster. A misjudged curb outside the Bötzow Brauerei. Much skin missing on shoulder, knee and hip. Still a tracery of dark skin there. Of course like all old bikes and people it became slower and more decrepit. I searched for a new bike.
How I ever afforded my baby is a story I won’t write of here, indeed, I think I’ve seldom even mentioned how I came to afford such a joy. Sufficient to say by the time she departed I’d spent close to the mid-four figures on her. And yes, worth every cent.
I have my attention these days drawn to Cyclocross, and think it would be a fine way to spend a weekend or week. Fine and muddy. Even if I were utterly flagrant with euros though, I couldn’t afford such a bike. It shall have to wait. So I looked across Berlin for a new friend to take me speeding from Neukölln to Wedding.
Bikes here are mostly hideously expensive or hideous. Or both. A propensity for bespoke (harhar) Fahrrad Werkstätten with prices to match, sensible city bikes with ungainly accoutrements and weight, an obsession with putting shitty heavy and cheap shocks on all bikes under €600, and an aesthetics tax that says only ugly below that same price…
Emile was here last week, the first time we’ve seen each other in years. Much gravity sucking walls, pigeons of doom, languageeeaRRlugghhh!!!, and talking about narrow handlebars, Damon and the Melbourne Critical Mass, fixies in 2000 only for bike geeks and now as fashion instead of transport. The windows of Mitte shops full of these, ‘hey let’s put a … ‘Fixie’ in the window, they’re cool right now?!!’, ‘hey, yeah! A bike!’. Oh we talked about art too and went shopping.
Wandering around Neukölln I thought of Emile when I wandered out of a shop with about the only affordable and semi-attractive bike I’ve come across in weeks of looking. No, I didn’t want to buy secondhand or on eBay, and became so frustrated with the sea of hideousness and ++€€€ that I decided to buy the first thing that wasn’t repulsive or a heap of shit.
I spent today in the sun, after a visit to the laundromat. New brakes. It’s astounding what a set of €16 pads can do for a bike. I changed the cables around also, having an unconscious tendency to twitch with my left hand when I want to stop. Bad habit when that hand happens to rest on top of the front brake and I decide to have a panic twitch. Some adjustments to seat and brake lever placement also, with my new pocket-sized multi-tool.
No, the welds on the steel frame aren’t the prettiest, the components are mostly obscure-name or un-name, the tires need to be replaced with ones carrying a more useful tread and rubber compound, the wheels could probably do with being replaced altogether, and I can see myself over the course of the year buying new bits and pieces until suddenly I have two entire bikes. (And then decide to buy a second bike.)
But. She is fast, has some of that same slightly scary unpredictability and twitchiness of my baby that makes me think I’ll certainly have a gravel party sometime, but in the meantime I ride from Wedding to Neukölln and back, barely stopping, the gear ratio encouraging a trance-enducing rhythm… yes, the seat is up riather high, isn’t it?