I WAS FEELING LEFT OUT of the Minneapolis bicycle movement, so I bought myself a little folding bike online.
It arrived in a box about the size of a large flower arrangement and came with its own zip-up bag. Like a gym bag, only instead of stinky athletic shoes and rolled up underwear, there’s a whole bicycle stuffed in there.
If I were a foot taller, I could conceivably carry my wheels around in that bag. I’m 5-foot-2, which means I can stand on the ground next to my bag o’ bike, pick up the handles of the bag, and be completely unable to lift it at all. Think of a 3-year-old trying to pick up your carry-on. For some tasks in life, a person just needs more arm-length than that with which munchkins are blessed. I can, however, drag the bag around behind me. And they told me you couldn’t get an upper body workout with a bicycle.
Some folding bike models are made for diehard commuter folk who want 17 speeds and a frame lightweight enough to schlep up 12 flights of stairs to their dot.com office lofts. Ah, youth. I wanted a folding bike because my garage was once a cramped horse stable, and if I affix even one more license tab to my rear plate, I won’t be able to shut the overhead door. Affixing an entire bike rack would transform my garage into a carport, and that is way too Brady Bunch for Whittier.
I also wanted a mere three gears. I used to have some enormous number of speeds on a bike I had back in high school. My best friend, Siri Knutson, and I named our bikes Merrylegs and Ginger after horses in what we thought were old Walter Farley novels, and by the time we realized those equine characters actually peopled the pages of the significantly less macho “Black Beauty,” the names had stuck. We zipped around everywhere, serene, adept, popping over curbs and twisting around storm drains, curled over the racing bars and thumb-shifting through exotic algorithms that might have had us pedaling in second or 37th gear, who knew? I thought all that happened just moments ago, but at one bike shop I was forced to do the math and report that I had not put foot to pedal in over 30 years. So I chose a Shetland Pony of a bike to lessen the seat-to-ground falling distance. Hey, I could break a hip. And I decided three speeds was enough math for a person who couldn’t remember how quickly 30 years could pass.
I can fold up my bike and put it in the trunk. I can fold up my bike and carry it down to the basement and store it in the laundry room, where fewer thieves hang out than do in our alley. It weighs only 30 pounds, which isn’t a whole lot more than my grandson, but as I mentioned, it’s an arm-length thing.
On terra firma, swing the center hinge out, flip the handlebars up, and voila! Instant bike. It’s what we used to call a “girl’s bike” and what the gender-correctness-practicing guys at bike shops call a “step-through.” That parallel-to-the-earth upper bar from handles to seat is gone, and the wheels are joined only by a low, curved sweep of metal pipe, or whatever bicycles are made of on the internet. A series of tubes, perhaps.
My bike would be instantly respected in Amsterdam, where people zip about all over the city on two wheels clothed in everything except racing bicycle gear. Guys in suits and women in long skirts drop the dachshund or the baby right into the basket and take off into the most baffling system of spaghetti-junction bike lanes on the planet, all without helmets or safety belts or regard for arriving at work in a rancid flop-sweat.
But here in Minneapolis, the bikes sharing my lanes are bigger, rougher, and way high up there compared to Merrylegs II. Tootling around town running errands (the pharmacy drive-through is for bikes, too, I posit), I Ting! Ting! my way through hordes of Lance Wannabes in spandex and wristbands, my sunshade fastened to what I just learned is the wrong end of the dorky looking helmet perched on my head.
I am having so much fun.
This was published in the Southwest Journal November 1, 2010.