This is Citrine. A lemon-lime Tern folding bike with a little clangy bell shaped like an orange slice. She arrived in my life last week.
Citrine is bike number 13 or 14 in my life, fourth in the rideable-bikes I currently own. Sixth in the current bike constellation if I include my spin bike and the vintage CCM I turned into a climbing frame for hydrangeas when I couldn’t find tires when the elderly ones finally split.
I learned to ride a bike when I was 7. It was 1972, and we lived in Germany. It was a two year family adventure, where my father was teaching on a Canadian military base and we putt putted around most of western Europe in an orange VW camper van, the kind with the pop up top.
My parents bought me a bike soon after we moved. The next weekend, we headed to a campground with our shiny new van, along with the Stolz family. My dad, Tony, and Howie, the Stolz dad, took me, Blair and Sandra to the top of a hill with our new bikes. Beers and rothmans in hand, the dads positioned us on our bikes the top of a hill and let go. We wobbled, we crashed, we figured out the physics in a wheee of panic. At the end of the weekend, gravel embedded in our knees, we knew how to ride bikes.
That bike was blue and it folded up, so we could tuck it in the back of the camper on our explorations, my dad driving while my mom read from a guidebook called “Europe on $5 a day.” I rode it around campgrounds in France and Denmark, and then, stretching the edges of my world, with confidence around our town, along a bumpy canal pathway to the next town, and the next. I didn’t speak German, but it didn’t matter. I had my bike and the rangy freedom of a childhood in the early 70s where my parents, not even 30 yet, were busy stretching their own wings.
My parents’ marriage did not survive those two years. Neither did the Stolzes’. But my relationship with wandering the world on a bike, alone, did. Once, from my perch in the orange camper van, I watched a man pull up on a bike next to us in a campground in the Netherlands, open his canvas panniers and set up a home. He sat crosslegged on the grass, eating a tomato he’d pulled from a rucksack. Pure, self-sufficient serenity.
“I want to do that,” I said. “You don’t even like tomatoes,” said my mother. I couldn’t explain.
We brought that blue folding bike back to Canada, along with the exposed shame of Catholic parents separating at a time when people didn’t do that. My weird European folding bike, when everyone else had the kind of CCM currently acting as a climber for my hydrangeas, didn’t help with my sense of not-belonging. But my bike was my autonomy, taking me to swimming lessons and friends’ houses and ultimately, to my dad’s new home. My armour when Tracey-someone tried to bully me and steal it, and I just ran over her feet instead. Its uniqueness was a blessing when someone in my neighbourhood did cut the cheap cable lock and I was able to say “that bike is MINE” and get it back.
Eventually, the blue folding bike disappeared into a Nishiki 10 speed. I don’t remember what happened to the folding bike, but the Nishiki was my adolescent bike, until it was stolen my very last day of high school. I went to school to pick up my final grades and when I came out, my bike was gone. I was so disoriented I walked the school fence perimeter three times, certain I must have just forgotten where I left it.
At least seven of my bikes have been stolen since then, maybe one more. They blur. From my porch, from work sites, from in front of the condo I lived in after I got divorced. My baby blue Tern, predecessor of Citrine out of the back of my ex’s jeep last summer. A lesson in the balance of unconditional devotion and impermanence.
I’ve ridden bikes now in more than 20 countries, sometimes incidentally for just a few kilometres, nearly barefoot in a bathing suit, no helmet. Sometimes touring for days with everything I need tucked behind me. In Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, with a guide. Crossing Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, bits of Australia on my own. Sometimes it’s a gritty slog, like our pre-covid trek in Newfoundland, sometimes it’s in the high of a long fundraiser ride in community, sometimes it’s like a re-enactment of a romping album cover, like my days in Germany with tents and two friends. It’s always a quest for some kind of mindful surrender, as I wrote in this post in the first wave of COVID.
So why do I need Citrine, when I have a serviceable grey Opus commuter bike, a robust touring Bombtrack, my sleek perfect Specialized road bike? Because those all have their jobs. In the most logistical sense, a folding bike tucks up nicely into its expensive rolling bag, ready to fly across the country or tuck itself into the back of a car. But Citrine’s real job is time travel, enlivening my inner 9 year old, fearless, curious, and confident that whatever happens, my bike will take me somewhere new, geographical or spiritual.
What are the different jobs of your bikes?
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