Gently cajoled into returning to cycling, The Reluctant Cyclist has fallen in love with a bike, but the path of true love might not run smooth.
In which I fly 1400 miles to ride a bike
My travelling companions were slightly taken aback at the itinerary I outlined for them – arrive in Warsaw, collect hire car, visit bike shop, find hotel – but gamely didn’t question the minor oddity in our plans.
It wasn’t until we were driving in our hired Renault (much cleaner than mine, constant reminders needed about driving on the right) to the Rowery, a Polish bike shop, that I felt the need to explain our excursion. You see, I had fallen in love. Yes, with a bike.
A fortnight previously I had gamely attended The London Bike Show at Excel with my friend, who was blissfully under the impression that I was getting more interested in the whole bicycle thing. It was, of course, a mere coincidence that The Boat Show was being held at the same time and in the same place, and simply fortuitous that I got to spend the rest of the afternoon considering yachting tours in Tuscany.
During the bike part of the day, I feigned interest in bikes that cost more than a decent car, which surely even Bradley Wiggins would consider a tad on the pricy side. There were electric bikes (a good idea, if ugly) and lots of other bikey shaped bikes. My friend valiantly tried to explain how one bikey shaped bike was different from another.
And then I saw her.
Ships are traditionally female and so was she, a bike truly made for a girl. She came in turquoise with white wheels and pink trim, and you could co-ordinate fabrics for the seat and basket lining. But these superficial fripperies were not what drew her to me. She had a curved frame and a wide seat and handlebars that looked like they might actually be comfy to hold. The style is apparently called a ‘cruiser’ or ‘sit up and beg’ or ‘Dutch bike’ but to me it was a bicycle that did not require me to be bent over looking like a Tour de France hopeful. So I took her for a spin.
It was quite a small spin, probably around 10 metres. Excel does not lend itself to bicycle testing, but she was so comfy to ride, and I drew admiring glances from the people I managed not to knock over in my wobbly trail around the central plaza.
Then I stopped taking her for a spin, rather more suddenly than I had expected. I was just doing that idly cycling backwards thing one does when not needing to accelerate (due to riding on a concourse full of people trying to buy boats and/or bikes), when she stopped so abruptly that I promptly fell off.
Later I found out that this was actually a design feature not a design flaw. I’m informed it’s called a ‘back-pedal brake’ and I remembered the bikes of the American kids ‘off base’ who rode around my childhood neighbourhood. I felt that getting used to this strange new method of braking might be akin to driving an automatic car, so I asked if I could take her on a proper spin. This is where things started to go a little awry. No, was the answer, the stallholder was the only UK seller of this brand of bicycle and they only did mail order. To test the bike properly I would have to visit the manufacturer’s shop in Warsaw, Poland. So I did.
It would be dishonest of me to suggest that I flew 1400 miles to Eastern Europe just to test a bike out. I am of Polish descent and was due to attend a family wedding which allowed just enough time to visit the Rowery and get to the church on time. So, on a very cold and snowy Saturday morning, my travelling companions and I, aided only by my small amount of the language and Google Maps, found the vicinity of the bike shop. Enquiring in a local cafe, the delightful Ulla insisted on showing us to its front door, hidden behind the road in a little disused enclave of small local businesses.
Finally, I had made it to see the bike of my dreams. My merry band looked on in wonderment to see what had brought us all to this rather downbeat part of Warsaw, what life-changing contraption I had fallen for back in London Town.
The shop was closed.
Not just closed, but not open until 3pm, by which time I would be three hours away in a small Catholic church, which would be followed by a six-hour journey to Krakow, from where I would fly home a few days later.
I think we can all agree that I tried to ride a bike. I enclose photographic proof of the shop closure, in case you doubt my excuses.