A Bike For Any Season
The first thing you find out when you buy a bike in Los Angeles is that everyone knows more about bikes than you.
“Fixed gear or single speed?”
“Road tires affixed to a mountain frame, huh? What valve size is it?”
“Did you build it yourself? Because I did.”
I made the tactical error of buying my neighbor’s bike in a yard sale with the idea that it would help me get in shape. Perhaps if I bought a bike for a newbie or someone who is clearly a bike idiot this would have worked. But my bike, as I quickly learned, is a road bike and its very possession means people assume you are much better at riding a bike than you really are.
“Haven’t I seen you at Critical Mass?” the LA Bike Elite asks me as I gracefully coast into a tree.
The other thing the LA Bike Elite loves to tell you is how many times their bike’s been stolen. It’s a rite of initiation for road bikes, it seems, to have someone go to extreme lengths to obtain it — this is why they do not have kickstands, for if you park it and take your hands off it for one moment someone ass will inevitably snatch it. And the shittier the bike is, the more desirable it is, at least according to the various bikers you run into at the library.
“I had two chains on it, solid metal chains, and they got a bolt-cutter and ripped through both of them,” a 40 year old man tells me, patting his bike saddle which is covered with black plastic, the frame two different shades of puke green.
“They got a ladder, cut off the top of the sign post and just lifted it up!” a chain-smoking tattooed lady outside the Fresh ‘N Easy says, gesturing to her home-made cycle as her clove sparks and the chain falls off.
“Used their mind rays to take my first bike, which is why you have to wrap it in tin-foil,” the homeless man at the recycling center recites confidently, holding the foil-covered handlebars with foil-covered hands. “Sometimes they take my batteries!” he adds, patting me on the arm.
The road bike is a racing bike, originally European in design. Used in cities it gained popularity in gas-crisis 1970s America where sales shot up into the millions and people took to the streets with them. I take to the hidden and mainly deserted bike path behind my house, attempting to figure out how to steer while hunched over handles which are, somehow, always sticky.
“Sticky handles and bad tires? That’s prime bike-stealing bait right there,” the group of seven-year-olds on tricycles tell me as I glide by. “What valve size is that?”
To avoid the disappointment in the Bike Elites’ eyes when I answer their queries with “Uh,” and “How do I tell if it has gears?” I learn to ride in Burbank in the off times of the day, weaving through nonexistent traffic as I set goals for myself like, “Be able to bike up this hill,” or “Be able to then bike back down this hill.” When trapped in conversation at a stoplight I learn to smile and nod at what my fellow bikers are saying, much like I did when pretending to know Spanish in High School (the trick is to occasionally ask teachers to “repeteme, por favor” and then go back to smiling as they speak slower). Halfway into this process my friends began to get bikes of their own and I suggested we go for a bike ride.
A mile in they’re struggling to remember how to brake and I’m watching, realizing that at some point in the nodding and smiling some real biking knowledge has set in. I may not be the Bike Elite, but perhaps, perhaps, I can make it into the Bike Bourgeoisie.
“Can we turn back yet?” they demand.
“Just one more block. What valve size you got?” I ask them.