Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Like To Ride My Bicycle

Tomorrow is my birthday, and this week I bought myself a present- a new bicycle. Well, a new/used bicycle. This is the sixth bicycle I have owned, although it would have been bike number seven if my brother Ben had let me buy his old one. More about him in a minute. Today is also the big mid-winter holiday here in the northeast known as São João, but I won't be writing about that today.

But first an apology. Judging from a comment left by my brother Ben (more about him later) it appears that I suddenly have the attention of the better part of my family on these pages. I had a feeling this might happen when my nephew Brian wrote a comment in response to my bitter and whiny post about no one in the family reading my blog. Now I'm feeling sheepish. I suppose I got what I wanted, which is for them to revel in the pure genius that is this glorious blog, but I didn't want it to happen this way. I didn't want them to be guilted into reading it. I also regret being such a passive aggressive fool that would write a stupid post like that. My apologies family!!

Another item to add to the sheepishness was discovering that a different brother of mine has a blog that I wasn't reading! In my own meager defense, I did know about this blog, but as it was getting almost no updates I had figured it was not an active concern and eventually forgot about it. Then the brother in question mentioned it on the phone and I, guilted like the aforementioned family, hurried over to catch up and subscribe to the RSS feed. That's the great thing about RSS feeds and news readers - you never miss another update, even if you can't remember all the things you want to be updated on. Sign up all ye uninitiated!

Anyhow, the bicycle. In spite of my somewhat desperate financial situation (which is actually showing some glimmers of improvement) I decided to get myself a present this year for my birthday. I buy almost nothing for myself, although I have a rather lengthy wish list. Having the Mil Muros site has been good as it has allowed me to get my retail therapy fix vicariously. In fact, tomorrow I'm scheduled to receive almost the entire line of Worx paint, which is the best that Brazil has to offer in terms of domestic spray paint for graffiteiros. On my birthday no less! Very exciting. Hundreds of cans of paint, and I won't be able to use any of them. At least I can fondle and gaze at them, and arrange them on shelves and take pictures of them.

Having decided to get myself something nice, I was wavering between a new bicycle and a new cell phone. Either of these items would have cost me about 300 reis, or $170 US. I really wanted the cell phone because mine doesn't have a camera, and I want to be able to take pictures of graffiti and such that I spot on the street. A built in MP3 player wouldn't hurt either. I count on my cell phone to keep me entertained when I have to stand in line anywhere, and my current one doesn't perform this function adequately. The bike I had my eye on was nothing terribly fancy, but it was new and shiny and had twist-shifters in the grips, something I'd tried just once and really enjoyed. As it turned out, I didn't buy either of these things- I 'settled' for a second-hand bike I spotted in the same shop. I don't regret my decision.

I've been reading Moby Dick lately... and have been for some time. My Kindle tells me I've only read 52% of the book so far. My theory is that if you have better things to do than read, which I do, then read a slow book- an un-page-turner as it were. Not reading anything is not an option for me, I always like to have a book going, but reading something that I can only get through three or four pages at a time before my eyelids droop is at times a good thing. Moby Dick has surprised me- I thought it was about a white whale. If you haven't yet noticed Melville's effect on my writing style, you will now, as I diverge from my primary narrative to present a lengthy aside, and as he would have done, it will rate its own chapter.

My Other Bikes

As I mentioned previously, this is bike number five for me, almost bike six. Let's take a look back the others.

Bike Number One was a kiddie bike complete with training wheels. In fact, it was only used by me as a training wheel bike because I never learned to ride it without them, although I came close. My best friend Jesse lost one of the training wheels when he went on an unexpectedly fast ride down a steep hill in front of our house- it had no brakes, you see.

Bike Number Two was the one I learned to ride on when I was about seven or eight. It was second-hand, having belonged to a classmate who moved away. It had that seventies chopper-type styling, with a banana seat and crazy curved handlebars. The spokes were tricked out with bits of drinking straw. My father and the aforementioned brother Ben taught me to ride this bike in my dad's driveway. The bike lived under a piece of plastic along with my brother's, which was also second hand, and had belonged to the sister of my former classmate. Having belonged to a girl, his was a girl's bike (eeeewwww!)

When all my friends got to the fifth or sixth grade, they all got 'ten-speeds' with racing handle bars and derailleurs and such. This was some years before the advent of mountain bikes, which would have been the natural choice of transport for a bunch of hippie kids growing up in the woods. Naturally, I too wanted a similar ride but for some reason my parents bought me a three-speed, which was Bike Number Three.

I don't know why they bought me the three-speed. I figure it must have been cheaper. I don't remember being terribly upset at the time- it at least looked like a ten-speed, even if it wasn't. I don't want to beat up on my parents too much, they were very good parents, but they did develop a strange (but not oft-repeated) habit of getting me these 'transitional' gifts instead of the real thing, and then subsequently buying the genuine article for my younger brother a year or two later. Jason didn't get a three-speed (actually, nobody I knew had a three speed except me), he went straight to the twelve-speed which at the time was the latest thing.

I remember protesting Jason's acquisition of the 'real' bicycle, so in relatively short order I received Bike Number Four, which had the prerequisite derailleur and ten gears. Both of our bikes were made by Fuji, and I distinctly remember that mine wasn't as nice as his was (we never forget these things, do we?) My mom bought his with this rather extravagant friend of hers who chipped in on the purchase price. I had no such luck. At least, at age sixteen or so, I had my proper ten-speed at last. I sold this bike many years later, lightly used, to a friend of mine in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Bike Number Five was also a hand-me-down and my first mountain bike. This bike had belonged to my dad, who loved mountain bikes because they reminded him of the old steel clunkers he grew up with. Indeed, mountain bikes are descended from those solid bicycles of his youth, and he determinedly un-mountain-biked it as much as he could, putting on a nice wide saddle, handle bars that allowed him to ride upright, and (shudder) a kick-stand. He handed this bike off to me when he decided he wanted to go riding with his wife and then bought a pair of matching red bikes for them to ride, better for him to keep up with those 'long legs of hers' (us Pfohls are a stumpy-legged bunch). When I got my hands on the bike, I promptly re-mountain-biked it, putting on some low, wide handlebars, knobby tires, and a teeny tiny granny gear so I could actually ride uphill in the woods on it. I took off the kick-stand and all those enormously weighty and un-cool reflectors. I did take this bike off-road from time to time, but never as much as I had intended to. This bike accompanied me all the way to Alaska and back on the back of my Honda Civic. I still own it, I think, although it has been moldering in the basement of my sister's barn for many years. I hope somebody rides it now and again.

Then there was The Bike that Might Have Been. This one belonged to the oft-mentioned brother Ben, a Specialized Rockhopper that he was selling to help pay for a much nicer full-suspension bike he had just purchased. In spite of my offer to pay his full asking price for this bike, which would have become the crown jewel of my series, he refused to sell it to me. His reasoning was that, as my brother, he wanted to give me a good deal on the thing, but since he needed to sell it to help pay for the new bike, he couldn't give me a deal on it and therefore wouldn't sell it to me. I insisted I was willing to pay his asking price but he likewise insisted he would not not not sell it to me. And that was that. In retrospect this was probably just as well, as I pretty much stopped riding at that point and this would now be the bike that is moldering in my sister's basement today.

I figured my next bike would be something more like the Rockhopper, with a front suspension at the very least, but it was not to be. I was actually leaning more toward the new cell phone, figuring it would get a lot more use than any bicycle when I went back into the shop with Lucas to see if they still had the bike I was interested in. They did, but it didn't look quite so glamorous to me anymore. I looked at some of the other bikes they had, and tried not to look at the really nice ones.

And then I saw it. A kind of maroon color, used, but lightly. Like one of my own old bikes. I'll call it the Batman Bike. Why? Because of the numerous faded stickers it is festooned with that read Batman Forever. Lucas took one look at this bike and insisted I had to buy it. I draw pictures of Batman and have to role-play him cast in plastic miniature on a daily basis. Of course I had to buy the Batman Bike! When the owner of the bike shop told me the price was half that of the other bike, it was as good as sold. I took Lucas for a walk, thought about it, and returned and bought the Batman Bike just before the shop closed.

It's a cheesy beast, this Batman Bike. Clearly targeted for the teenage market, it is a frill-less mountain style bicycle, with lots of plastic parts. No aluminum or alloys anywhere on the frame. It does have 21 speeds, which is more than twice what Bike Number Four had, and seven times that of Bike Number Three. There's no kick-stand on it, and it has brand new knobby tires. The beauty of it is that it is adequate, and, truth be told, adequate is ten times better than exciting.

Why, says you, is adequate better than exciting? Well, I'll tell you. It's not a fancy new toy, which means it doesn't have any fancy new toy baggage. This means that I can ride it and chain it up in public places without worrying about it getting stolen, or worse, scratched. It means I can lend it to my oversized stepson without worrying about it getting stolen, or worse, scratched. Even more importantly and realistically it means I can not ride it and not suffer the guilt and shame of having my expensive toy sitting unused and gathering dust. Clearly this poor bicycle has already suffered that fate- the movie it is themed after came out five years ago and it shows about two months of wear. If I ride it a lot, and wear it out, then I'll be fully justified in buying a fancier model. I'm also really into this urban-camouflage idea that owning something kind of ugly and unappealing is a good idea- it is much less likely that someone else will want to take it away from me. Another bonus? I can start upgrading it immediately. The saddle on the thing is horrid, and it has no luggage rack. I could put a new stem and handlebars on it which would drop me into a lower, more aggressive riding position. Add some bar ends, toe clips, a front suspension, water bottle...

Hold on a second. Slow down there, tough guy. You bought the cheap bike because you are friggin' broke, so don't go souping the thing up and spending a fortune on it. No sense spoiling the satisfaction of getting a good deal by blowing two hundred reis in accessories. I'll settle for the toe clips and the new saddle. And the luggage rack. And I really should get a helmet. And maybe some gloves. And... never mind.

The truth is I find it hard to believe I'll ride it very much. The thought of riding a bicycle on the streets of Salvador is enough to give me heart palpitations, which is why I've gone eight years without one. I mostly bought it so I could ride around with Lucas, who is still on his first bicycle, complete with training wheels. We did just that yesterday, by performing the humiliating ritual of climbing into the car and strapping the bike on top in order to go for a ride on the pretty bike path in Barra. The irony of this is not lost on me, but the reality is that if I'm going out to ride with my son, we are definitely not riding the streets of hell on flimsy two-wheeled contraptions to get to a nice safe place to ride. At least not for a long time. And despite the absurdity of burning fossil fuels to go for a bike ride, we had a great time. Lucas rode his bike longer and farther than I've ever seen him ride previously, and he wanted more when we were done. And wanted to go out again today. This could turn out to be a great thing- there are a number of bike paths in the city. I just hope my car doesn't die or need to be sold so we can get to them. And if it does? Well, at least I'll have a bike to ride around on.

It is impossible for me to imagine a Salvador that is bike-friendly. Curitiba, in the south of Brazil, is supposed to be a great city to ride a bike in, but I don't see it happening here in Salvador. You could never set up bike lanes on the main streets- they would be dominated by motorcycles. The motorcycles are like flies here- they get into everything. Don't stick your arm out your car window or a motorcycle might take it off. I remember growing up in Amherst, Massachusetts and being bewildered by all the asian folks who would ride their bikes on the sidewalks. Why didn't they ride in the street like everyone else? Now I think I know. I think I'll be riding on sidewalks just as much as I possibly can- and I'll keep my eyes peeled for motorcycles.


Mom requested a photo of the bike, here's a couple:


Fabio Bossard said...

Wow..Nice bike! I miss riding them. Well, the post was all about bikes, full of bike-related words that got me all lost, but what I want to comment here is Moby Dick. I was reading last year, but unfortunately I didn't finish it. I got busy and had to stop. Anyways, what I want to comment is the part in which Ishmael meet Queequeg for the first time. This part had lots of homoerotic descriptions. If Ishmael is gay or not, I don't know, but I was surprised to read that part in a 19th century novel.

markuza said...

I once saw a great book in a bookstore in New York that had pictures of all kinds of machines and such, pointing out all the different parts and giving the Portuguese/English translations. I didn't buy it, and I've always regretted it, and have never seen it again. I can't remember if there was a bike in there though. Regarding Moby Dick, I have tried reading it before and given up- this time I'm determined to finish it. I had the same impression about that scene with Queequeg and Ishmael in the bed together. I know different cultures have different boundaries for 'bromance' to use a trendy word, how much that extends to 19th century American culture I have no idea.

Fabio Bossard said...

You know what? I bought Moby Dick book on a secondhand store. When I got home and started reading it I thought it was really boring. A few months later I decided to give it shot again. I loved it and really got into the into, but I had to stop. That' what I tell people, at least in my case, I can't just pick up a book and read it. It doesn't work that way. The book has to call me, invite me to read it. It choses me, not the opposite.
Still about Ishmael, I don't think his sexual orientation is important in the story. As fas as I know, the story covers a lot of themes, but I don't think homosexuality is included.
I loved the word "bromance". I haven't heard it before and had to look it up. I guess male bonding is very strong in Brazil, but I don't know how different it is from other countries. What I do know is that being a patriarchal society, that kind of description wouldn't make it's way into a novel in Brazil in the 19th century. Well, I may be wrong, though.

Jesse said...

This bike post is great and very timely. My car broke down and I just bought a new/used bike for about $170, that is a pretty cool bike. So, no car but a good bike. I don't remember about bike #1 but that was funny- you remember many stories that I don't. Let's ride these bikes! peace, Jesse

markuza said...

Fabio- I'm curious why you had to stop reading Moby Dick. I am a rather stubborn reader, I hate to give up on a book once I start it, even if I kind of hate it. If I hadn't done just that once before with Moby Dick I'd probably do it again now.

Jesse- sorry about the car- that sucks! I remember you bombing down Lockes Hill Road on bike #1 like it was yesterday, and the wheel spinning off into the gutter. Neither of us were very happy about the ordeal. You got a second mention in that it was your bike that I rode with the twist shifters that I enjoyed so much. Too bad we can't ride our bikes together! :(

Fabio Bossard said...

Hey Mark! I am easily distracted. If I am busy with other stuff, I end up forgetting about the book. Early this year I started reading Pride and Prejudice and was loving it, but I got busy again and stopped. Now I am reading another book and I am confident I will finish this one. The next book will be Catcher in the Rye, which I already read about 7 years ago.

Fabio Bossard said...

(Belated comment) I like this part: Having belonged to a girl, his was a girl's bike (eeeewwww!)

the eeew part was funny.

markuza said...

Ah yes, well, you know how eight-year-old boys are. I no longer have that response to women, much to the chagrin of my wife :)

Ben said...

Hey Mark,
Where to begin... O.K. Moby Dick. It took me three tries, twice I got mired in "The Whiteness Of The Whale" Two chapters on that? You've got to be kidding. On the third try, I slogged through it and actually found parts I really enjoyed. But I have to say that it's given me an added appreciation for how writing has evolved into a more direct, if not comparatively cryptic form. On the homoerotic front, there is a section later in the book where they are processing the spermacetti, (spelling issue I'm sure) which I think is much more poignant on that score. I understand that sharing a bed in the old days was a common practice, they were simply more practical back then. I absolutely love his commentary on religion at the end of the seventh chapter with the line: "But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope." Cool.

O.K., about the bike. Geeze! I had completely forgotten you had expressed interest in that bike. I guess I stick by my idea that it was overpriced (and therefore I didn't want to rip you off), as I have actually thought about selling that bike recently with a slight guilty conscience. I remember thinking I should say to the guy who bought it..."but have you done any research?" Oh well, I never saw the guy again, and probably he didn't wind up riding it anyway, right? Sorry you felt dissed on that one and that my unabashed greed prevented me from cutting you a good deal. It was a nice looking bike.

I do however remember teaching you to ride and am flattered that you remember that too. It was one of the true successes of my life. I think watching someone learn to ride might be more satisfying for the teacher than the student. Boy, I wish I could still run like that now in my old age. My advice with Lucas is: ditch the "training" wheels, in my less than humble opinion, everything they train you to do is counter to riding a bike, which very young kids can do with no problem.

markuza said...

Ben- I am *still* reading Moby Dick, and recently read the passage you referred to about processing the oil, a strange one indeed. I must confess I skipped the two chapters on the whiteness of the whale, I was afraid it would derail me as well. I expected to skip a lot more if necessary but haven't ended up doing so. As for favorite quotes, my vote is for this one: "In man or fish, wriggling is a sign of inferiority."

Re: the bike- I didn't get the sense that greed was your motivation in not selling that bike to me, just that you needed to offset as much of the purchase price of your new bike as possible. Fair enough!

I do remember you helping us ride bikes, and learning to swim, and working under your Willys Jeep in the barn, and lots of stuff from those days up in Acworth. I have a strange and random memory.

As for the training wheels, Lucas and I have agreed to take them off and get him riding properly. If only this rain will let up.