I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bike.

I want to ride my bicycle.

I want to ride it well.

I want to ride my bicycle.

I want to ride it where I like.

Today I rode my shiny new bicycle to attend the grand opening of the Boston Public Library Jamaica Plain branch.

My City Mapper app showed several possible routes, each taking about 30 minutes. Yet, this journey took me over an hour. Why?

Hills.

No cycle lanes in some areas.

Construction. Road work.

For more than six years, I lived in bicycle heaven where cyclists ruled the roads. There were no hills but clearly marked cycle lanes everywhere. Drivers dared not park on cycle lanes. I cycled not for exercise but as a means of transport, daily or several times a day. I cycled to and from the train station, where I could lock my bicycle below the station free of charge, in covered stalls. I cycled to get groceries from the oriental supermarket, returning each time with both cycle bags fully loaded. I cycled to see friends and never had to worry about drunk driving on my way back. The six years I lived in the Netherlands taught me that it was possible to go anywhere I wanted with a bicycle and reliable public transportation. I even owned a folding bike to shorten my commute from Utrecht to Leiden, the birthplace of Rembrandt.

Today was not the case. I had forgotten that elsewhere in the world, there are hills. Steep hills. Without knowing the terrains, I would encounter unexpected inclines. I constantly weighed the delayed gratification of pushing myself to go up the slope only to have to use my fancy disc brakes on the way down. Why can’t it be flat? Why waste energy going up and down?

Elsewhere in the world, not everyone cycles. It’s a catch-22 situation. Cycle paths need to be created and marked. Drivers need to pay attention to cyclists. The infrastructure needs to be invested before people feel safe to cycle.

Here in America, cycling is considered a sport. It’s not a means of transport for most people. I tried to cycle on Maui but it was too hilly, hot, windy, and frankly, dangerous. Hopefully Boston is more bicycle-friendly.

As I was struggling up my first hill, resisting the urge to give up and walk, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten my bike lock. How was I to visit the new library? I mulled over the loss. I would not return to get the lock and go up the same hill twice.

On South Street, just a few steps before the library, I saw a bike shop bustling with customers. I approached a young lady and explained that I had forgotten my U-lock, and I needed it to see the new library.

She started to show me the range of U-locks and then changed her mind. “Since you already have a U-lock, you probably don’t want to buy another one. How about giving me your name and number and I’ll keep your bike here? We close at 5 pm.”

I couldn’t believe her kind offer. She let me park my brand new bike in her shop! Back in London, I avoided going to the store that sold me my Raleigh mountain bike because the owner always gave me the look, more like a growl —  “what do you want from me?”

Without my bicycle or having to lock it outside, I felt as free as a bird. I visited the spanking new library with an added glass conservatory. The 1911 building had been closed for the $10 million renovation for the past two years. I was particularly pleased to discover an art exhibit downstairs (where the restrooms are also located) that led to a big room with a baby grand piano tucked in a corner.

I walked next door to the four-story community center where an empty swimming pool made me wish I had brought my swim suit. Upstairs in the senior’s room, I discovered an upright Steinway and a baby grand.

Outside, I spotted a hand-written poster “yard sale” on the street next to the library. The owner said that she had just moved from Cape Cod after a moving sale. These were the leftovers. Everything was free. I told her that I knew how she felt. I, too, had to get rid of a lot of things, this time last year.

I tried to stuff as much as I could into my little purse bag. I badly needed a bike rack. I was playing with fire cycling without a helmet, holding onto a candle holder hanging from the handle bars, and hoping my black bag won’t break from the weight of ceramics and other goodies I had taken from the sale.

The return journey, as always, was easier and faster. It was a straight road going back, not as hilly as I remembered it. Perhaps there is hope for me after all.

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