Friday, November 21, 2003

Truly I am a European. Forget language acquisition, forget ground-breaking architecture and forget pretensciously sitting in smoky cafes and casually chatting about Camus; yesterday I properly became part of the European club: I bought a ‘city bike’.

We don’t have city bikes in England. They’re either mountain bikes or road bikes. As far as I can establish, a bike has to fulfil several specific criteria to be termed a city bike:

1. It must be at least 15 years old. ‘New’ city bikes don’t exist. They’re just ‘bikes’ until their 15th birthday.
2. It must make you sit upright on the saddle. None of this forward-leaning nod to aerodymanics that we find on modern bikes: one must sit straight.
3. If it’s a woman’s bike it must have a wicker basket attached. These is optional on the men’s bikes.
4. The brakes must work function properly; that is, when you press the brake the bike must come to a halt slowly (or maybe not at all) and not suddenly.
5. There should be at most five gears of which only three should actually work.
6. It must have a dynamo attached to the front wheel to power the light.
7. The bike must never be ridden whilst wearing a helmet.

Me and my bike satisfy all of these conditions. And bloody hell: it makes riding around a small bike-friendly town a lot more scary than whizzing around London as I used to. At least then I knew what the cars were going to do, even if I didn’t like it. And I've only just got used to looking the other way when I cross the road; now I also have to contend with looking over the other shoulder when cycling and navigating these infernal one-way systems that the Italians are addicted to.

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