Thursday, May 16, 2019

Collective Biking

I stood waiting on a train platform a few years ago when another man walked up pushing a bike that he parked next to mine. I glanced at his Frankenstein of a bike, which was pieced together from many others. Nothing matched on it, the department store components showed their age, the tires had little tread, and the seat was split. I thought it would fall apart any moment.

My commuter bike, on the other hand, was less than a year old. I’d purchased it overseas and imported it myself. It wasn’t a high-end bike, but had decent components and a nice front suspension, hydraulic brakes, aluminum frame, and a good luggage rack. It worked great for my all-season commuting needs and I really liked it. I sort of wanted to scoot it away from this other low-life bike—like the rust spots might be contagious.

The bike’s owner wore shabby clothes, he had long hair and an unshaven face. And of course, he immediately started talking with me.

“Check out this new bike I just got.”

That raised my eyebrows a bit. I wondered where he’d stolen it from.

He continued. “I went over to the Fourth Street Clinic. They got doctors that volunteer there and one looked at my sore back. He said it’s not bad, I just need to do some exercises. Then when I told him I couldn’t find a job because I got no transportation, he wrote me a prescription for a new bike. Man, I didn’t even know they could do that.”

I hadn’t heard of that either.

“So I went down to the Bicycle Collective and they gave me this—for free! Can you believe that? They put these bikes together to help out people like me. Now I can get to the train easier and ride my bike to job interviews. Man, this whole day changed my life!”

I suddenly had a different appreciation for my new cycling buddy and his great bike. Rust spots, worn tires, a torn seat—none of that mattered. He now had a way to pick himself up, get to job sites, and turn his life around. And that was pretty cool.

I talked with him about the fun of riding around the city and how biking can keep you in shape. When the train arrived, we both moved to get our bikes onto the train car. As soon as I picked mine up, the back wheel fell off—apparently I’d forgotten to tighten the quick-release lever. And who knows how long it had been that way!

“Man, that’s dangerous,” the new cyclist told me. “You should take it down to the Collective and get it fixed.”

In reality, it was my own attitude that needed adjustment.