Once upon a time, so the story goes, there was an avid cyclist so in love with his tools that he kept his bike pump not in his garage but pride of place in his living room. While watching television he would often steal a glance across the room at his beloved pump. Eventually his wife snapped and said ‘You know, I think you love that pump more than you love me.’ The cyclist’s fatal mistake, of course, was to think too long about his answer: ‘Ummm …’. And so the cyclist found himself with a pump but no wife.
Cycling, like all sports, effortlessly introduces fanaticism, and to cyclists their bikes — and accessories — are often objects of devotion. But unlike other sporting equipment bikes are also useful, and owning a bike more frequently comes from necessity rather than love or sport. There’s a reason that the Flying Pigeon PA-02, a bike manufactured in China since 1950, is the most popular vehicle ever built.
After a gap between my early teens and early 20s, I picked up cycling again as a postgraduate. The distance between home and ivory tower measured eight kilometres (five miles) and as a car was too expensive, dusting off my old bike seemed like a sensible solution.
As inevitably as the sun slides under the horizon each day, so that bike was eventually stolen. I solved that problem by dusting off my dad’s old bike, a steel-tubed racer from the 80s (how I loved lugging that up my close in Edinburgh), which, despite its age and weight, also inevitably found its way into thieves’ hands. A third bike was stolen, recovered by the police, and finally stolen again. After that, I decided being an unwilling fence for Scotland’s illegal bike trade wasn’t for me, and cycling disappeared from my life.
But only for a few years. It was the 2011 Tour de France that dragged me back — sport this time, rather than necessity. In 2012, shortly after we moved close to some of Scotland’s most alluring rural roads, I bought a road bike and started spending my time climbing over hill roads and circling lochs, legs ever-spinning above the tarmac.
I loved that bike — I still do, this time fending off my old foe the thief. ‘It’s the only bike I’ll ever need’, I thought. And I kept thinking that until the day I was carrying a heavy bag of shopping on my back, hunched over my dropped handlebars, clipped into my pedals with special shoes, and I thought, ‘Surely there’s a better way?’
That thought led me to my second bike — a Dutch-style city bike that needs no special shoes, has a pannier rack to carry those heavy bags, and lets me sit upright. I love that bike. I love both my bikes equally. ‘I’ll never need more than two bikes’, I thought.
Not long afterwards we moved back to Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, and not long after that winter rolled in, bringing sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow and ice. Not ideal conditions for riding on either of the bikes I had. Quickly, as I slid on the ice for the upteenth time, I thought, ‘Surely there’s a better way?’
And so now I have three bikes.
I think of this one as my winter workhorse. It’s not fast like my Specialized road bike. It’s not pretty like my Vanmoof city bike. It’s not even comfortable to ride. But it has big grippy tyres with metal studs in them, flat handlebars for manoeuvrability, and it takes all the weather Iceland can throw at it. I do not love it like my other bikes — shamefully, I don’t even look after it like I do my other bikes. But it’s always there for me.
Three bikes, I think, is my limit.