So, I thought I’d sit Movember out this year. I was growing a nice trendy winter beard. I was a bit narcissistically self-conscious of the mature grey parts that have all of a sudden started appearing, but I’d learned to accept and even like my more mature look.
In case any of you don’t know, beards have become the coolest thing since sliced bread. You wouldn’t be caught dead in a trendy place like The People’s Republic of Hackney without looking like a well-groomed Grizzly Adams. I’m sure it’s a similar sartorial situation in your own cosmopolitan urban centers.
I was just starting to get to like the beard look on me. I fancied myself looking a bit DH Lawrence (American intellectual look, don’t ya know). The missus was even starting to tolerate/show a favo(u)rable attitude towards the facial fur.
Besides, I’d done me bit. Hadn’t I raised £400 last year and over £200 the year before?
That’s an excuse though, isn’t it? It’s a rationalisation. It’s what people say when they mean, “This has nothing to do with me and is clearly not my problem.” I’ve put a dollar in the collection basket. I’ve done my bit. I’ve bought my girl scout cookies. I’ve done my bit. I’ve bought my single source coffee. I’ve done my bit.
But then, walking around one of our quaint little local shopping venues yesterday, seeing bearded models in the window, I started to think, am I just putting my vanity over a cause that is far greater than myself? After all, men have a 14% higher chance of developing cancer than women and a 37% higher chance of dying from it. More than 100 men in the UK are diagnosed with prostate cancer every day. And suicide is the single highest cause of death in men under 35. Given that I’ve raised over £400 in the past (that’s around $640!), isn’t it morally irresponsible not to try to raise awareness of men’s health issues and funds for a great cause? And growing a tache is such a small thing to do to make a significant difference. So, I’m not trying to “big myself” up as the kids these days used to be fond of saying. I could be doing way more. But this is a small thing for just 30 days to make the world a little better.
Besides, the jury on the beard was still very much out. DH Lawrence was stretching it and “tolerating” is not the same as “enamored with”. I can always grow it in December anyway.
So, have a heart, dig deep, click on the link and give. Goal this year is £500 and if just 100 of you gave a fiver (that’s right. A fiver!), that it’d be men’s health that much more better off in 2014. I’ve kicked my tenner in. Go on. Make a difference.
Owning a bike is an emotional investment. There’s no two ways about it. Your bike takes you places. You take pride in it. Sometimes you brag about it to your friends. It helps you to defy traffic by flying past giant metal boxes on wheels sat stationary in gridlock. You glide through the wind, coast in the glory of the sun; sometimes it even makes the 9 mile commute pure pleasure.
So, if you’re a cyclist and you live in a city, you probably also know the heartbreak that I felt in January when I opened the door to my East London flat to find the woeful and pathetic assembly of parts you see above. You could have taken a jagged, rusty dagger, thrust it into my abdomen, twisted hard and repeated and you would come somewhere close to appreciating how I felt. To reappropriate Shylock, the curse never fell upon my nation until that moment. I never felt it until then.
I might as well come out and say it: I loved that bike. We had come home from our week long holiday in Copenhagen, an absolutely brilliant cycling city, last February, having had the healthiest and most exhilarating vacation we’d ever known, cycling through snow, over bridges and rivers, through settlements and hipster hangouts and we came back having been bitten by the bug. We were determined to acquire ourselves wheels upon our return to the metropolis.
Before Denmark, I hadn’t really cycled in years, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with zipping speedily down urban thoroughfares, drunk with the power that comes with the speed and control of my own muscles, reawakening after sleeping lazily in a near atrophic state for years. I was surprised to notice — actually notice from day to day — becoming physically stronger in partnership with my two-wheeled 6 speed wonder. I went from a 5 and half mile limit to 9 miles in just over 40 minutes rapidly (Oi, serious cyclists! Stop laughing. I was doing well) and with that came such a euphoric sense of accomplishment — all from pushing with my two legs in a cyclical motion.
All right. I know in the end it all comes down to an endorphin rush, but at the time, it was an epiphany. And my bike and I were one. If you are a cyclist or passionate about anything, you know the feeling.
And then it was savaged. My beautiful machine.
No. It wasn’t stolen. I would almost have rather they had done that. At least there is some finitude in a clean theft, some sense of closure. No. Some very talented and very vile scum patiently — but quickly I imagine and with help I imagine — picked my bike clean and left its bare skeleton clothed in nothing but its rear brake calipers still locked to the signpost to which it had been fastened for nearly a year.
Words are difficult at such points. If it’s happened to you, you know that all you see is red. I saw red. Blood and danger and fiercely marching Soviet red. And all I could think was, “Please. Let there be a hell. Let it be good and hot, full of hungry serpents, sizzling vats of oil brewed just for torment, pits of spikes and chains from which you may be fettered while vultures peck at your flesh inducing everlasting pain. Let there be a hell of boundless pain. And drop all bike thieves right down in the bottom of it.”
Dramatic? Perhaps, but if you know the feeling, I think you’ll probably agree, my response is quite a liberal one.
Want to know the kicker? I’ve had two bikes stolen since! One, a Dahon Matrix acquired fairly quickly after the Access, lifted at night, liberated from its quick-release wheel, which the spiteful spawn of Satan left me with.
The last one, most recently, was a find off gumtree that I counted myself lucky to acquire: A Dahon Dream, a model rare in Britain, built for the domestic Chinese market, but after acquiring a loyalty for Dahon and Raleigh, I know any Dahon is going to be well built. All for £60. That’s right. £60!
Alas. It seems the brotherhood of Hackney Bike Thieves have made me a marked man.
I thought I had finally hit on the perfect security system. I had started packing away my folding bike (I’ve become quite attached to the urban flexibility of folders) in the trunk of my car. So far, so safe.
And then, after three weeks of riding around this lovely little ride, just three weeks, I rode home late one friday, having babysat for a friend, locked away my orange wonder, thought nothing else of it until two days later when I opened the trunk of my car and was met with this:
I must have started becoming calloused. After being hit for a third time and after 30 seconds of taking in the full impact of the emptiness that lay before me and what happened, I nearly shrugged.
Then the litany of profanity followed. As near as I can figure, some local, morally depraved trolls must have seen me putting my bike in the trunk, picked my lock and neatly plucked the bike out. Bloody hell. At this point, I started to feel bereft of any reason to have an iota of faith in humanity.
I’m not a fan of putting profanity on this blog, but I thought this image I found by a righteous defender of the cycling faithful just warmed the heart.
And one of the worst aspects of this whole thing is that I leave my home now looking around at people in the street with narrowed eyes thinking, “Which one of you, huh? Which one of you did it?” Was it the youths on the corner or the vegan anarchist volunteers in the cafe downstairs? It really is anyone’s guess.
According to statistics from 2011, there are over 22,000 bike thefts in London reported every year and I live in one of the worst boroughs for it (Hackney, over 1500 thefts annually). I didn’t report my second one and my first one I was told by the police that there wasn’t much point. I suppose it’s supposed to be, “a comfort to those that are wretched to have companions in misery,” but somehow it just makes me want to give up the hobby altogether.
I’m not of course. Criminal vermin won’t scare me off the roads that easily. But I’ve learned some lessons:
- If you care about it, insure it.
- If you’ve got a folding bike, do the logical thing and keep it inside.
- Register your bike with the police. Might not make any difference, but at least you’ve done all you can.
With that in mind, somewhat incredibly, I find myself trawling ebay again, search terms: Dahon/Raleigh folding bike. I don’t foresee the financial grounding until next month, but it’s nice to look. It’ll never be like that Raleigh Access, but I’ll get on my bike and ride.