Significant New Bicycle (Part II)

August 7, 2013 at 12:05 | Posted in bicycles | 4 Comments
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gazelle2In a moment of madness, I bought Mrs Chillikebab a bike for her birthday. Her first bike since she was twelve years old. You can read about the lead up to this, and a review of the actual bike in part 1 of this blog post.

She was, it’s fair to say, rather shocked. Flabbergasted, indeed. Not at all what she was expecting. After she had recovered her composure, she gamely smiled and said thank you.

‘It’s very big’, she noted. And indeed it is a very imposing bike; those high handlebars do give it some presence. Although any bike looks quite large in the middle of a small-ish lounge room. After walking around it, Mrs Chillikebab sat astride the saddle – but was unable to reach the floor.

‘I can soon sort that out,’ I said, and went to get my tools to lower the saddle. Then Mrs Chillikebab gently reminded me that I was supposed to be cooking her a birthday breakfast, so I left the bike and attended to my other duties. Grilled English muffin topped with pan-flashed smoked salmon, a soft-poached egg, finished with a dollop of creme fraiche and some snipped chives. Lovely.

Later that day, I got around to lowering the saddle. It wasn’t altogether successful, as the bike was fitted with a rather fancy suspension seat post, which limited how low the seat could go. It also had a very nice sprung seat that sat quite high on the rails. I pondered this for a while, with a slight sinking feeling in my stomach. The problem with Dutch bikes is that they are designed for confident riders. Everyone rides a bike in Holland, so they make then nice and comfy and tall. It’s not a major problem if you can’t really get your foot on the floor- you just shuffle off the seat as you stop.

However, for someone returning to cycling who lacks confidence, this is not ideal. Mrs Chillikebab wanted to get her feet if not flat on the floor, then pretty solidly down. I got the seat as low as I could manage, and my wife somewhat doubtfully said, ‘I suppose I’ll get used to it.’

Later that day, she did have a go. She asked me to take the bike into the back garden, and she rode it around the grass. Which I thought was quite good, considering how bumpy the grass is, and how many obstacles the kids’ toys create. But she was still uncertain about the height of the seat. She did say though that she did want to start riding – she knew it would be good for the kids to see us both riding and set a good example – she just wasn’t expecting it to be right now!

Later that week, I switched the suspension seatpost for a regular one, and the pouffy saddle for the rather flatter one from the Radish. This lowered the seat considerably. Mrs Chillikebab was much encouraged that she could get her feet down without stretching, and rode it around the garden again.

And then the Gazelle went back into the garage. And there it stayed. For a long time.

I had already decided what my strategy was going to be for this bike. I was not going to pester, suggest or even encourage Mrs Chillikebab to ride it. I certainly wasn’t going to offer any advice nor suggest I shepherd her on her first ride. I just told her that the bike was in the garage for her when she was ready – tomorrow, next month, in five years time or never. And I left it at that.

This strategy did wobble a little when Mrs Chillikebab opened the Mastercard bill. Hand-built Dutch electric bikes don’t come cheap. We had a slightly difficult conversation. Bit we got over it.

There then followed occasional comments that got my hopes up – Mrs Chillikebab commenting that the weather was nice, and perhaps we could all ride to the park tomorrow. Or mentioning that perhaps she should get her bike out and try it out. But each time something happened to break those gossamer plans. Unexpected rain. Sick kids. Unforeseen guests arriving. And the weeks ticked by. It was brought home to me how many weeks when, after putting some air into my own bike tyres, I felt the Gazelle’s wheels and found they were very soft. Poor neglected thing – tyres going soft without ever actually going round. I powered up the electrics, and the display glowed warmly, showing the still fully-charged battery, and the seven solitary kilometres the bike had ridden on its inaugural and only trip back from the shop.

car wont startSome three months on from Significant Birthday +1, and the Gazelle seemed forgotten. Rarely if ever mentioned. And then providence struck, in the form of the unreliability of the internal combustion engine.

One bright, unseasonably warm Sunday morning, we bundled the kids in the car as usual to take them to their swimming lessons. It’s only a few kilometres to the pool, but the car is, unfortunately, the only was we can all get there. I turned the key in the ignition – and nothing happened. Tried again. Nothing.

I turned round to the kids. ‘Sorry kids, looks like we night not be going swimming after all. The car is broken!’

Mrs Chillikebab turned to me. ‘We could go on our bikes,’, she suggested.

My eyebrows shot up. ‘All of us?’

Mrs Chillikebab nodded.

Quick as a flash, before the moment passed, I had the Radish set up with both kiddie seats on, and rolled the Gazelle out of the garage. And we were off! I pedalled along, and Mrs Chillikebab followed behind. I’d advised her to put the bike into ‘boost’ mode, but she actually found that a bit disconcerting, as the motor was trying to push the bike along faster than she wanted to go, so we dialled the assistance back a bit and carried on.

We took it nice and easy. I was aware that riding on a busy shared path was exactly the situation Mrs Chillikebab had expressed nervousness about – and the route to the aquatic centre was just that ; a cruise around the Bay Run. But everything was fine, and we pedalled along enjoying the sunshine. Well, I was and the kids were. Mrs Chillikebab looked a bit petrified to be honest. But we arrived, the kids had their swimming lesson and all was well.

On the way back, Mrs Chillikebab seemed to be getting more confident, and even smiled back at me a few times. The children were really excited that Mummy was riding her bike too, and wanted to see her. However, Mummy was happier following behind – until we got into the very last stretch, into our own street. Suddenly the Gazelle was there riding past me, a grinning Mrs Chillikebab resplendent as she sailed up the hill leaving me struggling behind, panting with effort.

Time will tell if this is part of a cycling renaissance, or a flash in the pan. But it certainly made me happy. We had been for a ride as a family. Which has to be a good thing.

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