This past July I got a new bike. I got it for free. A friend of a friend had this bike languishing in her storage and simply wanted to get rid of it. Deb had recently got a new (used) bike and I was in need of one of my own. My old bike was on its last legs—or last spokes, I guess. It still worked but when you stopped pedaling, the pedals kept turning, which is as unsafe as it is disconcerting, but potential good comedy.
I hadn’t actually biked in nearly two years. Following my prostate surgery, the prospect of balancing the entirety of my upper weight on that seat area was not something that appealed to me, so I stuck to walking last summer. This year, though, I was fully fixed and fit and ready to get back in the bike saddle again.
So free bike? Yes, please!
It turned out to be a vintage Peugeot Super Sport, made in Canada, from the late 70s or early 80s, a bit of rust but in otherwise solid shape. The gears had been updated, and the brakes and tires looked practically new. It rode like a dream.
It was also a woman’s bike.
So what makes it a lady bike? Well, you know, the crossbar: it’s not across. It droops. It makes a V. Like for skirt space…
I honestly didn’t care, but just to be sure there wasn’t a difference between men’s and women’s bikes beyond the angle of the crossbar, I texted my eldest daughter, who is something of a bike pro.
“There’s no reason a man can’t ride a woman’s bike, right? Like structurally or balance?”
“Nope,” Emily replied, “makes no difference!”
“Do they still even make ‘women’s’ bikes?
“No, you’d just call that a step through frame”
“Sure! Protect them hips”
Crossbar, no crossbar, a bike is a bike. It’s about as gender-neutral as you can get, just simple human-powered transport. I’m enlightened enough to appreciate that.
So I’ve been riding it around town. Stanstead is a pretty good biking community. There’s not a lot of traffic, there’s a decent bike trail, and the town just built a shelter with a bike repair station right beside the town hall. Mind you it’s easily a full kilometre away from any bike trail access, but that’s a story of bonehead municipal planning for another time.
I really like my bike. But every time I get on, a little voice whispers, “Gi-i-i-irl bi-i-i-ike…”
Not a single person has come up to me and said, “Dude: that’s a girl’s bike.” Maybe I need to be around more 12-year-old boys, because I think they’d be the only demographic brazen enough to say something that ignorant. Or perhaps a Trumper.
But maybe everyone else is thinking it. Hey, just because I’m enlightened doesn’t mean I’m not paranoid.
I turn 55 next month. Mentally, that’s well into “set in his ways” territory. (Physically, everything else is either unset or downright wobbly. For instance, I have major dental work ahead of me, and that depresses me; heavy is the head that needs a crown.)
And yet I like to think I’m still able to accept new ideas and expand the narrow views I came of age with (the 80s; don’t get me started).
It was not that many years ago, for example, that daughter Emily schooled me in the idea of gender fluidity. My initial reaction was essentially, “No. Wait, what?” My instinct was to resist the idea that people could be both male or female or neither because I was taught only the binary code of boy/girl, dog/cat.
After a while, though, I understood and appreciated it, mostly because I learned more about it, but also because I realized the concept did no harm to my life! Someone’s gender identity does not take away from how I or anyone else see themselves.
Similarly, the type of bike I ride—men’s, women’s, step-through, penny-farthing—has no effect on anyone around me. No one likely cares because a) they have better things to do or b) they too have evolved their thinking over time, most likely on more important stuff than bike frames. So there’s hope for those theoretical 12-year-old boys. Trumpers, probably not.
And so I will continue to ignore that little whisper, and I will happily ride my free bike. Did I mention it was free?
Besides, if anyone is thinking anything at all when they see me, it’s probably about my dorky helmet.