Sometimes, when I card a bike, the owner doesn’t believe they have interesting stories. Riding a bike is just what you do. Oftentimes though, our stories fire the imagination, they stir us to act on all the finest instincts. Our bike stories ennoble.
In early September, I spotted a spectacularly sweet bike locked in front of the Wychwood Barns. I mean, this thing had it all, for me. The best part was the frame, which was red and black checkerboard. There was a floral print bell on the handlebars, which were covered with a dreamy, chiffon-y green shade of tape. There was romance here.
When the person hadn’t responded to my card a week later, I was chagrined but not defeated. I spotted the bike again, so I wrote a quick note on the back of a second card.
“Hi! I’m serious about hearing your bike stories. Call me!” and I left my number.
Tonight, I can’t resist pulling out my camera before the owner arrives. While in a crouch with the camera covering my face, I hear a young woman’s voice declare, “You must be Christine.” I feel like a stalker and apologize for my bad manners. I am quite taken with this bike. Megan Paquette beams.
We sit across from each other at a picnic table behind the dog off-leash park. Megan works as a Production Co-ordinator for Theatre Direct, whose office is inside. Like all my interviewees, she’s very pretty. She is, in fact, moreso. Her hair is a lovely auburn shade, and thick. She has laughing, brown eyes. Her skin is covered in a dizzying jumble of freckles that scream wholesome. The girl next door. We smile at each other, happy to have made friends in such a simple manner. When I ask, she tells me she is twenty-eight, my favourite age this year. She looks younger, but there is maturity lurking in those eyes.
My daughter shares this name and she too is twenty-eight. I will be selfishly sorry to see this interview end.
“Have you named this lovely bicycle?” I ask her.
Megan laughs and says that actually, a friend has given the bike a name. When she announced to him that the bike needed service, his response was, “What’s wrong with Betsy?”
When Megan moved here from Trenton five years ago, she was “a timid rider.” The friend encouraged her to “get a bike that doesn’t change gears on its own.”
That weekend, they happened into Bike Pirates, where they found a gorgeous teal blue Norco.
“At once, I felt this was my bike,” she beams. The bike was actually a little too big for her, but she didn’t care. My interviewee Bryenne Kay told the same story, with the same look of contented determination to love a slightly unsuitable bike.
Last spring, she worked with an organization that prints vinyl in-house. They had several off-cuts of a pattern called ‘Buffalo’ lying around. Megan was given permission to take some to decorate her bike.
“From then on, everyone joked that I was riding a buffalo around town,” Megan tells me.
Megan has a theft story, but it’s not what I’m expecting. One Sunday evening, she inadvertently locked her ring of keys, her coat and her wallet into a storage cupboard at work. No one there had a duplicate key. She didn’t want to leave the bike on a busy street overnight. So, she and her boss visited a local hardware store and bought something that had freon in it. Imagine the girl next door spraying a bike lock on a busy intersection while a man stood by with a hammer, waiting for the lock to freeze. No one stopped them. There’s a police station directly across the street.
As much banging and smashing as they did, the lock remained unmoved, which made her realize that her bike was safe for the night. Her boss drove her home.
We’ve been chatting merrily for nearly an hour, and it’s time to part. We’re both a little sorry for this. I ask if there’s anything else she would like to tell me, and she hesitates.
“Biking has become very important to my happiness,” she says gently. She is scheduled for surgery next week and has been warned that she will be forbidden to ride for six weeks afterward. “It sucks. Once you get addicted, it’s almost like smoking.” I laugh, but with less merriment. I ask if it’s something serious, because I suddenly realize what an imposition this interview could be, especially given that I’ve carded her twice, aggressively.
The girl next door has cancer. They are removing the tumour next week and then doing some exploratory surgery to see if it has spread.
Megan smiles warmly and reassuringly. She is optimistic. Her gut tells her this is just a blip. She tells me that she hopes they expand the West Toronto Railpath, the one that goes past the entrance at Dundas and Sorauren. The one that Jennifer urged me to ride earlier this week.
“I’m going to take a nice long ride before I have to quit,” Megan asserts. She claims that, before she began commuting, she really only used the bike for leisure. She hardly ever rides for fun now, but her goal this weekend is to correct that. And later, she plans to ride to Niagara Falls. The girl next door looks ahead to a romantic ride.
I have become, over the course of this project, a bike bunny. I love this bike—this Betsy—and I’m taken with the woman who rides this bike. I have a stake in this life, in this bike energy.
“Keep well, Megan,” I thought as I rode away, “for all our sakes.” And she did. This week when I visited the Wychwood Barns for a volunteer gig, there was Megan’s bike, parked where it always was. I locked Miss J against the same ring and post. Bikes like company too, right?