As part of my five year anniversary month, I am going to re-introduce you to the key parts of my life – bicycles, sewing and travel. Today’s blog post will focus on the bicycles, since that’s really what got this all started.
Six years ago, I moved into my first Arlington, VA, apartment, and finally had space to keep a bicycle (in my living room), and found myself a block away from the Custis Trail, a multi-use trail that connects the eastern and western ends of Arlington. With a low budget bike, a birthday gift from my parents, I gradually explored my new neighborhood, and was amazed to discover how much easier it was to go further, faster. For years I’d been walking to a subway station or Metro station – gosh, a bike cut that walking time in half! I biked to the closest Metro station to catch my bus to Tyson’s Corner, where I was working at the time, but soon, that mile wasn’t far enough, so I biked to the next station after that, which meant not only did I get more miles in, I didn’t have to switch buses. Freedom! Adventure! Discovery! Happiness!
Later that year, I met The Mechanic. We bonded over bicycles; his first (bike) love is mountain biking. Our second date was a bike maintenance date – he brought tools and showed me how to change tires and adjust brakes and so on. Long story short, we are now married with eight bicycles between us!
Over the years, I’ve experienced all kinds of biking – I did the Seagull Century on my road bike; we went bike camping along the C&O Canal; The Mechanic introduced me to mountain biking; we got folding bikes; we have done a few half centuries and other biking events; and we did a bike tour through Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
I have biked in snow, rain and sweltering heat, for my bike commute to work and on vacations and out of necessity. I don’t like to bike when it’s icy and when it’s snowed (mostly because the bike lanes are never cleared and I don’t trust drivers), when the temperatures are below 20*F, and although I don’t love to bike in the rain, my Cleverhood makes it manageable. I wouldn’t call myself a fair weather cyclist, because I do bike in all kinds of weather, but I definitely prefer the nicer days!
I recently acquired my fourth bike, so it seems like a good time to re-introduce you to my fleet.
Fauntleroy, or Little Lord Fauntleroy, to use his full name, is my current and beloved commuter bike. The Mechanic created him out of a bike he had built for himself and since the addition of my fabulous Danish bike basket and Swedish skirt guards, imported from our trip to Copenhagen in December 2012, I haven’t wanted to change a thing about it. So much so that although Fauntleroy desperately needs a new paint job, I can’t decide what color, so the paint gets more and more beat up. Guess I should go with the same color, haha! It’s a heavy bike, but has a super wide range of gears so I can easily climb the big hill coming home from work, and pick up some speed on the trails when I have a long stretch of no lights, stop signs or others on the trail. Seriously, I love everything about this bike.
Sopwith is my mountain bike. The Mechanic built it up and I picked a vaguely Sopwith Camel color scheme; at the time, The Mechanic’s mountain bike was red, so he renamed it The Red Baron. The Mechanic added a nice touch for the head badge, and I started adding stars every time I go mountain biking. As you might guess, we haven’t done much of it.
In the spring of 2016, almost a year ago, The Mechanic and I sold our road bikes and purchased folding bikes instead. We lost interest in road biking (although it was fun at the time!) and wanted bikes that we could travel with. As it turns out, our Tern and our Dahon are not as travel-friendly as Bromptons – bigger, heavier, less maneuverable…. But still brilliant for taking on the Metro and easier to toss in a rental car for day or weekend trips. I named mine Amsel, German for black bird, and The Mechanic named his Schwartzvogel, also German for black bird. They take up little space, which means we are unlikely to get rid of them soon, even if we don’t use them as much.
And Introducing Bletchley!
As much as I love Fauntleroy, his only drawback is the top tube – not as convenient for skirts and dresses. I have been on the fence about getting a step-through bike, but the vintage Raleigh bikes really catch my attention. Alas, they tend to be pretty small for my 5’10” frame, so finding one I could potentially fit has been a challenge (honestly, finding a modern made step-through bike big enough for me was a challenge as well). But recently The Mechanic found one on Craigslist, so a quick test ride and a few hundred dollars later, I had a “new” Raleigh! Internet research and Sheldon Brown’s resources determined that this new bike is a 1973 model of the Raleigh Sport. It’s in pretty good space, most likely owned by only one person in the last 44 years.
I absolutely love the details on these old Raleighs – the fork crown detail, the front fender, the logo and “R” on everything and the straight angled top tube design (as opposed to those with curved designs).
I decided to name the bicycle Bletchley, after Bletchley Park. Recently, I read a book about the thousands of women who worked at Bletchey during WWII and made invaluable contributions to winning the war. They rode bicycles probably quite similar, while working intense, secretive jobs and living in rented rooms and shoddily built dorms. This simple, classic, dignified bike will be my personal homage to those women who made a difference, and to all women who have and continue to do so. The bike needs some updating and modifying – internally geared up, taller handle bar stem, new brakes, plus of course new accessories, so although I’ve ridden it a bit, it will be a while before it’s ready to be my commute bike. Initially I thought I’d replace Fauntleroy with a new step-through bike, but I find myself still unable to dismantle my perfect bike. So we’ll see what ends up happening to my fleet!
Over the last six years, I’ve learned what I like and don’t like about bicycles, explored types of riding, and befriended the bicycle community. During that time, I’ve developed my own style and discovered my personal preference for slow, casual, explorative biking, with a bit of vintage style and whimsy thrown in. My bikes have to have personalities, with accessories to match, because as with many things in my life, a certain style is key, so how my bikes look is just as important as how it rides. I know it’s not that way for most people, but I’ve never been like most people – I definitely have my own style. And a preference for British names for my bikes, apparently! When I first asked for a bike for my birthday, I had no idea where the road would take me, and look at me now: owner of four bicycles and a closet full of #memade reflective bicycle-appropriate clothing. Never saw that coming.
So here is to the first six years of my bike style, my currently fleet of bikes, and here’s to whatever the future of my bike life brings!