When I say she was ‘orange’ I really mean it. Just like me: bright orange. Not yellowy-red, or the colour of autumn leaves on the turn. Nor what those humans call ginger, auburn, or burnt sienna. She was orange – the colour of, well – an orange! I’d seen others of similar sheen, but she dazzled with metallic luminosity.
My owner chained me to the lamppost by the corner shop. He wouldn’t be long, and I figured it unlikely that I’d see this beautiful creation again. Her chain was rusty and her chrome a little grubby, but she shone like a spangle in the springtime sun. She had a lovely frame, just the right proportions. Sparsely adorned: no extraneous markings, frivolous additions or pointless accoutrements. She was, you might say, quite au naturelle. And if you don’t mind me saying so, she had a damn fine rack of gears on her – front and back.
She may have spotted me as I freewheeled around the corner, but we were likely to be ships that passed in the night, or bicycles that peddled by in daylight. Cycle-romance is only ever fleeting. People think we’re chatting when we’re locked up in bike-sheds, chained to the bike-rail outside Blackwells, or touching tyres along the railings of George IVth Bridge. Or that we talk about our favourite routes, or moan about dog-walkers on the Leith to Newhaven inner-tube cycle path.
Do our owners suppose, when they jam us up together on the cycle-racks by Tescos, we enjoy invading each other’s personal space? Perhaps they fancy the idea that we like a little bicycle-frottage from time to time, or that for all our revolutionary fervour, we play ‘footsie’ with our pedals while they browse the shelves for glossy picture-books. (My owner bought this book once: bikes of every gender and design. He showed it to a friend as he unchained me. Pure bicycle-porn!)
No, it’s not like this for bikes. The idea that we talk is fantasy – what humans call ‘projection.’ Even when we’re made to touch, through careless application of a D-lock, our sole point of communication is when we clash together. It is, for some, the briefest spark; a momentary jar. A clash of antlers; or for us, a clash of handlebars. For some a courteous ‘oh hello,’ suffices, and for those less polite, it’s an abrupt, ‘Oi, watch out.’ I’ve had plenty of clashes in my time, but only one resulted in this love-at-first-kiss thing.
I was drifting along a former railway line that naively skirts the Seat of some archaic King. Edinburgh quaintly calls it ‘The Innocent Railway Cycle Path.’ It was autumn, I remember, because we had to keep swerving to avoid the blackberry-pickers who have a terrible habit of walking backwards into the path with their Tupperware boxes and plastic bags. It hadn’t rained for three days, but the tunnel was dripping and dank as Glasgow’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ subway.
The wind, if not the gradient, was in our favour. As we were about to emerge, the light was dazzling. My owner, being more careful with his money than his cycling, hadn’t switched my front light on. Being blinded by the sun, he didn’t see her enter the tunnel. She, too, was busy negotiating herself around the railing that stops hooligan cyclists from hurtling into the abyss. We clashed with a cracking embrace, her basket impaling itself on my handle-bars. The gentle ‘ping’ of her bell said all that needs uttered in a bicycle tryst.
Like all such encounters, it was short-lived. I could feel us both saying, deep in our well-oiled sprockets, to our respective owners: come on, this is it! But they blew it. Each said to the other: are you okay, yes I’m fine, are you, no really, I’m sorry, oh no, it was my fault, no mine, are you sure you’re okay, yes, no really, I’m sorry, no really, I’m sorry – and so on. Pathetic! Off we rode – or more accurately, were ridden – in opposing directions of opportunity unbidden.
The shop-bell of the newsagents broke me out of my reverie; I was back on Easter Road. There, on the other side of the street stood she, my lookalike, my dream bike, my un-ignited flame. I wonder if my owner saw me looking. He unchained me, then, clearly teasing, pushed me to where she rested waiting for her owner. He stopped for an obvious amount of time, looking her over. Who owned this splendid thing, this ‘his-and-hers,’ this other half of a matching pair? I hope she wasn’t disappointed. Sadly, it was for me, in cycle-terms, the eternal question.
But it wasn’t the end of the story. Believe it or not, we met again! This time, my owner attached me to the same post. We had that moment when our frames were jostled together, a brief conversation, and a touching of souls that told each other of our inner desires (which, for bicycles, is all about the air in our tyres, not our hollow hearts.) Then I noticed something that made my gear-cables quiver.
My owner had inadvertently (what humans would call, Freudian) slipped the chain through her frame. We had a connection! What if her owner came back and, unable to remove her bike became frustrated, angry, or worse still, violent? Would he return before her and, disengaging us, leave all they might have spoke unspoken? Could it be that our owners would return to their bikes at the same time? If so, would it be a polite greeting, a shared recognition, or (this was my fantasy) a discovery of the self for which each had been searching?
A part of me (that over-active imagination with which some bikes are saddled) wondered if my owner was lurking in the shop doorway until she returned. Then he would appear and unlock more than a combination. I couldn’t see him – my view was obscured by my companion’s fulsome panniers. Instead, I started to form my freewheeling fantasy of who she might be.
Was she a ‘Cycle-Chic’ who, refusing to wear travel-appropriate clothing preferred to look trendy and seasonal as she freewheeled through The Meadows? Would she be dolled up with high-vis jacket and cycle-clips, sporting one of those ridiculous helmets that look more like tin pots than head-gear? My owner wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those. By the look of her tread and her mud-spattered saddle, I figured this owner had ventured no further up a mountain than a brief spin up Calton Hill or around Arthur’s Seat.
As time ticked on, I felt increasingly deflated. I wondered what my temporarily-conjoined friend was thinking. Then, as slow as a puncture, my owner returned, like an un-oiled chain with a missing link. And as we were untangled from that glint of once-shared orange light, we both might well have said, I love you. But instead, the clash of conversation amounted to no more than: I’m sorry; no really.