Talking bicycles with my sister

Over Christmas my sister came to stay. She’s what I’d call a proper cyclist – she doesn’t ride for fun or fitness, she hasn’t got a driving license and her bike is simply how she gets to work, goes shopping, and gets about in general. She lives in London, recently moving out from Hackney to live in Walthamstow. As such you can imagine I was keen to pump her for bicycle-related info…

…Sadly no dice on the bike front, she’s got a vintage Raleigh of roughly 1960s vintage, which she suspects has 28 inch wheels, but that’s about as much as she knows. She hasn’t even got a photo of it on her phone to show me. Well, I do think it was damned inconsiderate of her not to pay more attention to what kind of bike she’s riding! Still, it’s interesting for an obsessive like me to be brought into contact with the idea that to some a bicycle is just two wheels and some tube steel in between, and as long as it works that’s as far as their interest goes.

Well my sister’s bike, it turns out, is not working terribly well at the moment. She couldn’t be terribly specific, but it seems to be some problem with the bottom bracket. Since this is a job I’ve completed successfully on my own bike I was amazed to hear she’s taken it to several bike shops and not had terribly positive suggestions as to what to do with it. Lesson number two – not every bike mechanic is well versed in the workings of English three-speeds, even in London. I described the job to her, and how simple it is once you’ve got the right tools, but she didn’t seem terribly interested in the idea of doing it herself. She’s in fashion – I’m the engineer of the family and it seems that’s not changing any time soon.

Anyway, I did get some interesting general info on road craft, situations to avoid, which train companies take bicycles and the like. We were agreed that pedestrians were if anything a bigger nuisance than cars. I got her a nice book for Christmas called Cycle Chic, which is a series of photos of ordinary people riding ordinary bikes. I had a bit of a hunt to find it, the Waterstones in Stafford couldn’t guarantee delivery by Christmas and then my girlfriend and I had the heartbreak of finding our favourite Waterstones, a great big listed building in Birmingham with four floors and the most incredible bookshop ambiance, had closed. That really was quite a blow. 

We went in the smaller shop near the Bullring and I had quite a job to find the right section. When I did I found a book that checked the fashion and bicycle boxes, but it was just a bit too high end and hipsterish, all tweed jackets and fixies. I was just about to give in and take it to the counter when I hesitated just long enough to have another glance along the titles and find the right book, hidden in a neighbouring section between some unrelated books. Sometimes, every now and then, my obsessive tendencies pay off!

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