Stop making fun of my bicycle
When I decided to move to Newfoundland from Toronto, I expected to be mocked. Usually, this is fine with me. If you want to joke with me about Toronto’s terrible hockey team, or charmless architecture, I will laugh with you. The only thing I will not laugh about is my bicycle.
Since I’ve been in Carbonear, I’ve been getting around two ways — by bicycle or by foot. This is normal for me. While I do technically have a driver’s licence, the only time I ever use it is when I get carded at the liquor store. Why would anyone want to drive when they can ride their bicycle?
If I asked this question in Toronto, no one would laugh. Everyone would just nod sympathetically and we’d all brainstorm a way to get more bike lanes and slowly squeeze all the cars out of the downtown core.
In Newfoundland, everyone laughs. A senior citizen once told me that bicycles were a “ funny way to travel in this modern day and age.”
It’s very hard for me to understand why people here think my bicycle is anything short of fantastic. Every time someone laughs at my hand signals, or yells at me to get on the sidewalk, my cold urban heart sinks. The hand signals may look like an elaborate interpretive dance but they’re necessary, I want to yell, and bicycling on the sidewalk is against the law.
Hair blowing in the wind
The trouble is, in downtown Toronto, being a cyclist is an important part of your urban identity. It means a whole lot more than the money you don’t spend money on gas and parking, or the time you save weaving through idling traffic like a champion. It’s not just about the fos- sil fuels you save or the calories you burn.
One day, you buy a bicycle, and the next you’re peddling home from the organic farmers market, your vintage bike-basket overflowing with fat cucumbers and fresh baguettes, your hair blowing in the wind. The feeling is addictive. It stops being about how you get places, and starts to be about who you are.
This feeling has not yet hypnotized small-town Newfoundland. When people here think of cyclists they conjure up images of children on tricycles, not smug twenty-somethings, commuting in their high heels. When I ride my bicycle in Carbonear, stoically braving the hills in rain or shine, I am met with only confusion and laughter.
In Toronto, a bicycle is a legitimate vehicle. In Newfoundland, a bicycle is a toy.
On the roads, drivers don’t know what to do with me. They are so unaccustomed to cyclists that, if they have space, they’ll swerve around me, avoiding me like a two-wheeled plague. If they don’t have the space, sometimes they just honk at me. When the school bus passes me, the children press their noses against the windows and stare at me with gross fascination.
I know that living without a car in a small town is cripplingly inconvenient. I am, however, only here for the summer and rarely need to travel anywhere far away.
My bicycle — my Green Demon, as she is fondly called — is not antiquated or silly; she’s sensible for me.
If I were living here permanently, I know I would have to own a car — I might even want to. I would join the ranks of car owners if only because green hills and ocean vistas are much more beautiful when you’re not redfaced and wheezing from peddling up a cliff.
But if you’re just commuting to work nearby in the summer, I don’t see why more Newfoundlanders don’t join my ranks.
Selling my bicycle
In fact, I am so dedicated to spreading the joy of cycling in this area that when I leave, I want to leave my bicycle behind to start a legacy; a legacy that will be filled with brisk exercise and defiance in the face of mockery.
In August, I will put my Green Demon up for auction, with all the proceeds going to the O’Shaughnessy House in Carbonear. More details will come later inThe Compass.
Until then, I ask you from the bottom of my heart to stop laughing at my bicycle. My bicycle has only even been good to me. My hockey team, on the other hand … that we can have a laugh about.