08 September 2015


When I went to Japan as a missionary in 2003, I had a red bike. Dan and I bought one a piece, paid for by his grandfather, ten thousand yen each. The bike, I realise now, was a beach bike. It was meant for cruising up and down the boardwalk, where there was one in Fukuoka, but we used them to commute. We looked silly, I'm sure, gaijin peddling around town on the brightest red bikes, the Word of God fresh and alive in us like fish. I liked that bike and how you sat on it, not like a mountain bike, but like you were on a motorbike almost. I rode it in ways it wasn't meant to be ridden, out to the ocean and back through the mountains. I needed to get away and it took me away.

The beach bike was left in Fukuoka when I left the ministry for my job in Niigata City. My dad brought me my mountain bike from the States and I rode that for years. Then the Louis Garneau bike which I loved and rode in Shibata for miles and miles and then in Milton Keynes. It was stolen in Belgium some years later, I'm told. And then when I came back to England, another bike I bought off a man who had obviously stolen it. I felt guilty as it occurred to me that I was buying a bike taken from someone's back garden. I fell off it earlier this summer, when I was still fat, and it broke, and I disassembled it.

Now, with the autumn here and the need to get around faster than I can walk, I've needed another bike, and have been looking for one that is old and like the beach bike. With bikes, you just need to find one and commit to it, and given that I don't want to buy anything new at the moment, if I can avoid it, I looked online and found one quickly on Gumtree. £45, and I asked £40. It looked okay in the pictures. I went to pick it up and was given an address, and told to call when I arrived. I went and called and an Eastern European man, thin and old and covered in grease, appeared with the bike. He clearly did not live there, this was clearly not his bike, but it was very old and if it was stolen, it wasn't in this country or in the last ten years. I got flustered, rode it a bit and gave him the money. If you have problem, you call me, he said. I don't want to see you again, of course, but if problem,and he disappeared into the back alley.

Of course, the bike had all the potential of being a lemon, but I thought that if it was, it would serve me right: things have been going too well recently. So I rode it home, sure it would fall apart. The shifter made more noise than it should, and I was certain that the back tyre was losing air. It was fine though, and I got it home without any trouble, moving some of the parts from the old bike onto it and cleaning it up. The chain is loose and it needs to be tuned better, but I thought whatever I should have paid for it, something closer to £20 maybe, the extra money would be a kind of indulgence, given to this man or the man he stole it from or someone. 

I rode it to work and felt that same sense that I felt in Fukuoka, when you are leaned back on a bike and not pushing forward. You can go leisurely, slowly. You can wear a suit. Yoko said it was cute and when I said it made me happy, she said, It's good that there are good things, insinuating that I'm miserable all the time.

I'm not sure how long this bike will last, but it's a sanctifying bike. One that is not quite what I want yet, but a bike that has the potential to become what I want. It's a simpler bike with fewer moving parts to go wrong. I can replace all the bits, bit by bit, so when the karma catches up with me, I can say, I assumed it was stolen, but isn't everything stolen. I did my best with it; I took care of it. Take it back now, man behind the house in the alley. It was yours all along anyway.