Bicycles, Karmic Economics, Life of Carmen

Bike shop boyz ‘n’ grrlz

There are 24 boys on staff at the Bike Doctor. Twenty-four boys, and one other girl, plus Lady Jane who crossed over, and me. They are sweet guys and hot guys and dorks, drinkers and jocks and artists and freaks. We all have greasy fingers and make near minimum wage. The boys drink warm Pabst after closing and talk trash in the basement. When someone wheels in a nut-brown ’60’s Schwinn with a sharks-fin chainguard, or a slender Peugot racer the weight of a feather, we gather round like pigeons and coo. We all love bikes.

The shop caters to commuters so a lot of our customers are women. They walk in and scan the gleaming rows of bikes, the newbies with a blend of terror and delight. Sometimes their relief at spying a pint-sized middle-aged bike shop girl – me – is palpable. I help them choose the right sort of bike—a step-through ladybike with wicker basket for cruising the seawall? a sturdy performance hybrid for aspiring commuters? a Caribou for crossing the Kicking Horse Pass?—then step them over the frame and adjust the seat height. I find them a helmet (aerodynamic black or round hot pink leopard print?) and pull the strap snug under chin. I watch them wobble off down the sidewalk, feeling out the gears. I am proud as a mom. They pedal round the block, down the hill and up again, and when they wheel back into the store they are breathing faster and their eyes are bright.

I like to think that setting someone up with a good bike may give them more than they bargained for. Maybe I slip them a dose of deep happiness that will outlive the brief sparkle of the shiny new purchase. I imagine the transaction as consumer subversion.

I showed a tall blue bike to a big cocoa-skinned guy, 6-foot-five and 300 lbs plus (the guy, not the bike). A very fine ride, it suited him well. He gasped when I asked him to put his feet on the pedals to check out the seat height, while I clamped the wheel steady between my legs, a 5-ft human kickstand. He loved that tall blue bike, but was hesitant about the price. When he finally decided to buy it I said, i am so glad for you – you are going to feel ten years old on that bike. He grinned from ear to ear.

It is good work and true service, and I am so grateful, to be granted this labour of love.

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