Buying a Bike

I started looking for a new bike recently. The old Flying Pigeon was definitely past it; it’s when you are spending more time fixing it than riding it that you begin considering euthanasia, or at least leaving it propped up against a wall to collect dust.

I searched to the East and to the West, I went South of the border and then back up North but I couldn’t find a bike I wanted. It wasn’t that there weren’t any to choose from, it was just that they were all too small.

If you listened to the sales pitch of any shop owner you’d be thinking the bike might have been made for me; it was just waiting for you to walk in and you couldn’t find a better fit etc etc. Suits you sir. And if you were the sort of rider who enjoys having their knees hit their elbow on every upstroke then he could well be telling you the truth. I pointed out that a 14” frame might be a tad shallow for my 6’2” frame. “wait a moment” he said nipping out back and returning promptly with a 15” frame.

I suggested that this bike, while clearly an inch higher, still didn’t fully address the height issue. He began shaking his head vigorously from side to side muttering the words kěyǐ – pronounced “cur” (as in ‘A cowardly cur barks more fiercely than it bites’) and “ye” (as in “Oh Come All Ye Faithful). When someone is trying to flog you a kid’s bike you don’t need to hear these words drawn out into something five times the normal length that you know someone is bullshitting you. In an effort to further convince me of the viability of his proposition he also began shaking his head up and down.

What I needed was one of the old style bikes, the kind you see in the pre war black and movies when the vicar glides off down the road in search of seedcake and souls to save. A search on the internet revealed a couple of Flying Pigeon dealers and, following a recommendation from a friend, I also began looking at Yongjiu (Forever) bikes as they were the official bike of the post office and generally considered to be of better quality.

I found a three dealers not too far away, but far enough apart to make for a long ride in the summer heat. The first was close to a university and had a wide range of bikes catering to the average height student. I thought they might have one of the older styles tucked away out back, that was how I found my second Flying Pigeon that later got nicked from outside someone’s flat.

I tried asking the owner who was sitting out front on a stool smoking a fag and swigging from a 20oz bottle of Yangjing and staring across the road with a vacant expression. If it hadn’t been for several more empties neatly lined up behind, I might have persevered. Thinking back, I should taken advantage of the opportunity and just wheeled one of the unguarded bikes out of the shop as a parting gift.

The second shop was close to East Lake, about the same size as the first and similarly stocked. The owner, however, was both sober and coherent and able to immediately inform me that my trip had been a wasted one.

“we don’t sell those any more” he said
“why don’t you buy one of these cute little bikes? ” he added “They’d fit you perfectly”

The third shop was around the back of Wuhan Railway Station. I like this area because it’s one of the few places that hasn’t been pulled down to make way for high rises and shopping malls we don’t need. This might be because it’s adjacent to the railway line and the ground is ill suited to over ambitious construction projects. As it is, it remains a network of small lanes containing unsanitary looking restaurants and small shops selling cigarettes and alcohol to the local population.

After weaving back and forth across the little bridges that crossed over the railway line I finally spotted a line of shops with signs over the door that said things like “Flying Pigeon Dealer” and “Forever Bicycles Authorized Outlet”. I nipped back over the nearest bridge and pulled up to the first shop where a small crowd of bored and shirtless employees had gathered for my arrival.

“I want to buy an old fashioned Yongjiu bicycle” I said authoritatively
and then noticed they were all selling electric mopeds. They scratched their head and stared mutely at one another.

“Where are you from?” asked one of them
“Japan” I said “are there any shops around here that still sell bicycles?”
They scratched their heads some more and peered uncertainly up the street.

For want of anything better to do, I headed off in the general direction of their communal gaze. I finally stopped by one of the cigarette stores and interrupted some old guy reading a newspaper, since he had the air of a gentleman who hadn’t moved from his spot for the last 50 years. He began speaking Wuhanese in a thick accent that I couldn’t understand. He pointed up the street and I caught something about turning right. Then he tapped a poster that was pasted to the wall next to his shop and pointed up the street again. Although the poster contained a photograph of four skimpily dressed women wearing too much makeup, by this point I had given up any hope of finding a bike shop so I went off to investigate.

I found myself on a deserted street lined with run down karaoke bars. It looked like the windows of some of them might still rattle with the sound of bad renditions of hits from the 90s. Perhaps, come 7pm, the shutters on some of the shops would be rolled up and the street would come to life and the place would be transformed into a den of iniquity with shirtless youths gliding back and forth on their newly purchased electric scooters. I don’t know, I didn’t stick around to check.

I went home and ordered a bicycle online.

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One Response to “Buying a Bike”

  1. Pseu Says:

    Did it fit?

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