For the last month, I have been riding with L, a very experienced cyclist (and former bike messenger) in Central Park. She rides what she has described to me as a “fast and sexy road bike.” I have no idea what she means by that. Nobody could be cuter than Lucille, in my considered opinion. And we are among the faster ones on the Greenway – only passed by true racing bikes (what is a road bike, anyway?).
L and I meet at 6th Ave on the edge of Central Park for our first ride, and she takes off like a SHOT. I am in shock. It is all Lucille and I can do to keep up with her at top speed – even on the straight-aways. I make it up Fiend’s hill with my last good nerve, after which L suggests doing the loop once again (wtf?).
Clearly I need to up my game, so the following week, Lucille and I go into training, doing Fiend’s hill twice almost every day.
Next week when I meet up with L, she takes off like a shot – again. I keep up, and we do the loop twice, but it takes all I’ve got. Afterwards, I put Lucille on the subway and crawl into bed for an hour. Then I find out that L rides in from Brooklyn to meet me, and cycles back there after our rides. What kind of super woman is she?
I am flattered when L invites me on a week-long ride in the Spring with a group of her friends on their annual trip. I love the idea, but if I am going to have to work this hard on an all-day ride just to keep up, it won’t be much fun. I decide to rent a road bike to see if that makes any difference. I’m dubious.
Right from the start, Lucille seems to know something’s up, and tries her best to keep me from it. We end up heading to a rental place via 54th Street in the worst traffic, using a bike lane that is decorative at best (to be honest there just isn’t room on the street for it). The entire ride is such a convoluted nightmare, that between the traffic and a medley of cheating songs running through my head (Tempted, He’ll Have To Go, and that universal cheater’s anthem, Your Cheatin’ Heart) I almost turn around and give up.
I know. It’s silly. Bikes aren’t sentient; they can’t feel snubbed or dumped. It’s really all to do with my sense of loyalty as the daughter of a single mother, whose husband was a relentless and cruel womanizer. It’s something I’ve sworn I will never be on any level. It has led me to be intensely loyal, and it’s one of my better characteristics. But sometimes that loyalty gets misplaced.
So I’m almost not surprised when the first road bike I try, I hate. I hate it from the moment I get on it. Like my first forced infidelity, there is nothing lovely about it. It has dropped handle bars – never my style – no bell, no kickstand, and I feel so uncertain riding it, I nearly fall over on the sidewalk. I walk it to Central Park, reluctantly leaving Lucille in the care of the rental guys, and do a modified ride around the Loop, skipping Fiend's Hill. But I finally have to admit that we are completely incompatible. My thumbs are aching, my back is in knots. This was just a bad idea all around. What was I thinking?
I slink back to the shop in defeat. “This is not the bike for me.” I say.
“It’s not for everybody,” says the mechanic (well, why didn’t he say that when he first saw me wobbling out of the store?). Then he hands me this.
L does a complete double-take when she sees me waiting for her without Lucille. Then she takes off. And this time, on Home Wrecker, I take off with her. We sail around the Loop - and then we do it again. For the first time I am able to converse without gasping. L then suggests we repeat Fiend’s Hill. I demure for now, but make it a goal for our next ride. From then on I am, as Jimmy Carter would say, lusting in my heart for a road bike of my own. A fast, sexy one.
I return to the rental place and try to buy Home Wrecker, but am told that fleet bikes aren’t for sale. Well, what did I expect? Home wreckers are never available. They are fantastical creatures designed to ruin your satisfaction with what you have, and leave you longing. I watch with regret as Home Wrecker is returned to the rack.
But at least I have my answer. With great reluctance, I have to admit that Lucille has some limitations. She is fun, she is convenient, she is a real trooper (and inexpressibly cute) – and you can literally take her anywhere. But she does not have the speed of a road bike. And as long as I ride her with other road bikes, I will suffer.
With a mixture of guilt, and anticipation, I go shopping at a local bike store with high Yelp recommendations, promising Lucille that if I do buy a bike, I will at least not dignify my choice by naming it, other than to call it Road Bike.
Because of my insistence on the “flat bar” handle bar style, my choices of road bike are limited, and I am more or less steered to one specific bike in the shop. I take it around the block. It’s not Home Wrecker, but it is light and fast with 20 speeds and hydraulic brakes, threaded internally through the tube. Huh. Powder blue (the only color it comes in). This could work.
One of the less talked about aspects of romantic love is its innate selfishness. It doesn’t matter what has been promised before – everything goes by the board. I know this will be my bike and name it on the spot: Janet (a Rocky Horror reference).
On top of that, are my conflicting feelings towards Lucille, First Love, the one who opened up whole new worlds to me; who was instrumental in helping me recover from my mother’s death, from breast procedures and radiation; who reconnected me with my childhood passion, showed me The Promenades, who has enabled me to bike in four boroughs (Staten Island next), and get to know New York from the perspective of a true New Yorker, not just a Manhattanite.
And does a girl like me really need two bikes?
Then I get my answer, and of course Lucille shows the way. Returning from an errand the next day, we pass this:
One of my dearest friends is a great guitarist, and I have heard him say this on numerous occasions (and he has an apartment full of guitars to prove it). Me, I certainly have more than one camera. And they each serve very different functions: one for stills, one for video; one for on the go, one for locked-down interviews. One for my helmet. And of course the one on my phone.
I hope for the sake of my domestic life, that I won’t be collecting bikes at the same rate – they’re a lot bigger for one thing. But I’m loving that I can now keep up with L. And strangely, my love for Lucille has not changed. She is still a great ride and a great friend with unique qualities no other bike could give me.
I meet L at the Loop for my first ride with Janet. When I introduce the two, L gives a knowing nod, like a good friend who saw it coming but wisely said nothing. We sail around the Loop twice and using a cut-through, climb Fiend’s hill a third time. I am barely winded.
I think back on Home Wrecker and try to compare the two. Home Wrecker was an unforgettable ride, one that will haunt me for years to come, I think. But that's what home wreckers are aren't they? A concept of the unattainable that resonates within us as something we always wanted but only recognized it when it came into our lives.
If I knew more about components, I could probably explain why and maybe even build it. And perhaps one day, I will find a bike with that unique chemistry. But Janet is fast, she is pretty she is responsive (with great brakes). And she is one thing Home Wrecker will never be.
Janet is mine.