THE STORY WAS AWARDED THE 1ST PRIZE IN 2020 B:LOFT BLOG POST CHALLENGE “HOW I SWITCHED FROM CAR TO BICYCLE”
I had never noticed them before, the grooves that run up the side of the stairs at train stations. Have they always been there, or did they just appear the first time I managed to cycle my bike to the train station? Even now I’m not sure if that is what they are there for. I’m always half expecting someone to ask me what I’m doing as I’m pushing my bike up the smooth granite groove into the main lobby of the Gare or clattering down the aluminum one on platform 10.
I’d always wanted to swap my car for my bike for my daily commute, but I’m 50+, with a few Covid kilos and a fine set of bingo wings. My commute? 12k east of the city to the Gare area. Quickest time-wise? Drive car to train station, get on train, get off train, and walk to office. Door to desk in 30 minutes. I always felt guilty though. I am a late person, so I was always pushing the speed limit. In my own village. When I’d get to the bridge over the railway station I could see if the train was pulling into the station. Then find a parking space, run down the last few never-ending yards to the platform and, if I was lucky, not have to be ushered on to the last open door of the train.
My main obstacle in switching to my bike, was the hill to the train station. When public transport became free, I was no longer stuck in the sticky honeycomb hexagons of the commuter pass. Although counter intuitive, I can now cycle away from town, along the flat valley to the next train station, and train back into town.
Now I leave the house and I am at the mercy of my body. I cannot leave late as there are only my legs to make up time. Even though the hielh in my street name does imply an incline, we are inclined to ignore the sensation in a car. I live on a hill – who knew? Leaving the house and freewheeling down the road gives me a rush of fresh air and good spirits.
My second obstacle was how do I heave my bike up and down stairs between platforms and trains? That is where I found my groove. The grooves. Every station would appear to have them, so you do not need to carry your bike. I was always a bit of a train nerd, and now I am a ‘bike on a train’ nerd. Each train will have a wagon or two where bikes are welcome, announced by a big mint green sign. Some of these designated areas will have bike ‘meat hooks’ where I think you are supposed to hang your bike vertically. But due to aforementioned bingo wings, I never feel I have the
strength to do that. Instead I prefer the wagons where the bike gets its own seatbelt. I sit companionably opposite for the short ride into town.
I get out at the Gare and find my favorite granite groove. Previously, the 10 minutes to my office would have been done on foot, the fact that I am on my bike makes it a totally different experience. I take a route, both there and back, one that I would never walk. Going, it appears to be downhill – again! I freewheel past signs of dancing girls and past pavement cafes with loitering men. Coming home, past the Imprimerie Centrale and the paper pushing Gnomes of Fort Wedell, which brings me out dead opposite the outside lift which takes me down into the Gare.
Then, and this is why I am happy I don’t have my car at the train station, or that I don’t leave my bike in an m-box. I now have a choice. Once I am on an eastbound train, I scan the sky and state of my joints and can decide which station I get off at. The big downhill, or further along for a flat ride home.
More often than not I will decide on the big downhill. I get off the train and cycle through the industrial zone. When no one’s looking, I jump the curb by a small electricity substation. This cuts through to a cycle path. I cycle round the back of an area where a fleet of fork lift trucks and trucks with elevated platforms in the air all look down me like a flock of metal birds.
Then I’m on a plateau and this is my favorite part. I get to the edge, and I know I won’t have to pedal again for the last five minutes as I swoop down into my village, across the train tracks and onto the main street.
And I’m in my groove.