Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Confusing the Cyborg by Changing the Bike

In thinking about bicyclists as body-city-machines (cyborgs of a sort), I did a lot of writing this spring about the varying impacts of combining particular bodies, particular cities, and particular machines. This summer I've had the chance to play with this concept in the physical world rather than in the realm of theory because I left my own Panasonic 10 speed road bike at home in Los Angeles while traveling around the country.

Detroit found me on a cruiser with coaster brakes, an arrangement I'd not tried since 2003 or so. I rapidly came to enjoy the feeling of upright cycling, especially since Detroit's such a flat city that no hill seemed to big to conquer on my rusty steed.

Then I headed to Portland, where I borrowed a Nishiki one speed road bike. At first I felt pretty awkward on that guy, cause he seemed to be a wannabe fixed gear. Only the front wheel had a brake, and it was positioned on the inside of the right handlebar. I quickly realized, as I narrowly missed crashing the bike as soon as I tried it out, that I'm accustomed to stopping by bracing myself against my handlebars or pedals. In this case, since the bike had a freewheel and was not an actual fixie, there was no resistance from the pedals, and the position of the one brake on the inside of the handlebar made it impossible for me to stop gracefully at first. I thought I wouldn't be able to get over this problem, but then after riding the Nishiki for a while my body learned the right moment to put my foot on ground, and I started to feel pretty nimble.

In moments of stress, though, I would forget where the brake was. This made me pretty scared about using the bike to zoobomb, which I had decided I needed to try out for ethnographic purposes. Fortunately the hill people bomb down is not that intense if you're not on a kiddie bike (aka I'm a wuss), and even though the rain had just begun when I swooped down from the zoo a few Sundays ago, the Nishiki held fast and I braked up a storm.

I'm back in LA for the moment, with the use of my own dear Panasonic. Next week, though, I'm heading to New York to see about DIY bike infrastructure there. Who knows what kind of bike I shall borrow?