‘A Big Steel Thing Between My Legs’
Riding a bike in Manhattan is indeed perilous sport. If these writers lived out West, maybe they’d carry guns, like something out of Larry McMurtry or Tom McGuane or Cormac McCarthy. But since they live in New York, the Bicycle Boys are more the Clark Kent type. Mild-mannered reporters by day who often have to answer to killer editrixes, they become menaces to society by night. And who can blame them? “You ride through red lights, you ride against traffic. You can be a felon,” said Chester.
“I feel like there’s a big steel thing between my legs throbbing ahead of me,” said one Bicycle Boy, who asked to be unnamed.
“I have my hand on my bike right now,” said Mr. Kotzen, speaking on the phone from his office. “There’s a freedom in being on your bike in the city. You feel like you’re floating above the masses. I’m pretty fearless on my bike, in ways that I can’t be in the rest of my life. I feel like I’m the best on my bike, the most in tune with myself and the city.”
BICYCLE BOYS ARE PARTICULAR ABOUT their bikes—they don’t usually ride souped-up, high-tech mountain bikes. No Shimano XT derailleurs or elastomer suspension forks for them. More typical is Mr. New Yorker, who rides a polite three-speed, with a basket in back, and fenders. The bike should radiate nostalgia. “You have to have a basket for groceries,” said Mr. New Yorker, “your computer and work stuff.”
“My bike is definitely like my dog and my baby,” said Mr. Kotzen. “I kind of take care of it and preen it.”
But often when Bicycle Boys talk about their bikes, it’s hard not to think they are talking about women.
“I love my bike and you can get attached to a bike,” said one B.B., “but the truth is that one bike is very much like another.”
“I had one bike that I went completely over the top with,” said Mr. Kotzen. “It had an aluminum frame and I hand-stripped it and polished it. Quite a bit. And then it got stolen. I was emotionally devastated. I couldn’t get over it until I got a new bike and really made it beautiful.”
Like girlfriends, bikes are always getting stolen in New York. “If you go into a bookstore for 10 minutes, you come out and your bike is gone,” said Mr. Eccles.
This, however, is not necessarily a problem, as Mr. New Yorker pointed out. “The bike pays for itself in three months if you compare it to the subway fare,” he said. “One month, if you take taxis.”
The bike can also be a useful prop when it comes to meeting women. “It’s a good way to start a conversation,” said Chip Brown. “It’s also something to fuss with to alleviate your self-consciousness.”
And apparently it’s a good way to tell whether or not you’re going to get laid. “One time, a woman got mad at me when I proposed riding my bike to her house,” said Mr. Brown. “On the other hand, if a woman says, ‘Bring the bike inside,’ it’s very sexy.”
“Whether or not a woman lets you bring your bike into her house is an indication of how well adjusted she is,” said Mr. Eccles. “If she’s anal-retentive, she won’t want the bike anywhere near her stuff.”
But sometimes a bike is not just a bike—and women seem to know this.
“There is something Peter Pan-ish about it,” said Mr. Kotzen. “That’s part of the reason I don’t take it everywhere anymore.”
“It implies a certain selfishness,” agreed Mr. Eccles. “You can’t give anyone a lift. And there’s a little too much freedom associated with a man who rides a bike.” Mr. Eccles added that, being in his early 50’s, there were about 10 reasons why he wasn’t married, “none of them particularly good ones.”
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