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Photo by @nathanrudder

6 March 2023

The Village Bike

TALLULAH POLLOCK

‘The village bike’, in other words, a promiscuous woman, or even just a woman who is having a decent amount of sex. 

 

Historically, the ‘village bike’ is a derogatory term used when one feels the need to suggest that a female body is communal, that many men are given the opportunity to give her a “ride”. Now, I am riding her. No, not like that… At least not right now. What I intend is a re-interpretation of the idiom, an attempt to curb unwarranted control of the bike in both its physical and metaphorical forms. 

 

My experience of cycling has been monumental and life-changing (not to sound dramatic), though also mixed in with anger and several “I think I am asthmatic” moments. Ultimately, however, I would encourage all women to have a go and get on that bike (I am still talking about actual bikes). This is not to suggest that women don’t cycle, because they do. But, as with many physical activities women have been historically subordinated and left to feel unwelcome or incapable. This article is for those women, to spark your interest in the divine world of cycling (or for anyone who has also experienced a loving relationship with a bike).

 

My first bike was a sturdy black and green Carrera from Halfords. I was so excited about my purchase until a man told me that “Halford’s bikes are rubbish”. Oh no, I’ve made a mistake, I thought to myself, and began to doubt the credentials of my ride. Whilst she may not have met the criteria for Mr. Cyclist Pro, she did everything I, being a beginner, needed her to do. I shouldn’t have questioned her.

 

Nevertheless, a few months in I got my tyres switched out to thinner ones that would allow me to move more swiftly. It was at this point that I felt I was getting to know my companion and the different varieties and capabilities of her. Whilst the Carrera was in her upgraded form, my other first “love” (a human boy) confessed to me, as I was sipping on a Corona while we were cycling around a park in south London, something along the lines of “that’s pretty ideal; a girl that cycles and drinks beer”. At the time, I was thrilled of course – great, he approves, I am cool and life therefore, is good. Obviously, I couldn’t stop cycling now, my ratings were up. I had to get a new bike and move on from Halford’s and Carrera. 

 

Don’t fret, I am exaggerating. I didn’t really get a new bike because someone was attracted to me. At least I convinced myself that this definitely was not the case. However, it is possible that I remember joyously punching the air when my Carrera got stolen overnight and I had no choice but to move on.

 

Twice now, you could argue I let my thoughts regarding cycling be swayed by the opinions of men. As I was young, it was much easier to let such statements interject with my own line of thought so I’d like to cut myself some slack for this. Silver linings will allow me to have taken some lessons from these experiences, thanks be to my not-so-rubbish Carrera. 

 

My next investment was a State Bicycle, an American brand, single speed (no gears), lightweight – bliss. I think I originally named her Franklin but it’s not something I say out loud. We’ve got on pretty well, I’d say. Franklin has taught me about free transport, overtaking traffic and getting everywhere on-time, (although I was good at this anyway, she just ensures that I am able to wake up a bit later and have a lie-in). She’s been with me through life’s tribulations: when men have slurred unnecessary comments. One time a guy spat on me through his car window, though he basically missed because I was moving at such speed. Another time a guy shouted “bitch!” because I was in his way. The anger that bubbled up inside me was tremendous, though I didn’t have the time to return the negativity because, again, I was moving too fast. 

 

Truthfully, I’m not really that speedy but you get the point, the nimble powers of the bike can be both compelling and damning. For example, just the other day, I was cycling without music, just thoughts and I had a moment of mental clarity like no other. As the brisk Manchester wind was icing my face I realised that I didn’t feel cold, but liberated,  protected from the violent attacks that have been occurring throughout Manchester recently (and I’m sure elsewhere) that are frequently shared on the Facebook students group. An overabundance of stories in which girls are getting in Ubers by themselves, thinking it’s safe but instead being subjected to dire assault and harassment. Similar is the case for pedestrians, one girl shared how a man grabbed her violently from behind near the petrol station as if he were doing it just for a thrill. It pains me to know stories as such are a common occurrence and I can only feel grateful to have a layer of protection by the name of Franklin, but equally frustrated that such measures have to be taken.

 

It seems that over time my bicycle has gone from being a symptom of my relationship with men to some sort of shield against them.

 

Franklin has become part of my armoury, a source of my pleasure and a free ride to the pub on a summer's day which allows for some tanning time en-route. Franklin mostly keeps me on my bum, but she also keeps me on my toes as she’s no stranger to bouts of crankiness. This is easily resolved by switching her parts every now and then; a small return as thanks for her companionship. I pay the over-representation of guys in beanies who work at the bike shop to help me do this, and the cycle continues, whilst the village bike is out there learning, enjoying and evolving, she is always complicated with men. But beyond this revelation, I simply present an ode to my bike.

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