Bikes Are A Feminist Issue
by Andrea Twist
So I finally bought a bike – and I’m so excited!
It’s not a fancy bike – not even close. But it’s mine.
When I looked up the model online, the first hit was a particularly snobby article by the Guardian, labelling it “cheap and nasty”. But this didn’t deter me – in fact I took a kind of twisted pride in my girlish, cheap and nasty bike.
You see, my ex was a bike snob. He knew everything there was to know, stopping me regularly as we walked in the street to drool over ‘quality builds’ and condemn other bikes. I have no doubt that my shiny new bike would be one he condemned. He was a hard man to please.
His hobby was buying bikes and parts and frankensteining them together before selling them on.
Over the course of our relationship he bought me several broken and unsuitable bikes. When he lost interest in fixing the broken bikes, which he always did, he would sell them on.
One time he bought me a beautiful dutch bicycle that turned out to be too big, so he sold it on.
To my delight, several days later I found a near-identical model that was the right size, for a good price. So I bought it. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to show him my find.
Happy and proud, I presented the bike to him.
His face soured.
How much did I pay for it? Where did I get it? Why did I get that model?
I told him.
He told me it was the wrong bike for me, from the wrong place and the wrong price. He told me I had made a terrible mistake, but that there was nothing I could do now.
My heart fell.
My enthusiasm deflated as did my confidence. My pretty bike sat out in the rain, neglected for months until he offered to sell it on again.
I later realised it wasn’t the wrong bike from the wrong place or the wrong price. It was just that I had gotten it, and that made it wrong. Wrong for taking initiative, wrong for making a decision, wrong to participate in his area of expertise. Just a stupid, naive girl that he had to protect from making yet another mistake.
It wasn’t just the bikes. This was a common theme in our relationship. He was always right and I was always wrong. He convinced me of this until I stopped trying to be right, about anything. Stopped trying to have an opinion, make a decision, stopped trying to do anything.
Eventually I became so depressed that I signed off work completely. Getting out of bed became a major achievement.
I became increasingly reclusive, only venturing outside my door for food. Some abusers take their victims phone away, tell them not to talk to anyone in order to isolate them. Mine didn’t have to do any of that – I wasn’t talking to anyone but him anyway. He was my only source of support but also the source of much of my pain.
On one particularly grey day, he offered (after much begging on my part) to take me out on a bike ride. I was so pleased with myself – just getting out the house was quite a feat in itself, let alone getting on a bike when I was severely depressed.
We shot off through the streets – him on his latest flash Frankenstein bike, me uncomfortable on his latest scrapyard find.
I struggled. My lack of confidence on the bike really showed as much as his impatience with me did.He went fast through busy streets, despite my slow and shaky struggles to keep up.
When we got to our destination, I’m shaken but proud of myself.
He stops me. He stared at my bike.
You’ve got a flat tyre!
You’ve got a flat tyre? When did you get that?
I don’t know, I didn’t realise.
You – he steps back. He can barely contain his rage and frustration.
You didn’t know you had a flat tyre? He laughs a mean laugh. You didn’t know. Really? Are you stupid? What’s wrong with you?
I’m shocked. I say – I just didn’t realise. I haven’t been on a bike in a long time, and I’m not good with bikes like you are.
It’s nothing to do with being good with bikes – he starts raising his voice – anyone can tell they are cycling on a flat tyre. Unbelievable. What’s wrong with you?
I don’t know! I say, starting to get upset now. What’s the big deal?
I just can’t believe you. I can’t believe you. How could you not know?
I don’t know….why can’t you just let it go? What do you want to me to say? I asked, pained.
And he just kept going on like this for a while, round in circles. I became increasingly distressed and confused, not understanding what he wanted or why he wouldn’t stop.
Then he went for the jugular:
It’s fine. I guess cycling just isn’t for you.
This devastated me. Learning to cycle properly in the city had been a big goal of mine for past year. It was something I was excited and passionate about, something important to me, something to get me out of bed when I was too depressed to move. I also (naively) thought it might bring me closer to him, help fix some of our ‘relationship problems’.
It’s not a problem really, he repeated, now quiet and resigned. Cycling just isn’t for you. It’s not your fault – it’s just not for you. It’s just not something you’re capable of.
This was too much. I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to cry, right in front of the busy supermarket. Normally this would humiliate me, but by this point I was too depressed and distressed and confused to care.
My crying did not stop him. He carried on, saying the same thing. Almost as if he were comforting me. It’s alright sweetie, it’s just not for you. You’re just not capable. Cycling just isn’t for you. It’s ok.
I kept crying. He kept going.
I tried to argue, following him round the supermarket. How can you say that? You know how important this is to me! He keeps going. I cry harder. I give up trying.
Eventually he got sick of me and my crying and wandered off.
I found him again. We are silent for a while.
Let’s just pick up some nice food for dinner, yeah sweetie? He says finally, smiling, rubbing my back. After being so distressed I am overcome with relief that he (someone, anyone) is being nice to me. I plan a nice dinner for us.
We have a lovely evening. ‘The honeymoon’ they call it, after tension builds and there is an explosion of abuse. And then the cycle starts again. The next day it started again. And again. And again.
I never went back on the bike again. Like the others he sold it on.
My excitement and passion for bikes was just one of the many positive qualities he sucked out of me during the course of our relationship.
Seven months after I left the relationship, I bought my beautiful, girlish, cheap-and-nasty bicycle. It’s not a fancy bike – not even close. But it’s mine.
And there is no one to tell me that I bought the wrong bike, from the wrong seller, at the wrong price.
There is no one to tell me cycling just isn’t for me.
Cycling is for me.
As I cycle through the park on my brand new bike, I think about all of this, all that which is now behind me as I whizz down the path. I look forward – the sun shines through the leaves of the trees on this summer’s day. The wind plays with my hair.
And I feel so free.
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