The story of a bike, some stereotypes, and how I got around them
I love riding by bike.
Many years ago I even tried competing. But what I really love (which in my mind means a lot more than just "enjoy") is to ride in places I know, getting there with the right attention, and realizing at once the colors, smells, skin sensations. I compare with our past encounters (mine, and the places), and feel time passing, and coming back...
This isn't "my" story, however. It is the story of my bike.
You can see it, in the figure. Please watch it closely. Consider it is 22 years old, more or less. And stay assured, I'll use it all my life, if possible, even if its current commercial value could be a 5 to 10€ now (something many amateur cyclists would consider unacceptable in Italy). It's a gift from my parents, and its value to me is, well, "infinite".
Now look more closely, and concentrate on its color.
You're perfectly right. To use precision as an euphemism, I could say it's a light metalized fucshia. But on a more depressed mood I would tell it another word: shocking pink. Just a little less than Hello Kitty's, but on that line.
Well, this was not the color I imagined, when I and my brother went to the storekeeper with our father to take the frame measurements. My brother was first. I began wondering what my bike color choice was while the storekeeper listed my brother the many availables: "You may have light blue, silver, white, ..."
Then my turn came. He took my measurement, then made a strange face expression. "Well", he said, "I'm afraid the choice will be just a bit limited. But let's try anyway. I'll see what' available."
I opted for a lovely metalized green, not light enough to attract too much attention, yet nice-looking, and making the steel tubes look a bit like titanium.
We left the store, with the boss' promise that within a fifteen days our bikes would have been ready.
Well, I was wondering. I can't demand that great choice after all. I'm a sort of beanpole, of the lanky subtype, and imagine bike frames good for me are not in great supply. So maybe I'll have not the color of my choice. I decided the most likely outcome would have been the dark, opaque olive green which was the storekeeper's traditional color. Nice, too.
Fifteen days later the storekeeper called us,informing our bikes were ready. In perfect timing.
As we went to get them, the shopmaster kept my brother's bike from the store's dark lumber room. Wow! Really cozy: light blu - as my brother desired.
Then the master said "Wait, I get the other!"
Really cozy - let's say.
I blushed, more or less the same color the bike's. The storekeeper noticed, because felt the necessity to say "Well, with your measurements that was all what they had..."
OK. No problem. One can live with it.
Back at home our mom wanted to see the new bikes. Her comment to mine: "Beautiful color." She looked sincerely convinced.
"Yeah, beautiful is it's name."
In theory, on mid-eighties there did not existed things as "road bikes for ladies" as they are today (with, let me say, color choices even more horrible than mine's - light pink is now the almost standard). Yet my bike had what with every evidence was a "ladies' frame".
OK, sure proportion counts. I'm a few centimeters taller than my brother. But if you look where these additional centimeters are gained you discover they're all in the neck and legs. My torso is far shorter than his. The bike frame right for me because of this falled into the middle of women average. On those time the number of girls riding road bikes was really minimal, so the demand for frames right their measurements' was, let's use an euphemism, scant. Yet, why in the hell the frame manufacturer has decided all of these frames to be by necessity flashing pink, this is a well guarded mystery.
Of course, the mid-eighties concept of a "ladies' road bike" was of a bike with a ladies' frame equipped with standard (that is, men) components. This included two of the more gruesome parts a road bike may have: the saddle, and handlebars.
As it turned out, the handlebars was too wide for me (but I wasn't able to find a better fitting one: one seller told me "Why not look in children models?" OK. Message received.)
The saddle proved much easier to fix. Now many larger and shorter models are available, and I did the folly to change the original one. It costed me quite a fortune (sure more than the bike value on today's quotations). But it worked well. I don't know about the whole realm of female cyclists, but can say that Mauris have a pelvis broader than the standard and the femoral artery running just at thighs center, in the perfect position for a "standard" saddle to shut them almost off. After less than 10km ride you got two tinkling legs, like after using a tourniquet. Decidedly, not the nicest thing in the world.
But on mid-eighties, how a Mauri is actually built wasn't of great public concern, at least in bike industry. The real advantage was, in using frames of many colors: pink, pink, or pink.
* * * * * * * * *
The bike wasn't pink-frame: it was bright red, Ferrari-style. And it was beginning eighties, in sake of precision, the 16th of August of year 1980.
And it was the Big Race.
The Big Race was actually a competition organized on an informal basis in the village we were then, Bedero Valcuvia. Its magniloquent name, "Tre Giorni Bederese", was an attempts to give the event a loud importance, as the one closing the Summer holiday program. Sure, reality was much less prestigious than appearance. Despite the major himself took part to the race, organization was, well, may I say "scant"? I've some suspect the whole thing was quite a bit illegal: one of the path we went on was a Road State, but as far as I know no one has ever asked for permission to occupy it with a competition.
Anyway: around 20 years, I didn't care less. (Nor had the barest idea a police permission was due, for sure.)
The set of contestants resemble me of a Fantozzi movie: thirty people the most varied ages. Among them, me, a lady older than me, and the others, all boys and men (some aged) (one of the aged men participated to the race with an old rusty "Holland type" one-gear bike - he didn't finish that bad).
The first of the three days passed uneventfully. The contest was a chronometer run, and surprisingly I concluded it exactly midway between first and last. The time was to be used to form couples, which in the following two days were to cooperate: the best would have win the competition. I found myself with a friend of mine, a very strong man. Good.
My problem, I know it too well, is I've no strength in my upper body. OK. Let me add, for sincerity, I have no strength also in the lower body. That is to say, as the road began to climb up my face became blue as I tried, gasping, to not lose contact by the others. I was really terrible. Nonetheless, I preferred to be scorched than lose contact "just like a girl" (which on the Tre Giorni Bederese of three years later costed me the race physician stopping me flat as he noticed my almost strabic look in addition to the usual blue - my parents discovered me flat on ground as I tried to breath following closely the indications of the phys - "Now, one breath in more. Deep. One, two, three, four. Are you right? Good. Now. Out. One, two." while I gasped some sort of unintelligible answer. But this, after all, is a different story).
Well, I was dealing of second day of Tre Giorni Bederese. On that occasion we were supposed to have a sequence of two people head-to-head contests on a short, but steep, path around the village.
I had decided my tactics already: excluding the possibility to get someting when the slope pointed upwards, I had still the opportunity to get some advantage on the descent. And the descent came first... My "reasoning" was, then, would I have been able to take it at suicide speed my opponent might have been left back. Then it was up to him getting me on the ascent...
Chance wanted my first opponent was the aged lady. I told her my suicide proposals, she looked back to me, and said "Honey, may we get dowm low speed? We could save heroism for another occasion. Then, on the ascent you will wish me a safe trip." It looked sensible. And, on first day she concluded last, at a couple minutes by the first, nd one fifty seconds from me. We did as she suggested, simulating an incredible run on the descent. Then, as anticipated, she told me "Good bye, I'll climb my speed." "Dear, have a nice travel", I said as agreed. And that was. I arrived first.
Second contest. This time things were to be a little nastier than I hoped. My opponent was a boy my age, more or less my same height, a bit stronger but not used to bike runs ("I'm here because they had to fill in the numbers" he told me in fact). Unfortunately for me, he had a reputation of being literally crazy on descents. Completely reckless. Say: my own tactics, save all my natural inhibitions.
I'd better be scorched if I let him arrive first at end of descent with a significant advantage, I thought. The starter made a loud "bang" with a stick, and we, well, started. He got first position, heading forward the steep descent. And I tailed him immediately. He tried his best to distance me, but (don't know how) wasn't able to. Then we arrived at end of descent very close. He turned towards me and said "OK, I tried, it didn't work. Guess you better take the lead on the ascent." Which I did, passing him easily - he arrived a six-seven seconds later.
Disaster came on third contest. This time my opponent was a stocky man from Ganna, the village nearby. The type of a rugby player: compact, but not fat. Red haired. And a ten years older than me.
"I've seen you before on the descent with ...", he said, "and sincerely, you two were great. But, maybe, we want to be back home sane this evening?"
Loud bang. Start. Instant swish by the opponent who threw himself on the decent. I followed him. For sure, I left him a full second advantage on beginning - my start wasn't so feline as his. But I soon reached him back. The road was so narrow I was afraid of passing him, and that was a great luck: when we arrived on the 90 degrees curve concluding the descent, both my tubular tyres detached, and I dropped to ground. Luckily, we both were almost speedless, so all why I got in the process was a slight sprain on my right hand - injured pride apart.
"Are you right?" he asked. I glanced him.
"I've to go back the finishing line! You know, we wait a bit more, and they worry for us."
After this he started back, leaving me with my de-tubed bike.
This was only the beginning of my troubles. The motorbike following us stopped too, and the driver, one of the two municipality policemen (in civvies on that occasion) offered me a passage, and I accepted it keenly.
I've never owned a motorbike in my life, and so had no idea the exhaust pipe is damn hot. Of course I touched it with my naked knee, procuring a burn which some hours later got a nice leather color.
On third day, the Tre Giorni Bederese concluded with a short, 20km line race. This went uneventful, apart from the considerable bandage I wore heroically on my wrist. Of the burn, I did not find the courage to tell my parents - I felt a total idiot for not having considered motorcycles exhaust pipes are hot (And besides, this kind of burn was apparently the hallmark of the Hopelessly Clumsy Girlfriend. Hew. Damn, not me!. As the motorbike driver did say immediately after the episode: "Huh, that's typical. Two weeks ago my girlfriend did the same. She wasn't first time." I don't know whether he intended the girlfriend, the incident, or both. Preferred not to investigate.)
The race finally concluded, with me in the group (what I consider a good result). Our couples finished in fifth position. In reward of my clumsy participation I got an enormous cup (it still shines in my home).
The day after I went to the hospital. "Well, please, if you don't tell so much of the Tre Giorni Bederese, in case of interrogation..." the major asked me. I told him, "Oh, worry not." Did not felt that hurted, maybe.
At the hospital the physician diagnosed a sprain, not too bad, and plastered both hand and forearm - just for safety. Of course I was interrogated by the police officer. I told him the story I was riding on myself when the tubes split apart and then... He looked me with a skeptical face, "Yeah. Sure. Alone. Well, don't do this alone another time." And that was all.
On my return to the village, with my plaster, my friends looked at me with a strange gaze. I would have preferred, in the moment, to disappear from sight right into the ground. Finally ..., my second-day-second-contest opponent, said "Wow. You're, well, tough". I blushed red - more or less.
The notice of my plaster spread, the major thanked me privately (although I suspected the police officer suspected how things really went whatever I had said - these days were the Period of Informal Cycle Races, and I imagine tens of other clumsies presented to the hospital with more or less questionable stories).
In its spreading, the notice transformed - and this is the interesting part. In the beginning, it was about Mauri-who-races-even-with-one-hand-sprained. Progressively, it turned into Mauri-the-kind-one: what remained of my "deed" was the answer I gave to one of the race manager, who asked me "But look, why #### are you doing that?" I don't remember the exact words, but was something in the line of "Oh, what my partner would have done, if I withdraw?"
Unfortunately for me, the label endured years. Ahem...
* * * * * * * * *
Besides. It never crossed my mind that "someting with men" is something you'd better never ever do, in sake of your safety. I just did, mindless. Maybe, as I said, I was so terrible and clumsy no one felt really threatened by me. And, if you wanted to have some race thrill, on that era there wasn't any other way.
I'm sure the Ferrari-red color of my bike was instrumental to this feeling, or better lack of it. They "accepted me" after I had passed some exam, of what they said "toughness" (without knowing I did not realize I was injured) and also kindness-and-altruism (again, without knowing my answer was invented right in the moment, just to say something). Maybe toughness alone would have not made the trick...
Countercheck. Pass a man on a pink road bike (if you're able).
And look what happens.
Just last week I had a similar experience, with a half-amusing-half-disturbing effect. I was riding to the "Su e giò" ("Ups and Downs"), a short path in Po Valley where, if you are attentive enough, can imagine of a few descents and ascents. Actually the drop does not exceed five meters, but as I said, if you let your fantasy run...
As I entered the "hilly" part of the path, I happened to meet a man, heavy and decidedly overweight, on his fancy road bike (don't remember the colors, but am quite sure it wasn't pink). I hadn't any intention of passing him, or following him: most typically I ride alone. I'm afraid of cyclists passing red traffic light, and similar crazy things, so I decidedly prefer to not follow.
And, I've discovered that when riding you do much less work if you maintain a thrust rate around 90 beats per minute (it isn't my invention: I've found on a book). In that special case, my objective was to maintain the Sacred 90 Rate, and because of that I happened to pass the man.
He tailed me. At Carpenzago, a small village on the path, I was first yet. On exit from the village a quite "steep" descent connects with a crossing where you have to turn 90 degrees to left. I braked to slow down. Instead of passing me as I expected the man, in a half amused way, asked me "But why do you brake? May let go!"
He didn't actually say ""Why do you brake before a 90 degree turn after a descent just like a woman?" , but this decidedly embedded in his voice tone.
I did want to kill him.
Sure, telling him the details of Tre Giorni Bederese in 1980, when Dinosaurs slowly crept from damps, wasn't the case.
Nor it was of some help to answer something like "Look, I'm engaged in a serious project my company survival depends on, and if I happen to die in an accident caused by me, my boss will come and kill me again."
Nor even telling the bare, obvious truth: I detest cordially the idea that while I'm riding for amusement I can hurt someone else coming from the street. Maybe a child? That would be unbearable.
But guessed better to say nothing.
Eventually, mr.Patronizer left my tail halfway, looking for some climb better suited to him, and that time that was all.
The episode gave me something to think of, during my return.
On another occasion, things got nastier. Once again I was trying hard to maintain my 90 beats per minute rate when I happened to pass two men, more or less my age, on their very modern bikes. They were more of the type of the professional athlete, lean and muscular. And, slowly concluding their ride.
As I passed them, one of the two accelerated immediately. He tailed, then passed me. Then, he turned towards me an angry face and yelled something. I heard the Italian equivalent of "bitch" and "your place", when he turned back towards ahead (he had, in order to survive: a traffic light with stopped cars was approaching fast), passed with the red, and vanished in the roads of Cesano Boscone.
The other guy passed too. More slowly and prudently. Apparently had nothing to say, a half-frozen expression as far as I was able to tell. Maybe was surprised too by his friend reaction...
That episode (not isolated) has convinced me that passing Italian male cyclists with a bright pink road bike has a defined non-zero probability to elicit an illogical reaction, potentially harmful to the subject and others.
However, "Neunzig Pulse neunzig Pulse Sind" (please have mercy of my spelling). I can't avoid passing someone from time to time.
Would this mean finding a women-only cycling club be better?
Maybe... Just yesterday I've seen a girl passing two red traffic lights with absolute nonchalance, and an angry grin to a car driver who made the unforgivable error of passing with the green light.
(This may well be, because Italy is at least in part a World in Contrary).
Sure, I'll continue riding my (pink) bike. All summed, it's more healthy than harmful.
Riding a bright pink road bike also helps unveiling excellent examples of double standards, unwanted interactions, crazy assumptions, blind stereotypes we daily find on this planet...