For the most part this is a pretty great bike town. It's not Amsterdam or Copenhagen or really even my hometown of Portland, Oregon but getting around Barcelona by bike is fun and effective. OK I'm a sort of a bike geek. I'm not one of those guys that does high speed single track mountain descents on a fixie (you know these folks actually exist! Or did exist...) but I have been in love with bikes ever since my Dad pulled the training wheels off, gave me a shove and said, "Peddle!"
Considering that this town seems to be the global hub for bike theft it seems that many others here are in love with bikes too. And they have loved two of mine so much that they have made them their own. The first was an amazing Bike Friday Pocket Rocket. A handmade (in Eugene, Oregon yeah!) folder that was being folded and unfolded and successfully raced around the world 10 years before Brompton figured how to charge 1400 euros for a slightly swankier Raleigh 20 3 speed. OK that's mean... yes it is... but Brompton's prices are absolutely silly which is too bad because truth be told it's a brilliant design, folds up as fast as a five dollar bill in a strip joint (sorry... I'm just trying out being a little bit more colorful, a little more Charles Bukowski-esque and I have not gone into Club Breston for at least six weeks) and I would buy one if they were half the price and I could grow a neck beard. Damn... that's also mean... yes it is.
Full disclosure, I forgot and left it out one night. Yes it was locked with the best NYC approved U Lock that money could buy. But... yeah mea culpa. It's replacement was a Moulton. You are probably thinking " Moulton! what choo doin' Fool... you just looking for another whuppin'?" OK this was not one of those "Space 1999", "Prisoner" space frame numbers that can only be purchased by Richard Meier or Sir Norman Foster and only then if they sign an affidavit saying that they will never, ever unbutton their top buttons... that's mean... yes it is... no this was a completely original 1962 robin's egg blue F Frame with a cool four speed (not three speed!) Sturmey-Archer internal hub transmission... yeah baby. I got it from some guy in Dorset on Ebay for like 150 bucks! What! Front and back suspension! A cool rack on the back which looked like it came from the Morris Minor factory! It lasted just long enough for me to replace the seat with a testicle torturing Brooks leather saddle. Midday. Ran in to the casa for 15 minutes. Came back... Buddabing. Was it locked up? Yup. Was the saddle locked on? You betcha. They just took the whole magilla.
Then I flirted with the Bicing bikes. Love the idea. Love the city's commitment to human powered vehicles. Hated the bikes. I mean I really hated the bikes. Yes they will get you there but I guess in addition to being a bike geek I am a bike snob... well I'm not that snobby I just can't handle squeaky, clunky, ugly, pokey rides. Sadly for my practical side, looking good is a big part of why I ride a bike and even George Clooney would look dorky on a Bicing bike, particularly one that has only one pedal and a seat that is permanently welded in low rider mode. So I went back to BCN's world class public transportation system.
But the lure of two tires is strong... after a year or two of being a strap hanger I decided to return to my childhood love. This time I would be smart. I would get a funky old bike that looked unloved, unwanted and unworthy of theft... but under the hood it would be something else entirely. It would look like an Yugo but drive like a Lotus Super 7 or at the very least a Vauxhall Vader.
In a country that is as fond of Ikea and of all things new, shiny and preferably flat packed as Spain, finding anything segunda mano is a chore. Yes you can try your luck at Cash Converters or the Encants flea market but unless you are looking to pay double for a Chinese chain clamp, a well used diaper genie or an 1992 Sangean flip phone with a hello kitty dingle ball you are generally out of luck. But then I found Iris "girl bike mechanic" and her fabulous shop in the Raval. Bici Quadra is an antique bike lover's dream. It's full of beautiful just restored enough bikes from a time when 10 speeds was considered extravagant and you had to reach down and find the sweet spot on the shifter. The problem is I am not the only one who loves Iris' old bikes. Iris loves Iris' old bikes so much that she really doesn't want to sell them. You see her business is for the most part about renting those beauties for the day, week or month but if you ask her very nicely she may part with one of her flock... after she goes over it with a fine tooth comb. She's really a five star mechanic.
A late 60s/early 70s metal flake blue number which like Iris is from Belgium caught my eye. The fittings were gorgeous... forged aluminium single side pull caliper brakes, ornately cut lugs and a really sweet label. It was perfect, probably uninteresting to los robos and light as a feather even with the elegant old school fenders (which for once I would leave on to make it less sexy). Iris set it up for a street ride with a bigger seat (no Brooks Testical Tamer that screams "Steal me!") and replaced the classic drop handlebar with an old scavenged mustache bar sitting on top of an extended stem. Iris rebuilt the functional but unsexy (i.e. not Campagnolo) Simplex derailleur to better than new state... what can I say, I reach down and grab the shifter and it shifts.
I see that I have just got deeply sidetracked talking about bikes... what this post was supposed to be about was riding in Barcelona and a particularly enlightening incident.
Look I like to ride fast. I love to bob and weave through heavy traffic like a bike messenger who has been hitting the spray paint a little too hard. I love to bomb down Balmes from Plaça Kennedy all the to Grand Via, Flying past the trucks, taxis and buses. I know.. it's dangerous but I love it and I might be on the zippy side but I am not reckless. Physically gushing testosterone I do however get a little bit amped up... AKA aggressive.
So having just hurtled down Via Augusta and then right down the middle of Diagonal (no bike lanes for this boy) and then right down the middle of Passeig de Gràcia and then over to Pau Claris I find myself right in the middle of this throng of taxis, delivery trucks and scooters. It's a war zone and seemingly complete chaos. With no provocation the guy on the scooter behind me lays on his horn and zips ahead. OK here comes the amped up part. For some reason I have learned over the course of my stay in my adopted country how to say, "QUE COÑO!" really loudly. I use this important biking communication technique on the guy on the scooter. He stops at the light and looks back over his shoulder and gestures not with a one finger salute but with a beckoning motion. Damn... I realize I have left my truncheon back at the piso. Oh well I have never been in a bar fight in the middle of Pau Claris before (or any other place for that matter) but at least I will have something to tell my future Grand kids about... who I probably will never meet. I slide up next to the guy with my game face on. He gives me kind of a "Hold on there partner, dial it back a little bit" hand wave and says, "Hey, that wasn't meant for you, it was for the delivery truck that was about to side swipe you... you couldn't see him sliding over."
I drop the Charles Bronson look and switch to more of a contemplative Tony Blair hand on forehead, we are all in this together aren't we look and say, "Lo siento mucho y muchas gracias, amic... los calles son una zona de guerra." I lay in to the gs and rolled rs really hard like I'm in "Amores Perros" or something. I least I didn't say callos.
He smiles at my crap "Pinche Cabron" Spanish, agrees with the war sentiment but adds with a little bit of gravity, "serio tio... especialmente para bicicletas... cuidado."
The light turns green, he smiles and says, "Bon dia!" and I realize I have another entry in my why I live here notebook. And since I really don't want to start a "why I died here" notebook... I think I will dial it back a little on Balmes.