One of the things about being a non-car user in a car culture is that I’m beyond the scope of any conversation that involves cars. which is most of them. Sooner or later in any group someone will turn to someone else and say:
“What sort of gas mileage do you get on your Toyota Childsquasher?”
And they’ll be off talking about cars for at least the next hour, possibly a week, with subgroups breaking off to discuss power-to-weight ratios, cup holders, GPS Systems, and how that nasty government are making petrol prices so high. It’s impossible to join in these conversations without becoming the resident snotty treehugger.
Fortunately for me our bicycles start conversations. Not on their own, you understand, but indirectly, through people being interested in them. This happens a lot on trains, usually with someone giving the Xtracycle a hard stare around the back wheel, and then they start asking questions: ‘Is it a tandem?’; “It must be hard to ride”; and “does it have a motor?”
It’s quite a relief when this happens: as long as the questions are about the bikes it’s easier to to avoid Snotty Treehugger Syndrome, but it doesn’t always work, like the time on a train when a fellow passenger skipped the preliminaries and started with: “Why do you have that long bike?”
I gave my usual answer: “Transporting children, shopping, touring, taking recycling stuff to the tip.”
“Why?”
“We use it instead of a car.” (See what I mean? I was trying to avoid this, honestly)
Short pause. “So you don’t have a car?”
“No”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that, I need my car. I mean, how do you go shopping?”
“Well… we use this…”
“But what about when you want to go longer distances? You can’t go driving down the Autobahn on that.”
Unfortunately I couldn’t think up anything better than:
“When I need to go on a long journey I sit and relax on a train.”
This rather stopped the conversation.


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