by Our Bicycle Lives

I have no particular affection for locks, unlike any other bike accessories. Who does, anyway? They are heavy, clunky and cumbersome, a necessary encumbrance when one needs to leave one’s bike in a public place in a big city. First and foremost, they are negative objects. They don’t bring about enjoyment, instead they prevent others from enjoying my property. My two heavy-duty locks make me look like the law and order-obsessed person I fear I have turned into since I became an owner. I own something that others are coveting, and my locks are saying: this bike is mine and I shall not share it with you. Instead of the cool, relaxed, trendy single-speed rider I’d like to appear, my locks identify me as the anal, nerdy cyclist I truly am. They expose me and I dislike them for it.

This is what they say about me: I am determined. I am someone who comes prepared – not a single impulsive, spur-of-the-moment bone in me. I am boring. I fear the action of others (thefts), even worse, I fear others (thieves). I am anxious. In short, society and its potential for crime make me nervous. Contrast this with that fantastic flowing sensation of freedom whilst pedalling on a push bike, and you wonder what went wrong. Why do I have to go out armoured with a chain and padlock, a D-lock and a steel cable? Why can’t I leave my bike propped against the shop window when I pop in to buy the Saturday paper? Why do I become a bag of nerves when I have to leave my precious machine locked in an unknown part of town? Locks tell me that times have changed –  who would nowadays leave their front door unlocked? – and so have I.

I envy the careless teenagers who leave their mountain bikes sprawled on the pavement by the corner shop, in my sometimes rough neighbourhood. But then maybe they are part of the local street gang and everyone knows not to mess with them? Or are they just free and easy? I am even jealous of the more cautious ones, who position their bike upside down, in full view (the idea being that if someone turns it back the right way up, you’ll be on to them before they have time to ride away on it). I inwardly loathe the nervous glances I cast towards my bike, whenever it is about to leave my sight.

Paradoxically, and despite the dent they inflict to my image and self-image, I put all my trust in my two locks. I rely on them absolutely, in the same way that I rely on my bike to get the job done, and done well. I appreciate their good workmanship, and whenever I lock up within a row of bike racks, I compare them favourably and meticulously to the often flimsy locks that other cyclists use. I study locking up techniques, the potential for a quick-release wheel to go missing here and there. I once admired a bright green single-speed bike and came out of the cinema to sadly find it single-wheel too. I occasionally come across bikes that have not been locked at all, the lock not fastened properly or not fastened around the stand, but more often than not they are still there when I come back some hours later. I can almost picture, then, a young man in a hurry, phone in one hand, lock in the other and mind absent to the task in hand: one could describe him as someone who is multi-tasking and not concentrating, but in reality I know he is a happy-go-lucky human being. Not perfect, not a machine, merely very human.

But however efficient and business-like, despite the comfort I take in their cold, steel mechanism, my locks make me uneasy because they remind me that there are people out there who to my imagination are barely human, a menacing, looming entity that can strike suddenly: thieves. And locks are forever the reminders of potentially catastrophic news: the loss of my dearly loved bicycle.