Dr Bikes

by Our Bicycle Lives

Let me introduce you to Dr Bikes: they are professional mechanics who service bikes for free, fixing minor problems on the spot and diagnosing more serious ones that will require a visit to the bike shop. But shouldn’t it be ‘bike doctors’ instead? That’s what I called them until I was met by puzzled looks and twigged. Not bike doctors, as in people doctors, teeth doctors, head doctors (psychotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists and the like), but Dr Bikes, somehow. It is a mnemonic name, like Dr Strangelove in the eponymous Stanley Kubrick film or Dr House on television, but an odd fitting one nevertheless. Are we about to meet a doctor called Bike? Or a bike who is a doctor, and my imagination then starts to run wild with possibilities: maybe some bikes have hidden talents, apart from carrying us faithfully from one side of town to another?

Personally, I would rename them Bike Surgeons because their job is not to medicate my bike but to take it apart, fix it and put it back together again. But, as someone once said, ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend’* or go with the common usage. So, Dr Bikes it is. The title ‘Doctor’ already lends our future encounter a serious, professional tone. I am going to meet with an expert and, even more exciting, an expert in bikes; someone who has the knowledge necessary to solve my problem. So, even before anything takes place, I have great expectations.

I picture Dr Bike as a busy young man or young woman with an efficient air about them, mechanical talents, nimble and greasy hands and a ‘can do’ attitude. And by and large, they do not disappoint. Not only do they ride interesting bikes, but they know everything there is to know about them. Moreover, they are spending quality time listening to me talking about my bike, then looking at my bike with me, mending it and nurturing it and nursing it back to health. More than their ability to diagnose and fix it, what I appreciate is that they treat it, in both senses of the word, as if it was their own. One feels that they really do care, and money doesn’t even come into the equation.

Then there is the set-up of the Dr Bike session, a bit like a friendly, non-threatening outdoor bike shop. We, the bike owners, have recognised our helplessness, since we have made the decision to bring our machine to the experts, so gone are the competence and competitiveness we feel we have to display when we’re on the road. We can just relax, queue in a random fashion and talk about bike colours, blue paint and other favourite, harmless subjects among the uninitiated.

So, what’s not to like? Dr Bikes may be free but, as with commercial transactions, things can go wrong. A stand-offish mechanic, a careless repair, someone who’s had a bad day and I feel betrayed, in a way that no bike shop assistant will ever make me feel: after all, they do it for the money, whereas Dr Bikes do it for the love of bicycle art alone. Well, not exactly, but that’s the impression they give because we are not directly paying them. And anybody who shows contempt for the bicycle way of life and values that we all share should be exiled to suburban Siberia. But for the most part, Dr Bikes are as close as you can get to cycling heroes. In no time at all, they will have got to the root of the matter, repaired my bike, greased it and sent us both on our way, as good as new (the bike) and as happy as Larry (me). They are the central station on my road back to recovery and health.

* In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)