by Our Bicycle Lives

I love colours. Their variety and harmonies are the bright side of my life. I need only think of the word itself to smile and picture summer, sunshine and vivid shades of blue, and for the writing to flow. And I love colours on bicycles. For my début, I went to my local bike shop and looked for the cheapest one with mudguards and a rack (I didn’t know any better). Much to my dismay, it came in various shades of grey. This did not deter me and I quickly remedied that: I painted the mudguards blue, I sprayed yellow graffiti on the frame, then later on added yellow stickers, a yellow bell and blue grips. Now I can see it a mile off when I come out of the cinema, and I get instant reassurance: still there! The first question women allegedly ask about a car is ‘which colour is it?’, and it sure is now one of my top criteria when buying a bike.

Colours tell a lot about a person. Do you want to stand out from the crowd or would you rather blend in and its corollary, fit in? From where I have taken position, I can see the majority gathering on the other side, by the black, grey and other nondescript bikes that are so common in London. One online comment about my second bike choice, an Onza Uno, deplored that it only came in ‘two lurid colours and no black’, whereas I was drooling and agonising over the light blue and the bright orange frames.

Bright bike colours seem to flatten the duller colours, and by association, the bikes and their riders. I am reminded of landscape paintings, where the colours on the horizon are a faint blue or green to represent the way we see colours in the distance. Colourful bikes look nearer, more alive and vibrant than their dark, far away counterparts. I notice them – especially coloured components: red chains, gold hubs – more than I would an unusual shape, and they are closer to my heart. I have been told that thieves will single them out in a row of bicycles: they attract the eye, but despite the danger of being conspicuous in suburbia, I can’t resist them. I recently came across a glow-in-the-dark bike. ‘See me’ and ‘Look at me’ it said, bringing together safety and visibility in one flashy frame.

Road bikes, mountain bikes and single-speeds come in colour. I think of them as daredevils, fast and adventurous, the planet-friendly equivalent of a red Ferrari or a Mini. These are machines with character and spunk that will not be assimilated and ground down by the Capital’s treadmill. Instead, they cycle ahead, independently. But what about slow colourful bikes? They cycle the other way! A vintage bike or a lady’s town bike for instance that heedlessly make their way through the traffic maze and follow their own train of thought. They are harmless and come to no harm, and all is well that ends well, because there is invulnerability in their eccentricity.

Black or grey bikes, by comparison, are anonymous. They are just a number in a crowd, expendable, replaceable, faceless, like office workers pouring out of trains in the rush hour, or, in a darker way, prisoners in a WWII concentration camp – images that can never leave one’s conscience of human beings who are made to look like each other. They have been stripped of their individual identity to merge into a collective mass. I know some of these bicycles must be loved just as much as their bright companions, but then it is a secret love that may be a little ashamed of itself. It will not go as far as naming and personalising them, and is afraid of showing attachment.

And then there are the colourless ones: white bicycles. Pallid, they look delicate and fragile, as if not quite complete. Maybe they’re missing a coat of paint? Their neutral tint has sinister undertones too, for dotted around London’s junctions they are ghost bicycles who mean death has been at work. The living variety is occasionally seen about. A friend recently bought one, on the assumption that it would quickly get dirty and less attractive. But for the moment its pure white frame dazzles me. I feel like a rabbit trapped in a car’s headlights and I am unwilling to move for fear of shattering a vision of perfection.