by Our Bicycle Lives
By Dr Arbuckle
This week Dr Arbuckle went to meet the rank and file of the London cycling community, some of the cyclists who are plodding their way through the city streets and battling rush hour traffic, poorly designed junctions and punctures on their way to work, home and life. Encouraged by the cycling boom in the capital, friends and pioneer monkeys Gaby Simio and Tom B. Monkey took up cycling two years ago and here they share their experiences of simian life on two wheels. When Dr Arbuckle arrived at their home in South London, they were busy making lunch so he sat for a while in their cosy living room and took time to peruse their bookshelf. Spot the monomania*!
Tom: The way it happened was that a couple of years ago, I read several articles about the new cycling era in Britain and the explosion of bike sales. Of course I’d noticed how bikes were everywhere and how many people had started cycling. Gaby and I had talked about getting bikes, but we thought: ‘Not for us, we like our home comforts and besides, it’s not safe.’ But the articles made it sound so … so ordinary. I thought, why not? We can’t spend all our lives as passengers. Why not be in the driving seat for a change? And that’s what we did.
Gaby: We decided to give it a try. It took us a while to get our act together though because we knew people would laugh at us. And the bike shops looked a bit scary, lots of blokes who were using words like ‘top tube’ and ‘bottom bracket’ and ‘cassette’ and I didn’t even know what gears were for. Still don’t, actually.
Tom: Our local bike shop was great. They were very understanding and really tailored the bikes to our needs. As you can imagine, the size was a bit of a problem [Editor’s note: both Tom and Gaby are just under 15 inches tall] but they managed to source some frames in a toy shop and off we went. The rest is history.
Gaby: Well, not exactly. The bikes are perfect, they even have their own banana cage for when we go on long rides so no more squashed bananas for us! But we’ve faced so much prejudice that it’s a bit disheartening.
Tom: It’s not been easy [sigh]. It feels like we’ll never hear the end of it. People have said that monkeys shouldn’t cycle, that it’s not been done before. So? Sure, cycling is best suited to creatures with short arms, long strong legs and no tails, like humans. Our physique can make it difficult at times. When my tail gets caught in the spokes, it hurts. But it’s not about suitability but about will and ability.
Gaby: Some of the comments are ludicrous. People have told me that monkeys shouldn’t be allowed on the road. ‘Go back to the zoo!’ someone shouted the other day. I’m not an alien, I’m an animal so treat me with respect. I read somewhere that ‘a monkey needs a bicycle like a fish needs a man’. That’s nonsense.
Tom: So, no, I wouldn’t say it’s been plain sailing. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me it’s dangerous. Do they think climbing is safer? Or crossing the road for that matter. And we’re too small, the roads are too narrow, there’s too much traffic in London. It’s sad really, but we don’t let it get us down.
Gaby: You’ve got to do what makes you tick, no? We cycle and we love it and they can’t take that away from us. And don’t try to stop us because we bite. You think we can’t do it? Sometimes, I feel like Jeanne Moreau at the end of Jules et Jim ** : ‘Jules, watch us!’
Tom: Except that she’s just about to commit suicide. And we’re not. We’re doing something perfectly normal. We’re not die-hards, we’re not weirdos. We may be ahead of our species, but still, at the end of the day, we’re pretty average monkeys.
Gaby: We don’t mean any harm and it’s nobody else’s business but our own. We’re just two little furry creatures on wheels enjoying themselves. So well done us, if I say so myself. And, in the words of Comandante Monkey, ‘¡Hasta la banana!’.
*for Spanish speakers: pun intended
**Francois Truffaut, 1962