Long ago and eighty miles away, I began my love affair with bikes by trying to destroy one. Getting a massage—much less giving one—wasn’t even a gleam in my eye when, at ten, I inherited my mother’s beat-up old Schwinn with coaster brakes and balloon tires (like the one shown here). Despite my grandfather’s having lovingly repainted it for me, I found the bike hideous given that everyone else was riding little bikes with banana seats or multispeed bikes with skinny tires. I reasoned that, were I to break the bike, I’d get a new one. Or at the very least, I would show myself to be disdainful of the bike in front of my peers. So I systematically set about a plan to ruin it, riding it under the chin-up bar on the playground, grabbing hold of the bar, and letting the bike go sailing into the chain-link fence or riding it down small flights of stairs. Sometimes I’d even jump off and let it crash dead-on into the brick school wall. But nothing would destroy that bike.
Finally, in junior high, I begged my mother for a new bike. She thought I’d soon outgrow it, heading into high school as I was. I pleaded with her, promised I’d continue to ride it. Eventually, I got an inexpensive three-speed, the primary redeeming quality of which was that it didn’t have balloon tires. I don’t remember now whether I kept my promise. I certainly didn’t ride it to school, that much I recall. So maybe my mother was right.
But then two things happened to renew my love of bike riding. First, my uncle became an avid cyclist. Whatever my uncle’s interests were, the rest of us would soon get sucked in. We all became archers for awhile, for instance, including my mom and my grandparents. It was a lot easier to find a place to ride a bike in the city than to shoot arrows, so that was definitely a point in favor of bicycling. I learned phrases foreign to most of the general populace, like “truing a wheel” and “trimming my gears.”
The second thing that happened is that I had moved out of my parents’ home and into an apartment. Getting to my part-time job from my apartment via public transportation was neither convenient nor affordable with the pittance I made at the Milwaukee Journal, where I took calls from customers wanting to start or stop a subscription or complain about their carrier. My first girlfriend and I went bike shopping and settled on ten-speed Falcon racing bikes, the Eddie Merckx model. Merckx was a name I recognized, thanks to my uncle, as bike-racing royalty of sorts, and that was enough to sell me.
Racing bikes, in those days, were not built with women in mind. But despite the long reach to the down-turned handlebars and the gearshift lever—and despite the fact that few people were using bikes for much more than recreation in those days—my girlfriend and I rode to work and school. Once, I remember, we even had to make our way home on our bikes a trifle tipsy after a rare dinner out that featured margaritas.
My bike was my primary mode of transportation through much of college, but when I got a job in Franksville, WI, and then relocated to San Jose, CA, my bike got put away more or less permanently for the next fifteen or twenty years. There were little intermittent spurts of renewed interest, but the circumstances weren’t right, during those years, to encourage more regular biking on my part.
Fast forward to 2006. Feeling there were no more challenges in my position as a copyeditor at the University of Chicago Press, I boldly—or insanely, depending on your point of view!—left my full-time job to go to massage therapy school. Ensuing economic constraints and the eight-mile ride from home to school got me back on the bike. When I got a job as a massage therapist at Fitness Formula Club downtown, not far from where I went to school, I was able to continue riding. Exercise, money saving, and environmentally friendly: biking was the whole package.
But when it came to seeing clients in their homes on my own, unable to figure out a way to bungee my table to my bike rack, I was forced to use my car or public transportation. Using the car was an easy way to transport the table, but I hated contributing to traffic congestion and carbon emissions, whereas getting a table on and off buses, even folded in half and in a case, was no easy task.
Then I discovered the Dutch bike WorkCycle bakfiets (pronounced bahk-feets and translated as “box bike”). WorkCycles, located in Amsterdam, was founded by Brooklyn-born Henry Cutler. The bakfiets is perfect for carrying kids, groceries—or a massage table—because the low box and perfect geometry make it steady and easy to handle. And when the bike is not in use, it sits very firmly on a parking stand, allowing for easy loading and unloading. (WorkCycles, one of several companies that manufactures bakfiets-style bikes, can be purchased locally at Dutch Bike Co. Chicago, 651 W. Armitage Ave. [http://www.dutchbikeseattle.com/]).
The bakfiets allows me to bike to clients within the boundaries of Cumberland on the west, Clark on the east, Howard on the north, and Washington on the South and provide them in-home massages—with no guilt about adding to their carbon footprint. I like to think this means they can clear out the knots from their muscles while also clearing up their karma.