The streets are flooded with a thousand moments of cold. It bites my cheeks, my thighs, my toes; it curls onto my neck and like a snake it stings my throat. Toronto. Two weekends ago. Fourteen Degrees.
And then, and then, and then, there it is: a café in the middle of the street—hidden in a disguise. It pretends to be an ordinary shop, next to a Dollar Store, near a Tim Horton’s, but it is no such thing. Stepping inside, we are in black and white Helvetica font. We are in a café that nods to Italy with its big espresso maker and its roasting coffee smell and the man behind the counter with rings on his pinkie fingers. It is called “Sense Appeal.”
Inside, a man sits with a coffee and a Canadian accent and a cycling hat, brim folded upward. I overhear the conversation between he and the barista.
“Yeah. Think I’ll get a Cannondale.”
I want to join in. I want to say, “Perhaps consider a Felt,” even though I know nothing of bikes in any real way. I only know that I am happy with my Felt. I love riding it. I love how light it is. I love the deep royal blue that lines its white frame. It is my bicycle and I adore it.
I point out this café, this conversation, to highlight the community that is out there that I am only now just stepping into. Before, I saw my brother-in-law’s love of cycling, but I never was in the biking movement. I was in my little black car, stick shifting away down the streets—missing out on the joy of not only riding, but that connection you feel with another human being when you like the same thing. It is the same threads of joy that connect sailors or hikers or photographers: the lines of passion that stream between them, gently lacing strangers together.
This conversation occurs in another country, albeit, not one far from here, and there is something lovely about that. There is something absolutely lovely about stepping into a café and feeling a connection with this man because he likes to ride his bike and so do I.
On the way out, I smile at him and in this way, it is a cross-cultural communication facilitated by the spirit of bikes.
I recently applied to the MA program at the University at Buffalo for Innovative Writing and for some reason, in the personal statement I mentioned I was on a bike team and attempting to be a cyclist. I said, “I don’t know why I am telling you this but I think for some reason this connection between biking and writing will be important in my life.” I never would have thought that a year ago, but now I do. I ride to write. I write to ride. I am not the fastest on my team. I am pretty much the worst, but in this way I am a close observer: I ride with my eyes, my mind, my heart open. I am riding to get better. I am writing to get better. Both activities make me a part of this community that I never knew existed.
I want to see where this takes me. If accepted into the program at UB, I declared that I would like to study French Feminism, but I am wondering now if I’d like to study cycling and Feminism. Is this even possible? If two men were having a conversation about bikes in Canada—what else is out there? How is the bicycle used in India for women? How is it used in Afghanistan as a symbol of freedom? What else could the bicycle represent?
Questioning is the first step. The answers, hidden now like tulip bulbs underground, will come.