There are four of them in the shed. For nine months of the year, they languish, the cobwebs build until May or June when they are taken out, one by one – rickety, arthritic, creaking – and are wheeled around the back lawn like an invalid in rehab. An assessment of what needs done to get them through the summer is made. My brother tinkers, he breathes life into them, tells them we’re all coming, and they sigh and loosen up, a little oil stops silences the rasps. The chains run smoothly, the tyres are plumped, the brakes are checked.
There’s the purple one that the children choose last because it’s the least cool of an uncool bunch. Its back brake is too sharp so when you apply it, even gently, the back wheel skids away from you (especially on the prom that is sandier than ever this year) and the bike jack knifes and I feel like I am Guy Martin taking a corner on the Isle of Man TT. Which is all well and good until I fall off, and I am no longer at the age when I can fall off, pick the grit from my leg, and cycle on feeling my heart fall back into rhythm. Yesterday, I cycled in flip flops and the sole of my foot and the flip of the flop got caught either side of the pedal I almost lost it, but Pisa was righted in time.
There’s the big grey one with the straight handles, still known as ‘Ken’s bike’. His was stolen within a week of us moving to England and this was its replacement. Procured from the stolen bike shop, so said a woman I once met at a charity function at Friargate Meeting House. Isn’t it social economy project? – I asked. I remember her lips turning tight as she answered me. They employ young men who steal bikes for the shop to sell on, she said. Seems like an interesting business model (I didn’t say that). But surely the police would be onto them? (I did say that). After that, we just called it the stolen bike shop. Ture enough, their bikes were incredibly cheap. I told Ken his bike was hot, he just laughed and handed over fifty quid. Eight years later and that bike is still going strong. It’s a brute of a thing, heavy as hell and a nightmare to pedal up hills, but entirely unenviable, so when its left unlocked (as they often are), by the Arcadia, or the West Strand railings, or the top of the steps at the Blue Pool, it still there when we come back. So far.
Then there’s Eimear’s Bike. Rest assured, a name attached to a bike is no indication of ownership, it denotes only provenance. Despite it being fifteen years old, this is the least embarrassing bike to be seen on for the nieces and nephews. A hybrid, I think that’s what they call it, though breed of bike matters little in Portrush in the summer when a bike becomes, not a means of exercise, or a symbol of wealth, or an indication of how sporty you are, but a means of getting from A to B more quickly, a traffic-beating apparatus, the fastest available beach access.
The last one is the Ikea bike. I think she should be called ‘Daphne’. She is dove-grey, straight backed, capable, and if she were to speak, I think she would have a Home Counties accent and despair at her benign mistreatment on the North Coast of Ireland. She pulls a small trailer behind, to which my brother has further attached the frame of mum’s shopping trolley. To this we attach the paddle board. Or small children. Or wetsuits and towels and bottles of water and tins of buns and fruit that needs eating today otherwise it’s for the compost. Daphne stops the traffic, and not always in a good way. Elicits either amusement or pure fury. You can see it in the drivers’ faces. The ones who smile and wave you across: Ah would you look at that, isn’t that wonderful, good wholesome fun. I’ll just hold back and let them through. And the ones who honk and scowl: For goodness sake! Some people shouldn’t be let out on the road, they are a hazard. Someone’s going to be killed. Is that a child on a skateboard that is being towed along behind? Bloody bikes!
It’s travel back day and I’m swapping two wheels for four. Today, I’ll be especially kind to all the cyclists I see.