Before we moved from Pessac Pat sold her nice old mixte frame bicycle to one of the neighbours. I thought it was a pity, but the deal was concluded and the 40 euros changed hands. I sold my old Raleigh Magnum mountain bike, too. It was a faithful old thing, but I had never loved it. Even adding natty blue road tyres somehow didn't do a lot for it.
Soon after we moved here we got a Bordeaux bike. The city will loan you a basic bike, designed for robustness, and Pat loved it but seldom used it. We wondered if the problem is the bike store.
The bike store is a room next door to the main entrance to the building. It has two doors fitted with locks and automatic closers and then it has lots of hoops for attaching bicycles. To get your bike out you unlock it from the hoop, then manhandle it out of the door while fighting with the automatic closer and negotiating two right-angles. You then have two more automatically closing doors to exit, one opened by a button on the wall, the other by a simple handle.
It's a faff.
So after taking the city bike back we decided to borrow a folding bike. This would live in the hallway of our flat. The idea was to carry it, folded, into the lift, through the two main doors and then unfold and ride away.
The bike is bright yellow and has that slightly crazy look that small wheeled folders pull off so well. However, it weighs over 16kg. We know. We weighed it. It's not absolutely impossible to carry it out of the building and then unfold it, but it's far easier to unfold it in the flat, then wheel it out.
So this is what we've done, and the bike has had far more use in its few short weeks with us than any other bike ever had. It's there as you leave the flat. It says, "don't wait for buses and trams, take me", and often we do.
Folding bike loans are for two months only, so in about two weeks the thing has to go back.
Bordeaux has a couple of bikemongers so I asked some of them for their counsel.
"What you need is a Brompton". They sounded like a Greek chorus. Whence such unanimity?
"But you sell another brand?", I asked one.
"We very occasionally sell another brand"
"Do you ever get them second-hand?", I asked another.
"About once every ten years."
"When was the last time?"
"About five years ago."
"So five years to wait..."
British humour doesn't translate, as his blank look reminded me.
The thing is, those bikes are expensive. They're expensive in the UK, but in France even more so. Recent readjustments in the value of the pound against the euro have not been reflected in their price.
I went away and thought about it. In the "dismissing it from my mind" sense of thinking about it.
Then a few things happened.
Firstly the French tax people gave us a refund. I don't know how. We hadn't knowingly paid any tax, but they refunded it anyway.
Secondly we happened on a cyclemonger in Paris who stocked Bromptons. We lifted them, we unfolded them, we folded them back up. The salesman knew we live in Bordeaux so we wouldn't be buying from him. It gave us a sense of detachment. We felt for ourselves how light and small they were.
Thirdly I started hunting on eBay and on le Bon Coin (French Gumtree) There were bikes available in Paris, Lyon, Beziers, La Rochelle... I seriously contemplated catching a train or bus to La Rochelle.
But then one came up on eBay. A good vendor. A good price. A good model. A reasonable price for carriage.
I was still a little terrified at spending so much on eBay, so I sent the details to a friend who rides these things in England. "Looks OK", he said.
So we ordered it and it came. It's a glorious lime green. I still have a stiff neck, but I took it round the block and it all works fine. Tomorrow Pat and I plan to ride to her rendezvous, her on the new bike, me on the city bike, then we'll swap and I'll ride the new bike home.