Perhaps I should have thought a little harder when I came up with the name for this here blog. Chicago Bike Blog implies that every day, every post will be about biking. Biking in Chicago. And after a certain number of years being a bike retailer in Chicago, you'd think I'd never run out of having things to say about biking in the Windy City.
And yet.... writing about biking is hard. It's a little different than working in the bike shop.
On the one hand, working in the bike shop involves a lot of repetition. You've changed one flat, you've changed them all; you've carried so many bikes down the stairs, you don't count the steps anymore, you simply know when you're at the bottom; with customers, you ask the same questions a thousand times a day, and you provide answers to the same question asked a thousand times.
And yet.... every flat has a different history, every bike tells a different story, and every question is an opening to a new relationship. Life in the bike shop defies routine, because of the life that people breathe into it every hour of the day.
A couple years into this blog, I have already written about most of the things I had to say about biking. I've shared my fundamental philosophy of biking and of bike retailing, imparted tips, advice and product information. Some of that stuff bears occasional repeating. But, unlike the human interactions in the bike shop, the stories don't get any richer from the retelling.
I sometimes find myself at gatherings of cyclists, and feel oddly out of place, a bit like a fraud. Cycling isn't to me what it is to them.
As a bike shop owner, without bicycles, my life would have to be radically redefined. Yet, I don't really see cycling as being the center of my life. It is not any more the center of my life than the very idea of being self-employed, which is perhaps the most defining choice I have made in my life. It is also not any more central than the unschooling lifestyle we have chosen for ourselves and our kids. Nor is it any more central than the free-form garden that surrounds our house, which dismays some of our neighbors and delights others, and from which we freely pluck edibles for our kitchen and flowers for the vase. In short, cycling is just one of the many manifestations of a life of autonomy and self-determination to which we aspire.
That's why writing about biking it hard. It's hard to confine yourself to biking, when, together with a group of unschooled children, you are trying to figure out how many kernels of popcorn will fill a minivan. Or, when you've discovered that you really enjoy baking bread at home. Or making yogurt. Or when the garden needs weeding (when doesn't it?), or watering, or the produce is ripening so fast that you can barely keep pace with it. And who wants to write about biking, when you are actually doing it: biking on a lazy Sunday morning to a farmers market, or helping a 12-year-old negotiate traffic on his own?
And yet.... I will continue to build my life around bike retailing because, along with our backyard vegetable patch, that is what puts the food on the table. New stories will emerge: customers walking in the door, workers busting their butts, assholes on the road, inspiration during a ride, our search for a new home for the shop. But these stories don't come every day. And between them, life goes on.
I hope you'll forgive me if it finds its way into this here blog...