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Rusty Riders

Rusty Riders

Chapter One:

‘Hi – my name’s Jason…’

‘So what exactly did you have in mind?’

The attendant, ‘Hi! My name’s Jason’, leaned his elbows onto the counter, beside the pyramid of stacked, multi-coloured cycling helmets, each with its patented ‘Go faster – Look cooler!’ aerodynamic gaps and crevices. The slow sweep of his gaze lined Hester up against the rack after rack of possible cycles. She rolled her lower lip beneath the top one, and began to frown her steadily growing confusion.

‘I mean’, he said, leaning even further forward, ‘How do you see yourself – as a rider?’

Hester looked around at the display of gleaming cycles, row on row, wheel to wheel, a riderless peloton in a fast-sprint finish that would never announce its own winner.

Glossy, high-resolution posters of ecstatic cyclists lined the walls, each shot offering an ikonic location and leisure opportunity. Activity, they asserted, was everything – second only to looking the part.

‘I’m just not sure,’ she ventured. ‘Except I know what I’m NOT. Not a racer. So you can count that out. And not a bush biker’.

That dismissed the nuggety black and safety-yellow numbers, with the rugged tyres and small wheelbases.

‘Nothing radical or alternative’.

She couldn’t see herself on one of those lie-down pedalo things, with her brave little pennant somehow supposed to signal her presence to the drivers of stock trucks and Fonterra tankers. Nor was she after a step-through collapsible, to pack into the back of the Beemer, and scoot into the office lobby in suit and helmet, the urban eco-warrior.

Despite the certainties of this bracketing-out however, there were still far too many to choose from.

Wheeler Dealers however, ‘Your Bike Shop Destination’, didn’t tolerate indecisiveness.

‘So let’s begin by thinking about where you want to go on the bike’, Hi My Name’s Jason prescribed, stepping out from behind the array of computer screens that constituted his sales counter, and looking her up and down.

‘What do you want to do on it? What’s best done – on a bike? How do you imagine your riding future?’

He was really into the swing of it now, mentally ticking off the possible categories.

‘What kind of cyclist do you intend to be?’

But Hester’s inner eye had begun to project not a cycling future, but one past: Glenys from next door, circling the concreted 1950s back yard, on her gleaming new, Christmas morning, Raleigh Schoolgirl, with shiny baubles and tinsel wound festively onto the handlebars.

It shone with a metallic ruby glow, a heraldic and prestigious Raleigh emblem discreetly welded to the cross bars. Cream-coloured grips in ribbed rubber, and matching cane basket with red trim. A vinyl skirt guard on the rear wheel, keeping Glenys’s rope petticoats off the spokes, as her feet in their little white cotton socks and brown T-bar sandals back-pedaled to a nice, safe, ladylike stop…

There were no Raleigh Schoolgirls in the display – or baskets, or skirt-guards, come to think of it. Today’s cycling appeared to be a matter of twenty-first century science.

She could already see My Name’s Jason inclining towards the array of electronic apparatus, all in deepest black.

‘Night-time?’ he said, gesturing at the many ways you could flash your presence to otherwise heedless motorists. ‘Long summer treks?’

He nodded towards the racks of water bottles, clip-on cooler sprays, Factor-35-plus sun protection packs. ‘Family fun-rides?’

He propelled her hopefully towards the colour-coordinated His, Hers and Theirs, grouped enticingly towards the front door.

‘Lots of our old - more experienced riders, like to take their juniors out on a bit of an expedition…’

‘Not me’, said Hester, suddenly clear about what it was she wanted. ‘Just myself. So I want something functional. I want to get about the town a bit. It’s been years since I lived here – I need to re-establish the map of it, in my mind. I want to go shopping, take books to the Library, go down the Port to look at the yachts coming in – maybe as far as the Beach, or up the Brook Valley. Slow, gentle riding, so I can admire people’s gardens – that kind of thing’.

My Name’s Jason slid a few sturdy-looking basic frames out of the display and wheeled them over.

‘Just try this lot for size’, he suggested, ‘and when you’ve found something you like, I can make the adjustments’.

Half an hour, and Hester had pretty much what she wanted – not perhaps, as a small twang of regret persistently played in her mind, a ruby-red Raleigh – but a right-for-the-role machine, which Jason refitted with all the things she would need, and not too many that he thought himself she should have. A few rather wobbly rolls along the Wheeler Dealers rubber flooring aisles, and she was, if still a little nervously, ready to buy.

It was then that My Name’s Jason played the trump card.

‘Has it er, been a while then?’ he asked, watching her rather shaky attempt at a dismount. ‘Like, not just the new bike being a bit, you now, like, unfamiliar?’

Hester wondered what to say about exactly how many years – decades – since she had owned a bike.

‘Just that’, he said, tapping rapidly into his black, rubber-covered iPAD and clattering the printer into life – ‘We have this sort of, like, special newbies group? Mix of new-to-town and back-to-biking. Would that, like, from what you were saying… interest you? We call it, ‘Rusty Riders’. Four or five meetings … just to well, break the ice. Get you – going again… I can do you a good price…’

‘Riding lessons?’ asked Hester, beginning to confront now the enormity of getting this new rig home – through the traffic. ‘That’s not a bad idea. What days? Is it a big group?’

‘Popular’, he replied – ‘but then it’s, well, organized – so that you – kind of, like, move into smaller groups, more one-on-one kind of thing… I was thinking, new in town and all that – it would be, well, social, as well as…’

‘What I need really’, thought Hester. ‘Mobility, with contacts’.

She tucked the Rusty Riders program into her bag, and leaned across the bike to shake Jason by the hand. He hadn’t been as bad as she had thought. New bike, more practical than the shop’s décor had signaled – and now the possibility of a bit of basic, refresher-course training.

Not just the lycra-lean pretty face she had at first assumed him to be.

‘Wheeler Deal, Jason!’ she said, wondering if she could contrive one of those high-five rituals the current generation found so de rigueur. ‘And I’ll certainly think about joining the practice group’.

She pushed the new bike out onto the street, imagining being good enough to sail on it through the doors, and off into the flow of traffic.

Maybe, in her own mind at least, she was starting to become the cyclist that Jason had assumed she already was.

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