I’m not a man who names things. I have friends who do. I have friends who’ve named their cars and treated them like people: specifically like wheezy, temperamental old fogeys because that’s what kind of cars they were.
I have friends who name their houses. I visited a house called the Shaw Shack: a punk house in Toronto that was just as wild a base for parties as the eponymous Love Shack of the B-52’s. I visited the Desert Palace and discovered it was perfect and clean, but lonely and desolate; the name was a shockingly good metaphor for that suburban bungalo on the barely-built edge of Edmonton’s southeast-most suburb. (And to think it was originally named after the dullish yellow the builders had painted the walls).
But I am not the type to name things except recently when I was asked the name of my bike.
I named her Esther.
Now she seems like a person.
It’s not wrong to feel close to one’s bike in Berlin. Bicycles are the most useful form of transportation in this city. Wide sidewalks, sane drivers, flat grounds, and reasonable weather produce a perfect atmosphere for cycling. The bicycle is in fact the quickest form of transportation for most inner-city trips. Even if all your subway transfers align perfectly, a reasonably fit cyclist will usually beat you on a trip across town from Prenzlauer Berg to Kreuzberg. Trust me: it happens to me almost weekly.
I joined the cycling elite, hesitantly, a couple weeks ago. I picked up my bike from FroschRad (lit: frog-bicycle) a local builder with a good reputation for sturdy, no-nonsense bicycles. I bought a city bike brand new and named her Esther.
Esther is wonderfully light and nimble. So light, in fact, that I think the heavy locking chain I’m obliged to lock her with is as weighty as she is. She’s an 8-speed beauty with a rear-wheel Shimano shifter, but in the city I’ve never used more than four of her gears.
Light plastic rainguards keep the wet away, sliding dangerously close to her spinning wheels but never touching. Unlike most city bikes Esther doesn’t have a chain guard. Traditionalists would find this shockingly immodest on a city bike, but Esther isn’t one for the shackles of tradition, though she obliges a bit with her curved handlebars.
She’s black as night, and hardly a logo or aesthetic frill on her. She’s all business, and she’s good at what she does. When riding Esther I don’t feel like I’m riding a bicycle; I feel like I’m somehow sliding across the ground at a fantastic rate of speed. She shifts easily and never skips a tooth on the chain. She obliges my heavy pedal-falls without groaning or resisting. She stops when I grip her brakes tightly. She goes when I pedal. Is there not a more beautiful relationship between man and machine?
Esther is by far the most wonderful bicycle I have ever owned. I enjoyed my last bike, a brawny brute mountain-bike, but it was so full of muscle I felt like I had to fight it to really get moving. Its big chunky tires resisted pavement, and its front-fork offered little more than excess mass.
“Oh please,” it seemed to say, “you want to ride me on flat ground?” Then it would roll its eyes and accelerate half-heartedly.
Not Esther. Esther is happy to go where I take her. I think she’s happy just to be with me. We are a team. Maybe more.
I have to wonder if any of these thoughts would have developed had I not named her. But maybe I didn’t name her at all. Maybe Esther was always her name, and I merely had to discover it.