When you talk about your bike do you call it a he or a she. We are now more than ever gender neutral so I find myself in a dilemma as to how I should address my bike. I have an old bike called Harriette HILLMAN. She was built 32 years ago and was definitely a she to me, I was 21 years old and a female so I was not into riding anything with a masculine name. Harriette has been sworn at by many a man as we cycled together, because back last century female road racers trained and rode in the men’s veteran section of races because we didn’t have enough women. I was very proud to be a female on a female bike passing the men. Then my partner bought a new bike and he came home talking about it with a masculine name and I wondered about the identity of bikes.
They have a sleek streamlined shape that to me has always been feminine, and yet they have the tough hard masculine parts that denote a masculine identity. The word derailleur sounds so feminine and yet the part right nearby the crank set reminds me of my husband on a Sunday morning, hence masculine. How do we resolve the question of whether your bike is masculine or feminine. I think it depends on the relationship you have with your bike. Do you talk to it as you clean it? Do you complain to it when you are pushing a high gear and she makes your legs scream? Do you yell at him when you change gears and he doesn’t respond fast enough? I do. I really don’t want to call my baby an it, so for now my bike is going to be called HH and that way it can be a Harriette or a Harry HILLMAN. What is your bike called?
I had my bike built for me last century. When we talk about vintage bikes, mine falls into the “oh my goodness do they still make those”. I was 21, studying and working at the same time, so every month or whenever I could afford it, I would buy a new item for my bike, I wanted to use only Campagnolo hand made parts. When I had the frame built, I had an old bike that I used for training, I used the parts from the old bike on the new frame which were then swapped over as I could afford the new parts. Let me say now it’s a Reynolds 531 double butted hand lugged frame built for my 162cm size. The man who built the frame had built my father and uncle’s racing bikes, both of whom had raced for years in Australia. My baby was one of the last bikes he built before he retired. Her name is Harriette HILLMAN after the builder. Harriette has travelled with me for 25 years on all our postings around the world, but when we moved to Libya I thought I would not cycle in the chaotic traffic so she was shipped back to Oz. We moved to Holland and I made a trip back to Australia to see family but more to bring her back with me.
She had been hanging in our garage for 8 years, her tyres were flat, but there was not a single rust spot on her. She looked dull and in need of love. I took her to a bike shop where they packed her up into a box and I brought her back to Holland. I had been looking around to try to find a bike company whom I thought may be able to help me bring her back to new, then one day I stumbled into Snel fietsen. From the moment I walked into the showroom, I felt like this was going to be my place. The guys looked like bike geeks, the shop smelt like grease, and the friendliness was so comforting. I understand that having to work on Dutch street bikes will make some people ambivalent about bikes, but these guys see every bike as a piece of beauty. When I took Harriette in to Snel fietsen they were so enthuastic over an old girl that you could feel her lug work shiver.
They pulled Harriette apart, down to the ball bearings in the hub, which by the way were still nicely greased and almost smooth. And piece by piece they cleaned and put her back together. When I built Harriette to race I thought I only needed twelve gears, hence the size of the frame and the special Campagnolo pedals, however this means we have no space to put in a third front freewheel (thank goodness for flat Holland). I still had a dynamo front light on the bike, which included melted tar on the rear tyre from cycling on the hot melted roads in France 20 years ago. The guys cleaned it all off, and re-trued the wheels. These guys are so wonderful they chased all over Holland to find tyres to fit, because of course wheel sizes have changed and Harriette no longer is the same as everyone else’s. Each part was greased, brakes were renewed, they even managed to find a set of cables which meant we could move the gear system up onto the handlebars - yes folks we used to change gears with our hands down near our feet. These cables were found in their museum, making me feel my age.
During all this I felt we had many a campagnolo loving moment, with the guys hiding their boredom of me when I kept dropping in to oversee what was happening and listening to an old woman tell of her touring rides. I loved the work they did on Harriette and I have so much faith in their building experience that I then went on to have a bike built for my partner. He can tell you of his experience in another story. For me if you see and old lady, pottering along on a beautiful Blue Hillman, say hello to Harriette and thank Snel fietsen for their loving care!