In light of our new Retrovelo bicycles coming in early this week, I thought we could get into the Retrovelo spirit by sharing a poem by Seonaidh Davenport from Seattle, Washington. Seonaidh writes about her beautiful blue Klara in this poem.
William Hsu | My Dutch Bike
Put It on a Table
Ode to Bluebird
I have chosen the “Put It on a Table” exercise outlined by Daniel Pink. The object of focus in the Retrovelo bicycle that my husband gave me for my fortieth birthday over a year ago. The shipment from Europe was delayed, so Brian gave me a photo, which I fell in love with. Every few days we checked in on the progress, and the anticipation built up deliciously. Finally, the thrilling visit to the store to see it and touch it and make the color choice!!! I felt like I imagine picking out a diamond might—it reminded me of the glow of shopping for a ring after he proposed. I named her Bluebird.
When I look at and ride Bluebird, it makes me think of….
I confess that I think about my Bluebird a lot: I ride it almost every day, and for the summer, she was casually propped on her kickstand on our backyard path, fetchingly positioned against the iris and hammock, as shown on the cover to this document (though be warned, the blue isn’t coming through nearly as fetchingly as it does in real life).
Every time my eyes follow her lines, I think of my husband, his generosity, his sense of style, and the sheer joy I take in our marriage. But I confess, my joy in the bike has very much to do with its form and the way I feel when I ride it.
Bluebird is the cycling equivalent of a European sports car from an earlier era. She is curvy and sleek, powerful and compact, and I feel as glamorous as Vesper Lynd (hopefully not as ill-fated).
Other powerful emotions:
. . . Self-reliance. Stepping on and powering my bike with my muscles, going where I need to go, quietly, feeling the miles and seeing the sights, smelling the smells, and hearing all the sounds.
. . . The atavistic joy of precisely swooping around corners and coming back upright again… it recalls a quick turn skiing down a groomed slope, the delight of banking a small plane.
. . . Puckish delight in arriving at a hotel and having a bellman hand me a valet ticket for my bike as I check in.
I feel racy, I feel naughty and sexy and beautiful on this bike. And it doesn’t hurt that I almost can’t go for a ride without someone complimenting it. So I guess the other emotion, not so pretty, is vanity? That does make me feel a little squirmy. But I love that it is also a great conversation starter, too, with other cyclists.
How does Bluebird affect each of my five senses?
I associate myriad smells with the bike: the smells of the bakery in the morning when I dash out for pastries on a weekend and the smells of the stands at the farmer’s market stand out most prominently, but it is really the fact that I travel and smell the world around me on my bike that I love. I was going to say the bike itself doesn’t have a smell, but that isn’t quite true: there is the smell of the wooden saddle that reminds me of the saddle I used to soap and oil meticulously when I rode my horse as a girl. There is the slight back-of-the-palate brush of metal and bike oil as well.
I haven’t licked Bluebird, but I do confess I consider it from time to time.
Being able to hear the world around me is lovely. But three distinct audio cues: slight squeak of the srings on my saddle as I pedal, setting a metronome beat that I’ve come to find comforting.
What I do NOT hear, though, is the rattle of ill-fitting fenders or juddering racks. My paniers fit smoothly and the machine holds together with an almost Teutonic rightness.
I revel in the old-fashioned rrrr-rrring, school-marmish and playful at the same time. Whether warning a pedestrian of my presence or bantering with my husband and daughter on their bike bells, that sound makes me smile.
As does hearing the leitmotif for the wicked witch of the west being hummed in my wake.
The sense I have is of an utterly perfect composition and balance in form and color. Bluebird has a deliciously sensual palette of cornflower blue, cream-colored tires, and warm leather browns. Every line is considered and crafted with great care, with not a whisker out of place. The frame is compact and steel, strong as a little Arabian. Every joint is smooth or makes honest declaration of itself in a well-placed bolt. Headlight and taillight are delightfully retro – the headlight is rather like one off an old jalopy–but wickedly powerful, driven by my pedaling.
The internal hub and chain casing are discreet and tidy, superb for city riding. The proportions are dead-on, rack and frame and fork just perfectly balanced and solid. Except for a single penciled stroke outward of brake cables, every cable is cleanly and lovingly contained within the frame.
My Fat Frank tires, a cross between 30’s-seeming motorcycle wheels and the lushly upholstered bench seats of a celebrity’s car in the same era….they can only be described as creamy and ample.
In short, the lines of every component work in harmony with every other, with superb detailing and a jaunty confidence.
I will go ahead and say it. Bluebird begs to be caressed. Smooth joints, clean lines, perfectly integrated. Cool colors you almost want to dip your fingers into. I do brush my fingers over the lines of the triple crown fork post now and again, just because the art deco detail is so luscious.
This is tied up with the form. Because it is so carefully crafted, because of all the choices coming together, it is a delectable riding experience. As you might guess from the soundtrack, I sit upright. Positively, Danishly so. I love riding in a little dress to meet my husband somewhere, but it’s just increadibly pleasing no matter what I am wearing to walk outside and step through to ride, whatever the clothing, whatever the shoes (high heels or flip flops, but please no cleats).
The bike is stable, the fat tires give a smooth ride and I positively revel in crossing railroad tracks. The saddle is comfortable and grows more so as the leather shapes itself to my body. Brakes are drum brakes, so they are crisp and responsive. The internal hub gear shifters that allow for twisting handles eliminates little levers. They also provide quite a nice range of gears, so I can go really anywhere comfortably. All wearing exactly what I like.
Now, I must confess, there is the matter of Gear 5. Right in the middle of the range, a sudden downshift to 5 sometimes leaves me with gears slipping, lost pedal footing and a surprising shock to the pelvis. Like a temperamental horse, so I’m even almost fondly resigned to that, I suppose.
But truly, every component works together to sing as I ride, whether along the sound on the Myrtle Edwards trail with the glorious vista of the Olympic Mountain Range across the Sound, or the most mundane of errands.
Oh how I love thee, my Bluebird.