Sunday, June 26

Two months in Malawi: Bicycle

We live with cheat codes in the United States. Maybe not invulnerability and auto win but unlimited ammunition and double-speed build times for sure. In the United States I have a Gary Fischer. It has twenty-one speeds. It has front shocks. It has a solid frame. I can adjust the seat height to better fit me and allow full extension on the down pedal. It has knobby rubber tires, and a seat that is comfortable to sit on.

In Malawi I have a Humber. It has a single gear. It has no shocks. The brakes only barely work. The frame is held together by a few nuts in critical positions and is much too small for me. Even with the seat at its full height, my legs are never fully extended. My knee never makes an angle larger than one-hundred and ten degrees. The tires are smooth plastic, and I can’t sustain too hard of a turn to either side because the tire is so large and my feet so big that I would kick it on every revolution. The seat is made from the same plastic they make action figures from and offers no padding. Since the springs beneath the seat bent horizontally, it’s become more comfortable because my bottom rests on more than three narrow points. The Huffy I rode in the first grade was a better bike than the Humber.

The first time I rode it, pulling away from the shop, it shook so bad that I thought it was going to collapse into a puddle of screw, nuts and pipes. It probably would have if I had gone all the way back to our hostel because it needed immediate maintenance. I watched for an hour while the man tightened every nut, attached the brakes and bent the gears into shape so that the chain wouldn’t slip with every revolution.

In the game of life, the Humber is playing on the highest difficulty and employing the harmful cheat codes like one-hit kills against you. It makes even the lowest levels more exciting. I took my Gary Fischer across Spokane’s trails and down Beacon Hill and felt pretty good about that. With the Humber, driving on asphalt and over speed bumps is an adventure. It’s so off balance that it veers off course if I take a hand from the handlebars to scratch my nose. I have to fight up even minor hills in my single gear.

I will be glad to sell the Humber a few days before we leave Malawi and to be back on my Gary Fischer, but until then, I will enjoy my little daily rides down Malawi’s roads and be reminded of what biking was like a few decades ago and how far we’ve come.

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