Velointerlude: On Names

Back in August and September (mostly), I wrote a few things for a project that never quite got off the ground. Call it my own vanity—I will, even if you won’t—but a couple of those things might want to see the light of day. And so, for those of you who like bikewriting, or just want to know what my excuse was for neglecting philosobabble for so long, here you go.

Cyclists can be divided into two, not necessarily exclusive, groups:

a) those who name their bikes
b) those who think group a) is nuts

As a standard bearer for the nuts, and a habitual namer, I’d like to explain the (il)logic behind Kermit, Karl, van Pelt, Junior, Shiny, Battleship Stupid, Igor, Rosie, Templar, Sophia, Wilberforce, Phaedrus, Valentine, and Marianne Kate to those who Just Don’t Get It. Not that I think I’ll win any converts, not that I think I’ll get any fewer funny looks, not that I’d even want to win converts or receive fewer funny looks—but, just maybe, I would like to understand the Crazy Things We Do, and what it says about us.

Of course there are the puns. “Karl” may be the best name for a Kona Rove ever,* and van Pelt the Linus? Groan if you must, but it fits. Sometimes obscure historical and literary references? Whether it’s the Knights Templar riding two to a mount (tandems, anyone?) or a Shakespeare play, we’ve got those as well. Really obscure references to past incidents and old bikes, names given by friends, obliquely making fun of your own clumsy tendency to crashing? Ditto. Names given because, goshdarnit, they just fit? Why bother with excuses, just go with it.

Phaedrus

Phaedrus

And, to some degree, names are a reflection of the owner. Of course I named the bike I got during grad school after a Platonic dialogue. So Typical. It’s also the name I saw painted on a yellow bikeshare bike at a liberal arts college in Minnesota I visited years before I’d ever read Plato. It’s also also a winking nod at my own clumsiness, and the Greek myth of Phaethon. Somehow, having a bike with an overly complex name that works on several levels seems appropriate.

But there’s also something in the bike that determines the name, some reason why Marianne had to be “Marianne,” something about how she’s more than just a piece of metal with two wheels tacked on but rather has unique and individual qualities, almost verging on personality. Perhaps names are a way of acknowledging this individuality, the quirks that make our own bikes different from all others.

Val the Inschwinnerator

Valentine the Inschwinnerator

Names acknowledge the bike’s role in your shared adventures. Call it cheesy, call it shameless anthropomorphizing, call it prime fodder for Dr. Freud, but it seems almost impolite to refer to the bikes that have carried me through so many miles, unfamiliar paths, new roads I’ve passed a thousand times but first decided to take today, and half-baked ideas as if they were just mere mass-produced objects, just like all the others, replaceable on a whim. No doubt Schwinn made many Le Tours in Greenville, Mississippi during 1987. I’m sure that many of them still enjoy long and storied careers with their current owners. But only one was purchased by pure dumb luck for $5.50 at a CUA police auction; was with me the first times I rode to Baltimore, rode a century, rode the 50 States; keeps getting hitched to the WABA Bike Ambassador trailer and run up and down every “you’re kidding, right?” hill in DC; came with me when I rode the C&O with my parents, including a memorable afternoon spent in a hailstorm out past White’s Ferry; and has survived any number of my ill-advised attempts to race folks on carbon bikes, intentionally misread maps, take the road best not traveled, set KOM’s on Strava, and be first in line at Shortcake so I can get the last chocolate croissant. I didn’t do those things by myself, really; I did them with Val.

Couldn’t have done it without ‘im. After all these thousands of miles and misadventures we’ve shared, I’m using his name.

*Sorry Kermit.

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