I have owned a number of bikes over the years.
My first was a wooden tricycle turned from the hands and heart of my great uncle Alf.
A Christmas gift from the early stages of my pre-pubescence provided my primary school ride. It was antiquated even when new, compared to the shiny alloy rigs of my contemporaries. But damn, good times were had with that rust ridden, heavy, old shit truck BMX. Wagging school, tadpoling and piffen yonnies. It also had sweet pegs and character.
Then there was my high school foot falcon; a red racer with a peeling paint job and dodgy breaks. Exceeding all expectations, that little battler accompanied me to the big smoke. There it got itself a tertiary education; it graduated as pub racer, first class.
That was my last bike of note until now. Traipsing the streets of Phnom Penh by foot is hot, dusty and dangerous work – you have to walk on road as most pavements are a maze of parked cars, motos and street stalls. Two weeks of that caper proved long enough for Amy and I to reach a consensus. It was time we both got back in the saddle.
Sunday morning, we ventured up to Street 105. We had been assured it was the bicycle enthusiast’s strip of dreams and we certainly weren’t disappointed. More than a dozen adjacent shops hock bikes of all shapes and sizes and in various states of disrepair. Rows upon row pack the stops and spill out on to the pavements.
With so many rigs to choose from you would have thought it might take a while but I wandered into the first bike shop and POW! My eye was immediately drawn to a battered orange beast; forgotten in a dusty corner, broken and beautiful.
I excitedly pointed it out to the battle-hardened broker of bikes. She didn’t share my enthusiasm but after a lengthy shuffle of broken bike bits my orange charger emerged.
I took it for a test drive. Wobble in the front wheel… check. Rust… check. Bell and basket… check. Busted front breaks… check. Mud flap… check. Broken light… check. Yep, it had it all. I should have brought it then and there but commonsense told me I should look around before buying.
I wandered the other shops inspecting their pedal powered wares without much interest. Amy selected a sassy little red number then completed some very impressive negotiations. Despite the persistent attentions of numerous salesmen my thoughts kept returning to the orange beast.
It turns out, commonsense is rubbish. I was like Bastian after he had discovered of the Neverending Story in a dusty corner of Carl Conrad Coreander’s bookshop. I knew I couldn’t leave without that bike. It was clear to me that I had only come to the shop because of this bike. It had called me in some mysterious way, because it wanted to be mine, because it had somehow always belonged to me.
Amy briefed me on the art of the haggle. I devised an elaborate bargaining strategy. I returned to the shop and asked for a price. Timidly, I suggested a lower price. It was refused with gusto. Frightened, I quickly paid my 35 dollars.
I waited impatiently while extensive repairs were undertaken to ensure road-worthiness. Then, finally the wait was over. Beaming with pride, I wheeled my trusty new steed out onto the street. Bending forward, I whispered, “you will be known as the Phnom Penh Flyer”.
We mounted our steeds and embarked on the first of many adventures on the roads of Phnom Penh.
Much to my embarrassment and the amusement of onlookers, for the first hundred meters the Flyer and I were like a lust-struck teenager fumbling in the dark. This initial awkwardness was quickly forgotten as we found our groove. It turns out that riding a bike is just like… riding a bike.
Caught up in a euphoric freedom forgotten since my first training wheeled trundle of the McKenzie Street footpath I momentarily forgot my surrounds. Coming to, the Flyer and I found ourselves in the middle lane of Monivong Boulevard, one of Phnom Penh’s major traffic arteries. Cars, trucks and motos flew by thumping their horns in anger and venting their frustrations in Khmer.
Obviously, the Flyer and I lived to tell of this terrifyingly fun ride, as did Amy and her ride. Just as Bastian’s discovery of the Neverending Story allowed him to experience the wonders of Obviously, the Flyer and I lived to tell of this terrifyingly fun ride, as did Amy and her ride. Just as Bastian’s discovery of the Neverending Story allowed him to experience the wonders of Fantasia, my discovery of the Flyer has provided a means to explore the hidden gems of Phnom Penh.