A couple of years ago my mother had open-heart surgery at the Whittington Hospital in Archway in North London. As luck would have it, they opened her chest and unplugged her main arteries on my birthday. I had visions of her dying on my birthday. I flew out from Israel to London and hung out at her house in Muswell Hill, taking buses to the hospital every day. It took ages to travel the few kilometers to the hospital and cost at least several pounds (about 20 shekels) every time I visited her.
At some point, I took the bus past the hospital, down to Camden Town, I wanted to go to a bike shop called Chamberlaines, to get some Specialized Armadillo tires. Armadillo tires have steel lining and you can ride for years without punctures, they are generally not available in Israel and I wanted to bring a couple back.
There’s a pawn shop just before Chamberlaine’s and I noticed they had some bikes so I popped in for a look. One of them was called a Ridgeback. It had carbon fibre front forks, a very narrow handlebar and large racing-bike wheels. It was neglected and sad but you could tell it was once a fine bicycle. They wanted 120 pounds (720 Shekels). I noticed that its tires were called Marathon Plus. Not a brand I knew.
I went down to Chamberlaine’s wondering about the bike. I asked if they had Armadillo’s and the attendant said they didn’t but “why didn’t I use Marathon Plus tires which are the best?”. I said, “How much do they cost?”. “25 pounds each” came the reply.
In other words the 120 pound bicycle had 50 pounds worth of tires on it. It was clearly worth a shot. I went back and bought it for 110 pounds, then had Chamberlaine’s pump up the tires and replace the brakes. I rode my new purchase straight to Condor’s bicycles on the Gray’s Inn road in central London, another institution.
It took me 15 minutes to get to Condor’s, instead of the hour or so it would have eaten up on foot and public transport. I bought a 30 pound Abus U-lock (they cost over 400 Shekels in Israel and are hard to find) and some lights. Then I cycled to the hospital, which took 20 minutes. For the first time since I had arrived, I felt optimistic.
The Whittington Hospital is at the foot of Highgate Hill, one of the steepest hills in London. As a cyclist I often made a big detour to avoid Highgate Hill. On this occasion I got out of the hospital feeling elated, my mother was recovering and I felt like testing my new purchase, so I went straight up the hill. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I remember an astonished bus driver staring at me.
The bicycle was a Ridgeback Genesis Day 02. They are out of production now and anyway you can’t get Ridgebacks in Israel. I later found a document describing who had made it in the seat column. Its known as a “flat bar racer” (sometimes called a performance bike) and was the first of a kind now taking over in London which are racing bikes with slightly wider tires and comfortable mountain bike style handlebars. It is very fast and comfortable to ride and the best bicycle I have ever owned.
Fortunately I had flown with El Al. They take bicycles for no extra cost. I got a used bicycle box from a bike shop and put the bike in it, removing the pedals, front wheel and handlebars.