A few days ago, my youngest son Adlan, pestered me to take off the extra wheel from his bicycle. At six, he was still riding with two side tyres; earning ridicules from his brother and sisters. At the same age, they were all cycling and swimming like duck to water. I didn’t believe him as he was normally afraid of roughing out but he persisted. Because I don’t have any tools, I took the bicycle to the shop. As soon as the side wheels were taken off, he took to the bicycle and zoomed away. Now, he was beginning to surprise me. Swimming lessons, next.
Adlan and his bicycle remind me of my own cycling lessons a great many years ago. Then there were only three types of bicycles. The ‘basikal norton’ or ‘basikal tua’ some would call, ‘basikal laki’ and ‘basikal pu’ang’. ‘Basikal laki’ (the male bicycle) was called so as it has a ‘batang’. [Batang, bar in English has a different connotation in Malay language]. The ‘batang’ of a bicycle has endeared itself to elderly Malay men. Ask them (discreetly) and they might tell you what it means.
A gender for bicycle was for those days of grace, elegance and strictly 'baju kurong'. Ladies’ pants, was yet to make its entrance. Then, ladies don’t ride ‘kekeng’ on a bicycle. So the top bar was removed and they have two lower bars for ladies bicycle instead. The adventurous girl who rode ‘basikal laki’ anyway was regarded as ‘macang jatang’ (tomboy) and any boy who ride a ‘basikal pu'ang’ would be sneered as ‘pondang’ (sissy).
Most of us learn to ride a bicycle on a ‘basikal norton’. The name ‘norton’ I guess was after the famous huge motorcycle long before we ever heard of Harley Davidson. Because it was huge, we have to ride ‘celah batang’ – between the bars. That requires a great balancing act and quick jumping off should the bicycle veered away. We all learnt the science of center of gravity pretty early. Once we master the balance, it was time to ride on the saddle. Because it was so high up, a sudden stop means landing hard, groin on the ‘batang’. ‘Aduh’!
Those years, the only brand of bicycle I recall was a ‘Raleigh’. Walk into a bicycle shop these days and bicycles were so varied its’ like a shampoo display. There are bicycles now for toddlers up to the big boys. Brands from local made to America to Italy to China. There are still some lady-like bicycles but even my daughters don’t take a second look at them. The choice was between ‘road-bike’, ‘mountain bike’ or ‘BMX’. Call it gender equality but Atin must get what Amir had. The big boys’ bicycles price mind you, can get you a secondhand Kancil. Then there were the gadgets, jerseys, helmets, sun-glass etcetera. If golfers wear Tiger Wood’s attire and use his endorsed golf clubs, the big boy cyclist competed on the latest of Team T-Mobile. Cyclists look to ‘Tour de France’ as golfers look to PGA for style.
Cycling reminded me of the story of Malaya’s early entrepreneur – Boon Siew, who started with a bicycle shop and ended with an empire of Honda agency. It reminded me too of Ah Kiang, the bicycle shop men in my village. In his standard attire of singlet and khaki shorts (they call it Bermudas these days) he was there making a living mostly by ‘tapung tiub’ for thirty cents or changing the ‘sumbu’ for ten. We would not change the tyre until it really ‘pancat’. I can still picture him, sitting on a wooden stool, pumping the leaking tube with air, dipping it in the trough, a 'tin minyak gas’ cut in half; of oily blackish soapy water, checking for bubbles, once found he set to sand with a ‘kikir’, applied the stinking glue and pasted a piece of cut tube over. He would turn to you and say, ‘Bocor sikek je. Mung tunggu kejak ah. Biar kering betul dulu. Baru buleh pang anging.’ He could have like the present days mechanics simply ‘tukar baru’ but he didn’t. He knew that we are all poor as he was not much better. Once in a while, when the fish catch was good would he be able to sell some bicycles. But he was always there to keep our bicycles moving, even on a Friday when a shout to him upstairs on his shop would see him coming down. ‘Mung sokmo’ he would say, ‘kacau aku nok tido je’. He was and will always be to me a picture of honesty. I wonder if he is still there, I wonder if it is still thirty cents to ‘tapung tiub’ of the bicycle.