INDEX

BIKEMAN
Nobody knows his true identity, or where he came from, but it's no mystery how he always seems to be everywhere at once: when he's on his bike he really flies. And nobody has ever seen him off his bike. He's Bikeman. He's a superhero.

Now, I haven't spared much thought to superheros since I was a kid. Even then they weren't at the top of my agenda. I was a long way from Gotham. They never made house calls to my neck of the woods. So imagine my surprise when I grew up, moved to Metropolis (couldn't get a job in Gotham), and bumped into one the very next day.

I was cycling down the high street when an unusually persistant bug finally caught up with me, evaded the security measures of lid and lash, and dive-bombed into one of the windows of my soul. Normally I can handle suicide missions, but this time I hadn't counted on Edna, who chose that moment to alight from her car in a blaze of indifference to anyone who might've had the adjoining couple of feet in mind for a bike lane, thus setting me up for an unscheduled and frankly unnecessary physics lesson.

As I struggled to understand the motivation behind the bug's attack, mere seconds from impact myself, I felt the whooosh of displaced air and sensed more than saw something red and blue and travelling at great velocity. Heard the unmistakable sound of a car door being closed smartly. Recognised out of the corner of my teary eye the surprised face of a motorist foiled in her attempt at egress. And finally coasted to a safe stop.

He was waiting for me, a faintly amused smile on his face, arms crossed, nonchalantly showcasing his heightened sense of balance with an impeccable trackstand. Still blinking, I offered my hand. He shook it without wobbling a millimetre. He had a grip of steel, a frame of titanium. His hand felt curiously frictionless, like teflon. His lycra looked so slippery that even sitting still he seemed to be moving at incredible speed.

"Gee, thanks, Bikeman," I said, for there could be no doubt what to call him. It was stenciled on his rain cape. (Bikeman is always prepared.) But even if I hadn't been so prompted, he obviously wasn't a Bob or a Nigel. Although we mortals are comfortable with our lack of superhero aura, he wore it like an old cycling mitt.

"I'm just glad I could help," he said modestly. "So many doors, so little time." Then he was gone.

We didn't cross paths for awhile after that, but he was nevertheless hard to avoid. Every cyclist had a close encounter and a story. Jenny's experience was typical. She'd been enjoying a routine commute when she realised to her horror that she'd over-tightened her toeclips and would in all probability fall into an unceremonious heap at some point. Luckily Bikeman can smell acute embarrassment a dozen city blocks away. No disaster is too small for him to lend a helping hand.

Then there's Bill, who had a particularly close call while mountain biking in Wales. His brake pads had jiggled loose on his ascent of Snowdonia, and when he started to race the train down - Bill's that kind of guy - he'd found himself reaching terminal velocity with emphasis on 'terminal'. Even though Bikeman was a double century away, his powerful hearing picked up the hopeless squeal of empty calliper on rim. He was there in a flash to save the day. He even installed new pads. Which was nice. Those little clips can be tricky.

The press doesn't quite know what to make of him. Tales of derring-do excite the public imagination, but the fact remains that it's still just a bicycling story. Problem solved.

Naturally, Bikeman has a nemesis or two. As a man of action it's frustrating that the bad guys often evade his grasp. For example, his patience is worn thin by poorly planned and implemented cycling facilities. It's one of the few times he feels powerless. White Van Man and other urban villains find him to be a wonderfully motivational speaker, however.

He does have an odd Achilles' heel in the form of carbon-fibre: impressed as he is with the technology, if he detects it in the vicinity none of his abilities work properly. Strength and speed desert him. He's subject to the same bonk that bedevils mere mortals. Even his Oakleys refract his Xray vision to disastrous effect. Fortunately if he remains unaware of the true composition of frames or components he's fine. It's entirely psychological, but still devastating.

I managed to catch up with Bikeman while he was relaxing - if that's the word - between emergencies. "Reintroductions are in order," I said, once again offering my hand. He was friendly but a little distant, distracted no doubt as he scanned frequencies of human distress that I could not begin to hear and wouldn't know how to handle anyway.

"Why do you do it?" I asked, primed for an endearing banality because, let's face it, good guys are boring. I'm no Freud, but I thought the answer might lie in his superego.

"I've been asking myself that same question," he said. I almost fell off my saddle. Quick as lightning he reached out a hand to steady me.

"Habit," he said, and it hung there in the air like a fragile speech bubble in a comic book.

I wasn't sure if he was answering my question or half-apologising for keeping me from tumbling onto the pavement.

"Is... something wrong?" I asked, uncertain how to proceed if he answered in the affirmative. How on earth could I possibly help him?

He was obviously struggling to contain profound emotions. I sensed the truth was about to erupt. Ever so slowly the tremours subsided. He sighed.

"So many doors, so little time."

Then he was gone.

Cycling Plus, August 2002

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