Ben & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“Have you got a name for your bike?”
“Yes. It’s got four letters, it begins with ‘c’ and it can’t be uttered in the daylight.”

It’s summer in Beijing. It’s too hot to walk anywhere. It’s too hot to sit on the bus. It’s definitely too hot to be crammed on the Batong Line trying to read Leaves of Grass with some dude’s armpit in your face. That’s why I bought an electric bike from a friend of mine for £30. That’s about a quid for each mph, or about a quid for each minute before the knackered battery (which weighs about the same as a baby African Bull Elephant) starts giving up. It has a headlight and an indicator which, like any Beijinger, I choose to ignore most of the time. It keeps, like David Bowie in Labyrinth, pulling slightly to the left.

In the winter, I occasionally borrowed a friend’s moped for the short ride to work. I felt like the protagonist of a French New Wave movie, waving at pretty Chinese girls while majestically weaving in and out of city traffic. My relationship with the new bike is a little more complicated. It’s like having a friend who you enjoy hanging out with but who’s never quite there for you when it really matters. The kind of mate who you end up occasionally shouting at or kicking or calling all sorts of names associated with the female pudenda*.

Weaving majestically is not often on this bike’s agenda. Words like ‘sputtering’ ‘stuttering’ and ‘wtf’ are more appropriate. Waving at Chinese girls without being tipped over the handlebars remains unlikely. But it always seems to serve its purpose, which is leading me from A – usually along some slow, meandering, inconsistent route – to B.

It reminds me of the character Columbo, who bumbles around for 45 minutes, annoying the crap out of the celebrity guest star before suddenly proving that they are, in fact, the murderer.

It reminds me of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor Who, who spends six weeks arsing about on a space station before suddenly using his knowledge of electro-magnetism to repel an invasion by the Cybermen.

It reminds me of relying on a sat nav that keeps leading you astray but, just as you are screaming profanities at the top of your lungs, suddenly announces proudly “You have reached your destination!”

As a matter of fact, the bike reminds me of myself, and of a lot of my friends both here and back home. All of us flawed and slightly eccentric (two absolute musts to be a friend of mine), often unreliable and occasionally downright useless, sometimes even a bit of a heinous fucking cunt.

But always getting there in the end.

*I swear like a marine, by the way. I’ve only met two people in my entire life who use four letter words more than I do. I try to bowdlerize myself a little here in the blogosphere.