In our late spring the tulips are not yet sprung, but the Divvy bikes are. Like seedlings loosed from thawing ground, the Divvy bikers are appearing all over the city.
They are a motley bunch. Poor things, they do not wear a proper cycling kit. They have no Speedplay bike cleats. No Castelli bike gloves. No tights. The Divvy-look includes parkas, no helmet and dress pants.
They tend not to ride in straight lines, but wobble a bit and at a casual pace. If this were Middle Earth, they would be the halflings, half committed to fair weather bike commuting. But they are out.
There are other characters among the bike commuters. What English poet John Dryden said about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales applies to bikers: “here is God’s plenty.”
This morning I was accompanied from Milwaukee Avenue to the Loop by a cyclist I call Mr. Funk. I have seen Mr. Funk before. He has a milk crate strapped to his handlebars. He has another strap on the rear fender with a bag that says Baker Tilley. Could Mr. Funk be a lawyer?
He wears baggy tan pants that have not been pressed in several years. He wears a helmet that looks like it came from a World War I army surplus store.
The most noticeable thing about Mr. Funk is the ’70’s funk music blasting from speakers in his milk crate. Think of the horn section from a James Brown album. Playing. Loudly. All the way down Milwaukee Avenue.
You can hear Mr. Funk coming. Dunna dah, dunna dunna dunna dah. Sometimes, he is out of ear shot, but at a red light he re-approaches. Dunna dah, dunna dunna dunna dah.
When the light turns green, I pass him to regain my meditative silence, but there he is again, pedaling madly. Pulling ahead of me. Now leading me. Dunna dah, dunna dunna dunna dah.
Other characters ride past too. There is Speed Boy, the twenty-something cyclist on a fixie. It is nippy, but he is in bike shorts exposing his white legs and tattoos. He is the anti-Mr. Funk, quiet and fast. He slips past with a smooth cadence.
There are the Lovebirds. Two commuting cyclists riding side by side (which is no mean feat in traffic). They have loaded back packs and chat happily, oblivious to the cars. Then Lovebird One swerves into the car lane. He reaches in his jersey, withdraws his IPhone and films Lovebird Two as she pedals, capturing this lovely moment for all time or at least for snapchat.
There is the Knee Knocker, a woman cyclist whose left knee leans awkwardly into the bike frame with each pedal stroke. Asymmetrical. There is Clunker – the disheveled guy with a cigarette dangling who rides a rusty mountain bike still covered with road salt. Mr. Clunker, clean that bike.
These are my kin, my compadres, my fellow travelers. We move to one destination: the Loop, and claustrophobic cubicles and meetings that last too long. But for the moment we are unchained and, in the words of funkadelic singer James Brown, “I feel good.”