The Bicycle Diaries – Part 4

September 16, 2016

Today’s entry has it all – a European setting amongst the majestic French Alps, a beautiful girl, a touch of crime…The protagonist of this tale is a young Aussie student named Mark. The experience detailed below would, unbeknownst to him at the time, become the catalyst of one of those moments in his young life which shall henceforth be known as ‘the end of things as he knew it.’ You know, the moments that hold within them something so special and transformative that it blows your young, fresh and impressionable mind? Well, that’s what this was. It says so in the first sentence.


It literally changed my life. I was milling around this university I had just started at on an exchange semester in the French Alps. My Norwegian buddy Simon walked past and said (in a thick Norwegian accent):

 “I am going to buy a cheap bike to get around on, want in?”


I was living in a student dorm 30 minutes walk from the university half way up a mountain called Chartreuse – I would later realise this is the same mountain where monks gather various grasses and herbs to make a liquor of the same name- perhaps you have tried it? Anyway, I was living there because it was the cheapest place in the town, so cheap you had to squat to go to the toilet! Getting around was pretty relevant, particularly ‘cause I was chasing a beautiful girl on the other side of town.


Simon had earlier received vague directions from his French friend on where to buy second- hand bikes. With a rough mud map (note the pre iPhone/ google maps date stamp), and our horribly broken/basically non-existent French, we navigated the back streets of a mostly deserted industrial estate. We stopped in front of a large shed that had a single piece of A4 paper with a sharpie sketch of a bicycle on it acting as the sign. Clearly, we had arrived. 


Inside was the Walmart of presumably stolen bicycles and bicycle parts. This is something I would now feel outrage at, but at the time, on my budget which often included living on less than a dollar a day, I saw through to the potential freedom a bicycle represented. We found a guy and started with ‘combien…brrr…velo? (Roughly translated as “how much bike”). Noting our international student status, he took us out the back of the shed and said “ganja,” motioning the smoking action and smiling. With the help of one of Simon’s friends on the phone translating, we eventually convinced the guy we weren’t currently in the market for weed, but rather what I now understand to be another international symbol of freedom (the bicycle). 


Riding away from that shed on the most beautiful red racer, I could feel in my legs (and heart), nothing was going to be the same again. 


You must be Curious Georges right now trying to figure out how Mark’s life was never the same again after he met this red beauty. Well, the short of it is that he returned to Australia, started a bicycle company and met a guy called Justin who had also started a company. They joined forces in business-y matrimony and BAM. Here we are today, writing a blog post for that very organization, *Spoiler Alert* which eventually grew up to beFive At Heart. What became of the red racer, you ask? Was Mark going to leave this fine steed behind in France? Oh cripes no! It could never have known what life had in store for it – the oceans it would cross, the Melbourne streets it would whiz down. In fact, if you take a squizz at nearly any piece of photographic content out of Five At Heart, you’ll almost certainly see it beaming back out at you.