What would The French Dispatch’s cycling journalist — as portrayed by the inimitable Owen Wilson — do if he took a fall at UBC? Well, I’d tell you what I’d do if I was riding that beat: I’d go to the Bike Kitchen.
In honour of Wes Anderson’s masterpiece and UBC’s Bike Kitchen, let us use the time machine of poetic license to take a site-seeing tour of all our fair and rainy campus has to offer. As we are confined to our two-wheeled steeds we must avoid stairs at all costs — while that’s limiting, the going sure is smoother.
We enter at the bus loop, cruising across the many-laned Wesbrook Mall and nimbly dodging 99s. We are sweaty but heartened after vanquishing the successive hills that guard UBC’s eastern approach. Passing between the metal guards placed to dissuade cars we experience the cyclist’s greatest satisfaction — shifting between the status of vehicle and person wherever convenience strikes.
We cruise past Boulevard and Loafe, waving to friends sipping coffee or beer on patios. Onwards, we roll over the stone-wrought shadow-tree — you probably didn’t even notice it. We pass the bookstore and feel our wallets magically lighten. We take a right and swerve under the Nest. Look to the knoll, that familiar green nub, where a corner of UBC spirit still remains. Students lean on trees and laugh with friends. A bunch of barefoot longhairs have set up a slackline on the other side of the square. It brings a smile to the face.
In the middle of it all, UBC Rec is setting up Storm the Wall — a hallowed UBC tradition that is equal parts team relay-race and military boot camp drill. We can only assume the fences surrounding the wall have been erected in memory of the students who burned it to the fucking ground in 1978. You have to admire the obstinacy of their medieval interpretation of “storm.” In the following forty years, it has been tradition for intramural staff to guard the wall 24/7 during the event, guarding it helplessly against an inevitable second burning.
We ride on toward Irving K Barber — this used to be UBC’s main library, and the original façade of stonework remains. Did you know UBC is over 100 years old? Did you know that’s really not that old at all? It’s okay though, we do land acknowledgements.
We ride to IKB’s left-hand side because man, is that pavement smooth. But be careful on rainy days, for it is a crowded corridor, and if umbrellas are present you can bet they’ll be wielded with all the presence of mind of a chicken at feeding time. Despite this city’s pervasive precipitation, bad umbrella etiquette is an epidemic; those spikes will take your eye out as you speed by, and the ensuing crash might just trigger your first visit to the Bike Kitchen. But just so long as I’m on the topic — UBC, why don’t we just dispense with the umbrellas? History has not been kind to those that fear the rain.
Do make sure to slow down though, these people think the sidewalk is meant exclusively for walkers, and we aren’t trying to make enemies here. Bike lanes are in enough trouble as is. I am aware that swerving around sidewalkers is obnoxious but, until UBC builds bike lanes, I have no choice besides walking — you’ve probably gathered how I feel about that.
We ride straight on that smooth, smooth concrete as the bell tower tolls and we smile at each other because wow is it nice to ride on a sunny day with birds singing — that 10,000 word paper just doesn’t seem so bad when you’re cruisin’.
We mount back up and cruise towards the Forestry Building, but something is not ticking quite right; the pedals aren’t moving so smoothly. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably just ignore it for a couple of weeks — but eventually, something must be done. You grease your chain. Nothing changes. Your bike expertise has failed you and the pedals aren’t turnin’ like they used to. What are you going to do? Take the bus and surrender your agency to TransLink’s every whim?
You struggle on but it’s not so smooth anymore. Your focus is gone — but hey, she’s cute, did she smile at — BAM. Much like Owen Wilson’s beret-adorned reporter, you’re down, and possibly out. People gasp and probably giggle (speaking from experience here). Thankfully, only your ego is bruised — but your faithful steed isn’t looking so good. The chain is twisted, the spokes are askew. Disaster has struck.
So, we limp over to the Bike Kitchen where we are greeted with a sympathetic grin and a greasy handshake. Here are the tools. Here’s how to use them. With some help we fix the bike and learn a new skill to the sweet sounds of the Foo Fighters. My last visit ran me $40 (including parts) for a fix I know would have set me back north of $150 at a normal bike shop.
If you are reading this in 2022, you are reading a call for help. The Bike Kitchen is going under and after a failed AMS referendum to fund it, its future relies on the goodwill donations of skint students. But it isn’t too late: there’s another referendum planned for next year.
This isn’t just about the Bike Kitchen, it’s about the soul of UBC. It can be a campus where grease monkeys help students at a reasonable price and in doing so hold off the forces of Sauder-austerigentrification for just a little longer. So help out, or just go for a ride, head down to Wreck. Do something for the soul. Save the knoll. Beware the university-industrial complex.
If you somehow ran across this in the internet archive, you might be reading a eulogy for affordable bi-pedal locomotion at UBC. Don’t cry over it: go get your gears turnin’.
To the Bike Kitchen: long may you run.