Ah, Nora. I still remember that stolen night in Rome: 'I frutti proibiti sono i piu dolci,' * she whispered after a romantic tandem ride along the Via Veneto, to which I replied 'But I'm not forbidden my love, this ring I wear represents a contract null and void, I just can't get it off,' and she laughed, the way she does, and tugged playfully at it, then a bit harder, until she was gritting her teeth and really pulling now - it hurt like hell but that's love, it sometimes hurts like hell. She spat on her hands to get a better grip but it was no use. 'Loshka degtya ve bulke modje!' ** she growled in her mother tongue, the multilingual little minx. There were tears in her eyes. I tried to wipe them away but she just slapped me, muttering 'It's no use, the finger will have to go, you have others,' while casting about for a rusty blade in her purse. Finally she gave up her search with a huge sigh, her angel face melting into a pout, and told me 'It is not meant to be. We will meet again.' Then she disappeared into the night, taking the tandem with her.
* Italian for 'Forbidden fruits are the sweetest'
** Russian for 'One drop of tar spoils a whole barrel of honey'

My darling Claire met me at the door, tied in a ribbon of red handlebar tape but nothing else. 'I'll be with you in a sec,' I told her. 'I have to see to my bike. Just a wash and some light maintenance, promise.' I kissed my hand and pressed it against her lips, sealing our date. She gagged a little - perhaps my cycling mitts were a bit sweaty - and looked away demurely. I took the bike into the garage and got to work. It was really much dirtier than I'd thought. And the chain deserved a good degreasing. This would take awhile. But Claire would understand. As I was finishing up an hour later I noticed that the wheels weren't quite right. Never one to put off till later what I could easily do now, I gave 'em a spin on the truing stand, at one point running out to the shop to replace a bent spoke. While I was there the salesman introduced me to a new range of lubricants and, though I was anxious to get back to my patient Claire, I chatted with him pleasantly just to be polite because he was the new guy and the owner was out. It was late when I finally made it to the bedroom, tired but satisfied, only to find my paramour otherwise engaged. Let's just say I'd located the bike shop owner. A shame, really, because he used to give me a nice discount.

I don't like my women easy. I need a challenge to get my blood pumping. Katharine could see this in my eyes the moment we first met outside the train station. She was using a cable lock and had accidentally lassoed my front wheel to hers in the heat of the morning rush hour. I'd returned that evening and surveyed the situation with a pang of annoyance which quickly dissipated when she made her appearance. I was busy picking the lock when I heard the tap of metal on pavement (she rode clipless); a well-turned Team Estrogen-clad ankle was attached to a fabulous leg which merited closer inspection, at least after the scowl somewhat further north was dealt with. Of course after I showed her what she'd done the scowl disappeared, we conversed, and I asked her out.

A few dates later things were progressing nicely when I got my first clue that this was truly a girl to be reckoned with. After a romantic dinner at a bike cafe we went to her place and it was clear things were about to finally get biblical when I struck not gold but a reinforced tempered steel alloy. 'I haven't seen one of these for ages,' I told her, scanning the chastity belt for signs of weakness. It really was a good model, rated at 5+ minutes in the magazines. 'Give up?' she laughed playfully after a few anxious moments. 'Not on your life,' I told her, holding the whupped casing in my teeth 5+ minutes later. As our relationship progressed she introduced increasingly well-specced models to keep our foreplay interesting until eventually I had to admit defeat when presented with a fiendishly foolproof design specially handmade by master Italian locksmiths. Feeling utterly desolate and certain all was lost, I looked up and she smiled. In her teeth was the key.

She was a roadie and I never touched tarmac except under sufferance. Her tyre tracks could fit comfortably in mine and she used to say that made her feel safe. In the beginning we saw past our differences; it was a case of opposites attracting. I even got an audax bike to understand her better, and hunched myself over the drop bars in a posture of love. I rode hundreds of miles accompanying her on those hateful car conveyor belts, hoping she'd mistake my uncontrollable scowl for an insane grin of pleasure. Of course she was a good sport and accepted my gift of a borrowed mountainbike, her eyes as big as the knobbly tyres when she lost her virginity one misty morning on the sweetest singletrack I could offer. She tumbled off and immediately remounted, a desperate smile plastered on her face that I recognized well. We both tried, we really did. We half-convinced ourselves that we still had two wheels in common, and lots of other components besides. Many couples don't even have that, do they? But in the end the gap was too great to be constantly minded. After exchanging teary farewell speeches we kissed one last time on the boundary of dirt and macadam and went our separate ways.

Cycling Plus, February 2003