By Jay Hudson — It’s easy to rent a bicycle, but it is likely you won’t find an antique. You can find, rent and ride one at “CYKEL UTHYRING” outside the city of Turku, Finland, not far from the capitol city Helsinki. Riding in Finland is not that difficult in most of the country and the backcountry roads are not carpeted with advertising and American fast food joints. They don’t demand a polished bicycling handling technique. In 1994 my wife and I had visited the family of an exchange student who had taken her High School senior year to study English and customs here in America.
I have found that the best way to see a country is to get on a bus and go to the end of the line. It’s cheap and if you sit near the driver, he will act as a tour guide. The other best way to see a country is to rent a bicycle. You can stop where you want, spend as much time as you want, experience the tastes, smells, costumes and practice saying “thank you” in the native language. All this avoids following a hired tour guide, keeping up with his “I’m over here” flag on a pole and missing most of what she says.
I could have rented a modern bike, but I wanted to see if I could feel what a Finnish rider felt when she went shopping for bread or wheat or milk when WWII was hot and she had to keep an eye open for incoming bombs, saboteurs, spies, threats to simply daily living.
I wondered who owned my rental bike in 1944, could she get safely from her home to the fields to find a missed potato for her hungry family. Was the bike used by a patriot in a ride-by killing of a known enemy sympathizer? When gasoline was severely rationed and people had to walk or depend on my rental bike for common daily details, did they cherish the bike not for its recreational value but for survival?
I looked for evidence of survival on my rentalbike. Were there repairs because parts were unavailable? Was the paint color unvaried during the war? Were there graveyards of abandoned bikes or was every broken bike saved because the owner of my rental valued every part for a future event unimagined. Perhaps the original owner laid on a blanket beside a slowly moving stream enjoying company during a lull in the fighting.
I didn’t care if the bike creaked, if it was scratched, handled roughly or seemed unworthy. I only hoped I would not be the cause of its true retirement. Its life was not over! May the next renter feel its history, its untold stories and it’s truly named “antique”.