In northeastern Alabama, north of Muscadine where a quiet country road crosses Highway 78, there was a rundown biker bar by the side of the road. Outside was an old sign that read “Bikers Welcome.” It became something of a running joke between Jason Perez and me, that someday we would walk in, bikes on our shoulders, and order strawberry daiquiris. As an ex-Marine, it wasn’t like Jason was some willowy figure or hadn’t been in rough places. It is reflected the obvious point that there were two irreconcilable biker cultures in the world, and never the twain would meet.
Well, maybe not. Maybe in Kosovo. After all, there I was on one of the main streets of Prishtina,
riding in the dark just behind four Harleys, their riders in black leather jackets that read “Kosova Free Wolves” on the back. Behind me were about 140 cyclists, from young kids to teenage mountain bikers to old men, blowing whistles and yelling like it was a Mardi Gras rave on wheels. The motorcyclists were escorting us on a 10 km circuit through the city, slicing through traffic and blocking off sidestreets, until we ended up at Prishtina’s “bike-friendly café.”
The bike café was new, set in Dragodan just a short walk from our apartment, and had been opened in late July by its owners Vera and Arlind (“Lindi”). Lindi explained he had built most of the interior, from the brickwork to the tables and chairs. Knowing how most construction takes place in Kosovo (Dragodan is full of it), it was easy to believe. No one could buy this sort of look, not here. It was small, was out of the way, but seemed immediately successful with the locals, even those who didn’t care about the bicycling motifs. It also immediately became the jump-off point for all of our local weekend bike rides- 7:45am, just when the bakery delivered the fresh croissants.
But they HAD advertised it as the “bike friendly café.” so here, one August afternoon last year, the other biking culture appeared. I wasn’t on my bicycle that day, had just dropped by, and they are on the narrow street were ten particularly large motorcycles. In there, seated around a table on the deck, were ten particularly large motorcyclists. They fit in- why not? And considering how much beer they were drinking, why would Lindi even suggest their bikes were the wrong ones? Cyclists are horrible for cafes, quaffing a quick coffee and then off on the road, little else. It was funny seeing the motor gang there, but this being Kosovo, it wasn’t enough.
Lindi and Vera didn’t just want a café, they wanted to change Kosovo culture and attitudes toward cycling. While it was great that “real” cyclist came and parked our bikes at the café, we were considered the crazy ones. To counter that, why not be even crazier? So, in cooperation with a group called Critical Mass, they started organizing group bike rides at night, the idea being to get normal people out on normal bikes, and get them in the streets as a sort of cultural protest/demonstration/celebration.
Last fall, once a week for the chilly nights of October, large groups of cyclists went out in the streets. It was nothing more than a 12km loop through the downtown and back, but like with all things in the Balkans, being quiet and polite doesn’t change things.
The traffic is still crazy, we don’t see the motorcycle gangs that often, but the Bike Café is still about the best place in town.