Monday, July 14, 2008

Wheel of Misfortune

My bike died yesterday. Or maybe not.

A few days ago I noticed a creaking sound when I pedaled, but it wasn’t coming from the pedals. It seemed to be caused by some motion when I was on the saddle, so I assumed the seat post had become dry and crusty — that makes bikes creak. So when I got home, I relubed the post. I also took apart and reassembled the bottom bracket cartridge, just for good measure.

But riding to work yesterday, the creaking sound was still there, perhaps even worse. At Lex and 60th, I stopped at a red light and examined the frame. There, like a chasm in front of me, I saw a crack. The ragged line girdled the bottom lug of the downtube on my beloved Bianchi Alfana.

I carried on to work but decided it would be stupid to ride home. I caught the N Train at 57th and 7th and took the subway back to Astoria. I went to the last car because it’s normally the emptiest. In the back, I stared at my frame, feeling melancholy. Here I was, with my beloved bike, knowing I may never ride it again.

I had half an hour to ponder. I’d never had a bike die of use and old age before. I was sad, but not angry. What if the bike had been stolen one day earlier? Then I’d have been pissed off. But really, what’s the difference? Either way, the bike had been taken from me.

Maybe it can be fixed — after all, it’s only steel. Tomorrow I’ll take it to my man at the Bicycle Repairman Corp and see what he says.

With boats, they say the only defining characteristic is the line: from profile, the curve on the top of the hull. Everything else can be fixed, welded, repaired and replaced. But you can never change the line.

The frame is the line of the bike. Everything else can be replaced, mended, modified or changed. The frame is the bike. This frame has been with me for 12 years, through bumps and speed and curbs, plus a few spills.

I’m a heavy guy who rides a skinny-tired road bike to commute to work in New York City. Maybe the bike is just the victim of my return commute on 58th Street, one of the worst in Manhattan. It’s one I often take because, well, it’s not 57th or 59th Streets. Or maybe the crack started back in 2005 when I wiped out on the Triborough Bridge.

The frame crack is natural in a way. Organic. A fatal flaw, but also just a wrinkle of old age. It’s hard to be angry; the bike has been good to me, probably better than I’ve been to it. That’s the beauty of bikes: a bike is there for you no matter what, like a loyal dog. But I’m allergic to dogs; all I’ve got is bikes.

Do I want a new bike? No. But I still can’t help but think maybe things could be better. I mean, my shifters don’t really work well any more in temperatures under 40º; the chain ring is no longer perfectly true; 650B wheels would let me put full fenders on the wheels... But these are bad thoughts I don’t want to think — it feels somehow unfaithful.

Along with the real loss, what is so horrible is the anticipation of dealing with the life afterwards. Shock replaced with feelings of loneliness, soldiering on, the future, and replacement. Guilt is a factor when one contemplates loss that hasn’t even happened.

After any great loss, life will almost assuredly be filled with joy eventually. Thinking of that too early seems to trivialize things. A couple of years ago I had to deal with the idea that my wife might die. The thought crossed my mind. To cut a long story very short, she didn’t.

My wife, hell, any person is more important than a bike. I don’t like personifying machines. You can’t buy love. But I can buy a new bike because I live a rich life in a rich country.

Yet the feelings I have for the loss of my beloved bicycle remind me of the sadness of human loss. It doesn’t even come close in terms of magnitude or degree, of course, but in spirit, in the nature of loss, sadness cares not for the source.

My bike is dead. I love my bike. I am sad.


Illustration by Mark Lazenby
Reprinted with permission from The Ride .


Anonymous said...

sorry to read that, I feel your hurt. If that helps.

John said...

What's the verdict? Can Andres fix it?

PCM said...

This happened back on March 15th (there's a little post about it). Sorry to make it sound current. The piece just got published which is why I'm posting it now (The Ride wanted me to wait till after the magazine was out).

Anyway, Andres just happened to have a similarly sized used steel frame laying about. So he transfered all the parts over. And had new used brake shifters to replace my failing shifters.

But my bike is now not as pretty. The frame isn't Bianchi Celeste green. Nor is she lugged. But she does ride very well.

John said...

Opps. I didn't realize it was an exerpt.

Well, I supose the "organ donor" type use of the componants softens the blow... if only a touch.

Granadacast said...


While I am saddened by the loss of your bicycle, before I realized that this post was an excerpt, I thought that you had, tragically, suffered the loss of two long-term bicycles in rapid succession. I'm glad it was just the one frame, and not _two_ Bianchi frames within the span of a few months.

PCM said...

I wish I had two Bianchi frame! Now I have none. Sniff.