Selling a Friend Down the River
The undeniable truth is that I bond with inanimate objects.
Before you laugh at me, know that I am not alone. I am in the company of all the others like me, the ones not laughing as they read this because they know exactly what I’m talking about. One of my best friends is a set of bureau drawers – a dresser -- which, by the way, would never think of laughing at me. But it doesn’t stop with the dresser. So many friends do I have that if wealth were measured, as it should be, in numbers of friends, you should envy me.
Much as I’d like to tell you more about my dresser – its character, its style, its soft oil finish, its absolute reliability and undying loyalty – and about any number of other prized possessions, given that this is a bike blog I’m going to limit myself to a certain bicycle.
There have been several, of course, and it’s difficult to hold myself back from a flood of reminiscence about each. Each one I shaped and formed, making it into something better – not all at once, in haste, to suit my own whims; but slowly, thoughtfully, one change at a time as I discerned a need, recognized an untapped talent, spotted a potential, and found a means --- an accessory, an adjustment, a substitution – to nudge the bike another increment towards perfection.
But one of my bikes required no nudging, as it came into this world a perfect being. Even the contemplation of a change felt like borderline sacrilege. Motobecane Grand Touring was its name, born in 1975, in a period where every serious piece of sports equipment was designed for men. The darn thing never quite fit me. Its wheelbase extended about two inches beyond my comfortable reach.
So how then, was it perfect? Let me count the ways.
Never mind, first of all, that I was routinely overtaken by every other cyclist on the road (including the ones with training wheels). While a lesser person might blame that on the size-wrongness of the bike, in truth my speed in all aspects of life has rarely exceeded that of the rest of the human race. Compounding the innate lack of velocity is an unwillingness to press my body into unnecessary service.
Ever since I got away from the nuns and discovered that self-flagellation in all its various forms could be entirely abandoned, I’ve wantonly shirked any activity with even a chance of becoming an ordeal. Dooming even further any hope of casting myself as an athlete of any measure, I’ve found myself unendowed with the palest molecule of competitiveness. I stand ready to bow out of the way of anyone trying to get anywhere before I do, with a swoosh of my arm and a friendly “after you!”
Just how does one determine the quality of a sports machine if one is neither an athlete nor a machinist? What are the signs of excellence?
The proof of that bike was that, left to its own devices, unencumbered by reliance on a flawed human power source, it never failed to outrun everyone else on the road. On the flats I endured being passed by slugs on tricycles. But I sought full compensation on the downhills.
With determined turtleness, my unathletic self made it to the top of the McKenzie River Pass on this bike, a series of tortuous hairpins with the reputation of being the most difficult climb of the entire bi-centennial cross-country bike route -- and I beat every living being in my path down the straight East side of it, screaming all the way to Sisters. And as I passed bike after bike and even the occasional car, I made the final mental adjustment that propelled me to athletic stardom and a place on the Olympic pedestal in my head: I pretended that the ground was flat.
If you want to know what the word “infinity” means, hold this bike up off the ground and spin the wheels -- your arm will snap before they ever stop. In case anybody’s still out there looking for the perpetual motion machine, this is it, right here.
Another test: If, after you dissect the entire bike piece by piece and you clean every element thoroughly and fill the hubs with perfect shiny orbs of steel and pack new grease where grease belongs, it all clicks precisely back together like a Swiss watch, that would be a sign.
I’ve ridden the rim of Crater Lake on this bike, several times, drinking in every single view and shrieking in gratitude down every single hill as it propelled me halfway up the next. I traveled from Eugene to Seattle on this bike, alone and foolish, with a map that didn’t match up with reality, but happy.
Once, in a phase of frustration, having repositioned the seat as far forward as possible, I investigated substituting the handlebar stem for a shorter one that would bring the bars closer to my torso. The selection of French-threaded stems was limited to two or three, none of which suited me. Several mechanics tried to persuade me that the only way to accommodate a longer stem would be to change the forks. But I would have none of it. Change these gorgeous forks? Are you MAD?? Look at them! Look at their curve, their shape, the way the tubes butt into each other with flourishes outlined in gold; see the proud red capital M drawn in raised gold and riding on spread wings against a curved black medallion circled by a double oval framing the gold embossed full name of the bike and riveted to the fork front.
And I was right to refuse. I was as right as Eve would have been had she said “No, Adam, you may not have a bite of my apple. Get your own.”
Find me a set of forks today that doesn't look like twin slugs stretched out over a wilted banana leaf.
And so my bike remains unravaged, as well as unsullied by exposure to dampness, having been stored exclusively indoors. Never ridden for city commuting but reserved for long-distance travel, it was spared a life of clanking proximity to the crooked leaning riff-raff populating the public bike racks.
I still own Motobecane Grand Touring, but it waits lonesome in the garage. My current commuting needs demand a meaner, tougher bike that’ll let me plow through road debris, bounce over potholes and pavement irregularities, leap on and off of surprise curbs, shift without loosening my death grip on the handlebars, stop on a dime, turn on a hairpin, and sit up tall so that I and the demonic drivers can see each other.
Occasionally I transport Moto by my car for a spin or two around Sauvey Island where I can ride continuously for miles without interruption. Other than that, my days of long distance touring on a bike that doesn’t quite fit me are over.
Only an intention to take up some serious long-distance biking again would justify my spending the kind of money it would take to attain the equivanlent quality today. But for the present, I wish to pass my friend on to someone who can be a better friend than me.
On Saturday, I stopped and talked this over with Hugh at Northwest Bicycles. The appeal of this shop to me is that every time I go in there, I see the same three people working. As opposed to other bike shops where I never see the same worker twice. Yes, they are co-ops and are willing to train people in mechanics, and feature all kinds of cool attributes like that. I bought my current commuter bike from one of them, on consignment, used. But the truth is that when I want real advice and service from experienced veteran bike mechanics, I don’t want the shop to be owned by 40 people. And I don’t want my bike to be practiced on by a resident medical student. These guys at Northwest Bicycles are grownups who’ve obviously inhaled biking for much of their lives.
By way of introduction I didn’t have to say a word. Hugh overflowed with admiration for Moto the minute I rolled it in the door. After conversing through all the options, Hugh agrees that I should sell it. Instead of thinking of himself and his own business, he referred me to a friend of his named Steve at Sellwood Cycles. Steve has connections with collectors, he said. Steve is set up for these kinds of deals. And so that will be my next step, to pay a visit to Steve and hear what he has to say. I will post sequels to this tale as it evolves into the near future.
As for my relationship with the bike… and the dresser ….. and all the other items.……
Sure, it’s probably a disorder -- with a long hyphenated name in a textbook somewhere, but I don’t care. I have my friends all around me. And when I must part with one, I will go to any lengths to ensure that it has a good home.