The Worst Bike

The worst bike is still a pretty great bike. The rental house had a shed full, and we pulled them out and gave them a once over. All old, no real winners, but all in good-rolling-order.

So, I strapped the kids’ fishing poles to the rear rack of mine, and we bumped our way down through the backyard and over a patch of sand onto the rail trail, a motley crew on eight wheels, the kids struggling to understand the gearing of these strange beasts. I rode at the back, so I could keep an eye on everyone, and tried not think about the brake levers being in entirely the wrong position.

I was being nit-pickey. Good tires. Reasonable shifting. Brakes that worked. Every saddle with a quick release to adjust height, so we could at least stretch our legs as we wobbled along toward the beach.

It took me some time to forget about the levers and relax about my kids zig-zagging across the center line. I realized I was caught up in some stupid sense of my own expertise, of knowing how a bike should be, and feeling just horribly out of my element, even though I was exactly in my element.

That’s when I remembered that the bike itself doesn’t give a shit what condition it’s in, and these particular bikes existed only to ferry idiots like me to idyllic ponds and beachfronts. In that sense, they were/are perfect.

I loosened up and pedaled and coasted and felt the freedom of moving through the world again. It’s all in the attitude and mine normally needs correction. Fortunately, riding a bike is palliative.

Once, on a trip to the Yucatan before we had kids, the wife and I went snorkeling on a small bay down a dirt road, and the shack where we got our flippers and masks had a small fleet of the most ancient and decrepit cruiser bikes I’d ever seen. The front wheel of mine wobbled like a drunk on his way to the bathroom at the end of a long night. But the packed clay road, and the overhanging trees, and not having a care in the world made the ride, not even a mile, and the bike, a broken down palace of a thing, just about the finest cycling experience I’d had to date.

I’ve spent the last ten years working in the high-end bike world, a place where people invest in the latest tech, the nicest things, where they consider a bike’s stance and choose colors after consulting a graphic designer. It’s fun, because often you’re helping design a bike with no practical constraints. But it can warp your thinking.

Riding is the cure for that. And bad bikes are still great bikes, and it was good to be reminded.

4 thoughts on “The Worst Bike

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  1. Reminds me of the time I was actually in France for work, at a company seminar. The hotel we stayed in, an old Chateau (Fillerval – look it up…) had a dozen or so old mtn bikes. I was a little disappointed to see those, given I was in cycling-mad France. I rode anyway and, like yourself, enjoyed. I even (foolishly?) took ‘my bike’ (I’m short so it was easy to lower the seat and claim it!) on some trails. I let it rip down a gravel road decent and then waited for my two colleagues, one of whom was the EHS manager for the entire company. All he asked was if I’d done a risk analysis of letting it rip on an unmaintained beater bike. I’m sure my sheepish smile was response enough…

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  2. On my honeymoon on Chincoteague Island, my wife and I rented a crappy tandem cruiser and rode around for hours singing songs exploring neighborhoods and back roads. Ten years later, someone gave us an equally crappy tandem and we couldn’t stand to ride it.Different bike or different mindset, I don’t know. My son, riding his whole life and now 1.3 years into a reasonably serious mountain biking hobby, has been going onto specialized and trek websites and building his dream bike. Personally, I can’t see splurging much above an entry level dual suspension bike. If the gears and brakes work, it’s probably good enough for me. I’d be embarrassed to be caught on a high end bike. The though of choosing a paint-job is completely alien to me.

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