We were back at the junction. I could not remember arriving there, nor getting off my bike, but there I was, and my bike was laying on the ground — drivetrain side down. I could also no longer see cyclists on the road we had just been on, but the sign was now illuminated and symbols on that sign — and that sign alone — had resolved into words: Cyclists’ Limbo: A Much, Much, Much Better Place Than Where You’re Going.
“Really?” I asked. “The sign needs to use ‘much’ three times? That’s hyperbole, right? Also, it’s not very creative.”
“Choose the next road you wish to travel,” said The Cyclist.
“Well, it’s pretty clear I don’t want to travel any of the roads beside the one I’ve already been on,” I said. “But I’ve read the Wikipedia entry on Dante’s Inferno, so I have a pretty good idea where this is headed. So how about I just skip all the intermediate levels and you show me the final road? I choose this one,” I said, pointing to the road to the left of the Cyclists’ Limbo.
“How naïve. What makes you think the Roads of Hell are arranged in a nice order like that?” sneered The Cyclist. “Furthermore, what led you to think that hell would be arranged clockwise? You Western thinkers crack me up.”
“Whatever,” I replied, fully realizing that I had just given the weakest of all possible retorts.
“Indeed,” said The Cyclist. “Now. Let’s ride.”
As before, The Cyclist got the jump off the line and I was left to pull my bike out of the dirt, mount, and give chase. All that time in the dust seemed to have affected the drivetrain; there was considerable grit in the chain and it was now making a distinct grinding sound, as opposed to the the delicious, smooth meshing sound a clean, well-lubed chain makes.
I shifted to a bigger gear, then stood up and pedaled hard — and nearly racked myself as the chain slipped, hopping continuously between two cogs on the cassette.
“OK, don’t use 5 or 6,” I told myself, finding a gear where the chain wouldn’t jump around.
It took minutes, but I finally caught up with The Cyclist. By the time I reached him, however, my hands were buzzing from the constant road vibration. I looked down.
Striated concrete. Yuck.
“It’s not really that bad of a road surface,” said The Cyclist. “Just a lot of road noise, plus constant vibration you can feel through the handlebars. Oh, and then there’s the bump as you go over the joints every twelve feet.”
“I suppose, however,” mused The Cyclist, looking sideways at me, “It would be a rather annoying surface to ride for eternity.”
I shuddered at the thought, flexing my already-numb fingers.
“But where are the cyclists?” I asked, thinking back to the busy road in Cyclists’ Limbo and noting the relative barrenness of the concrete we were riding on.
“Look at the side of the road.”
I looked, and saw countless cyclists. All with beautiful bikes.
Very few of those bikes were being ridden.
Some cyclists were twiddling barrel adjusters. Some were digging through seatbags and jersey pockets, looking for CO2 cartridges. Some were tentatively prodding their brakes with hex wrenches. Some were staring dumbly at a broken chain held in their greasy hands. Some were slamming their wheels against the ground.
Almost all of the cyclists were weeping.
I slowed to a stop, and noticing a cyclist who was trying — unsuccessfully — to pry a wheel off the rim using nothing but his bare hands, asked, “Got everything you need to fix that flat?”
The cyclist looked up at me, repeated my question back to me — but in a sarcastic whine — and then lunged at me, grabbing my throat and choking me.
Through the horror of simply being attacked, I nevertheless managed to wonder two distinct thoughts: Why was this man attacking me for simply offering to help? And, more importantly, if you’re already dead and in hell and someone chokes you to death, where do you go?
I never got an answer to this second question because, as spots began to appear before my eyes, The Cyclist spoke to my attacker.
“Cut it out.”
Immediately, the cyclist with the flat tire leaped away, and sat cowering, clearly not willing to meet The Cyclist’s eyes.
“What was that all about?” I asked. “I was just going to loan the guy a tire lever!”
“Go ahead,” said The Cyclist, coolly. “Loan it to him.”
So I unzipped my seatbag and pulled out a blue Pedro’s tire lever. Not willing to get within arm’s reach of the guy who had been throttling me a moment ago, I tossed the lever to him. Nice and easy.
Midway through its arc, the lever disappeared. Now, neither of us had a tire lever.
The other cyclist started laughing. But not in a healthy, cathartic way. More of in a “cross the street to avoid that guy because he might be armed” kind of way.
“Why did that happen?” I asked The Cyclist. “And can I have my lever back?”
“The lever is gone forever,” said The Cyclist. “That is part of the nature of this circle of hell.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, because I didn’t understand.
“This circle of hell is for cyclists guilty of greed, selfishness, and laziness. These are the cyclists who did not stop to offer other cyclists assistance — they shall receive no assistance themselves.”
“These are the cyclists who constantly sought to purchase better and lighter and more expensive equipment, rather than to take time enjoy the bicycles they own. They shall spend eternity with two things. First, with a perfect understanding of the latest developments in bike technology. Second, with the bike they died with, never to be upgraded again.”
“These are the cyclists who never learned to fix even the simplest of mechanical problems, relying on others to fix their bicycles. These shall be required to carry the heaviest multitool with them for eternity, confounded forever by their own ambivalence toward bicycle maintenance.”
“These are the cyclists who did not carry tools to fix a chain or flat or other minor mechanical problems during a ride. They shall continue forever without tools to fix their bikes, and no other rider shall be able to offer them assistance, lest their own tools vanish forever.”
These are the cyclists,” said The Cyclist, and he turned toward me and stared at me with red fiery eyes, “who are a lot like you.”
My hands were cold now — it was no more than 48 degrees fahrenheit (“No, you don’t get new clothing either,” The Cyclist spoke into my head) and my terror was immeasurable. Was it true, that I had spent most of my cycling life lusting after new gear instead of learning to take good care of the equipment I already own?
Even before I finished asking myself the question, I knew it was true.
“Can I please at least have my tire lever back?” I asked The Cyclist. “I didn’t know the rules of this place when I tried to loan it to that rider.”
“Sheesh,” said The Cyclist, and the tire lever appeared back in my hand. “They cost, what, $1.99?”
“Whatever,” I replied.
[To be continued in Fatty's Inferno, Part IV]