It was the fall of 2006, and I had somehow wandered my way back to Ft. Collins, Colorado and my good old standby job as a bike mechanic at Recycled Cycles. After working odd jobs throughout most of the western United States for the past few years, I was uncomfortably bike-less. I’d been forced to borrow bikes from friends and family, and it was high time I started pedaling my own two-wheeled machine.
When a co-worker suddenly left for the winter to pursue the life of a ski bum, he gave me the bike he’d salvaged from the “graveyard” out back. A beautiful, old, lugged, steel frame 10 speed. Pretty beat up, a little rusted out, and a touch too small, but I was completely thrilled with it!
I stripped it down, degreased everything, repacked the bearings, and tuned it all up. Here’s the finished product:
That thing was rolling smooth and looking clean! After putting the finishing touches on it in my kitchen one evening, I strapped my helmet on, hopped aboard my new bike, and flew across town to Maria’s house, fueled by the joy of pedaling my very own rig!
* * * * *
This was shaping up to be a pretty big fall: not only had I just built up my own bike, but much more importantly, I had recently begun dating Maria. She’s an opera singer, and the first time I heard her sing (it was also the first time I’d ever heard opera) was the first time I realized what mountains sound like: a beautiful sound that fills every inch of space, no matter how small or how huge, resonating from a single source. A lone voicebox speaking the soul the only way it knows how.
The night I pedaled to her house was a night of all-around shock. Her family was shocked that I had actually pedaled the six miles across town and was happily planning on pedaling the six miles back home at the end of the night, and I was shocked that they were so shocked. It was a mini cultural collision as they repeatedly and genuinely expressed concern and offered to drive me home, while I tried to express the fact that I really, truly prefer to travel this way.
Maria summed the whole thing up when she explained that she had always just assumed, for whatever reason, that when people get their driver’s license they just sort of stop riding bikes. She had always loved bikes as a kid, but as soon as she hit 16, this love just fizzled out. Not consciously or intentionally, but simply because this was the assumed norm. The second she told me this, my brain started spinning through ideas and plans quicker than the two wheels that had carried me to her house earlier that evening.
* * * * *
It was late Saturday night and snowing. The Christmas rush was on and we had been cranking out new bike builds all day long. Christmas in a bike shop is a unique phenomenon: it’s freezing, icy, and snowy, yet there are as many people buying bikes as there are in the spring and summer.
I was one of the last people in the shop, and I had just finished polishing off and de-rusting the front fender. I bolted it to the fork and put the front wheel back on (the rim of which had also been recently de-rusted and polished). I stood back and examined my 20 hours of late night scrubbing, cleaning, rebuilding, overhauling, polishing, and steel-wooling. The rusted out piece of work-a 1975 Schwinn Suburban-I had dragged out of the snow-engulfed graveyard two weeks earlier now stood before me a resurrected creature. There’s nothing about this bike that would necessarily make it a particularly special or desirable bike, but in my eyes, this machine was a thing of absolute beauty.
Early Christmas morning, I drove the bike to Maria’s house. In complete stealth mode, I carried it to the porch and positioned it right in front of the door. Tilted the handlebars so they and the front wheel flirtatiously smiled up at whoever opened the door first. Then I left.
A few hours later, Maria called with all the excitement and surprise in her voice I’d been hoping for. She loved the bike and had already pedaled it around the block! She was thrilled, and I was relieved-the first round of gift-giving can be an intimidating thing to a clumsy lover like me, but she loved the bike, now it was up to me to keep things rolling.
* * * * *
Since discovering the beauty of bicycles, and realizing the incredible fact that people really do pedal well beyond the early years of trikes and big wheels, Maria has fallen in love with life as a bike commuter. We ended up getting married in 2007, and since then, we’ve pedaled our bikes together in everything from midnight San Francisco rainstorms to burning Santa Fe desert summers. Old railroad tracks in southeast Idaho and heart-breakingly beautiful evenings in Denver, Colorado.
The best part of all is that she is now a two-wheeled missionary herself, spreading the gospel of the bicycle wherever she rolls.
Maria, on the right, and her best friend, Sarah, out for a ride.
by Nick Lindsey
PS from Fatty: Don’t forget, the contest to win a trip and a bike, all while fighting cancer, is still on. Click here for info on the trip, then click here for information on the bikes, and click here to donate. Thanks!