of Bike Hate
by Jake Laksin
originally appeared in the Boston magazine Mental Floss
To tell you the truth, I hate my bike. So help me God, I have dreams -- not nightmares, mind -- wherein from the tribunal comfort of my bed, I watch as punishing flames of crimson engulf my despicable contraption, torching it to a fine crisp. Nothing but nubs of pedal and bony bits of frame tubing remain, and to see even these, you will have to sift through a tiny dune of ash.
If you feel bad for my bike, don't. The bike deserves it. In the two years we've been together it has been awfully abusive, a tormentor with reflectors, snapping the spirit like a spoke. But before I present the very venom informing his two-wheeled crankiness, let me describe how we met.
We were set up. The matchmaker was my dad, who, knowing that some writer's salaries sometimes fail to bankroll life's fineries, (cars, Tuscan merlots, rents, foodstuffs, etc.) and operating on the best of intentions, picked it up at a garage sale. He was taken with the sight. Slender maroon stems framing the body, itself jeweled in the amber sheen of a late August sun. In the outmoded 27 x 1_ inch bike tires he saw not obsoleteness, the kind that prevents most repair shops from stocking them, but rather an antique bicycle's classic svelteness, the kind that stays true to its boulevardier name - the Schwinn World Tourist. At $20, a find. For my son, he told himself, it would be perfect.
Indeed, I was all too happy to have the bike. I will not deny this. Rather, I will plead location. You see, I live in Boston, a city so full of its colonial heritage that to this day it insists on the narrowness of its downtown streets, causing them to resemble cobblestone hallways, just wide enough for ye horse to trot betwixt. As for the main thoroughfares, those two-lane trails wouldn't qualify for avenue status anywhere but here, where they are so stuffed up with trolley, car, and bus traffic that you can dust all three on bike back.
It doesn't even have to be a top-rack model. Hoity toity hydraulics and fancy gearing are utterly unnecessary. BUT, and here I'm getting warmer to my point, the bike does have to MOVE. Because when a machine acts up, when that svelte rear tire lodges against a fender and will not hear another word about spinning, when its chain wheels and freewheels conspire to clink and clank loudly enough to turn heads, robbing me of the right to suffer in private, when I start to feel like I'm jockeying a washer-dryer gone wild, when all this happens, I get upset.
I know what you're thinking, but I assure you, I caved for bodywork at first. Once, twice, three times, desperate. Each time, though, something inside got rubbed the wrong way. Sparks jumped from sine. Marrow seethed against bone. I began to grumble about the $80 tune-up, muttering hard under my breath something about the bike costing the same as a nice dinner downtown, and how I can't recall one of those doing me wrong. I forgot all about the five-month honeymoon, burying deep the memory of that perfectly lovely time, when the riding was smooth, and bike and rider could be seen coasting the narrow streets, the aura of alloy-flesh synergy billowing like a wedding train.
Instead I concentrated on the numerous hills, humps and cloud-pushing grades rising up all along the route I take to work everyday. I stewed in a private hell of similes. Like the one about how their legs feel as if they're on fire every time I huff-it up yet another top. Or how riding that bike is like trying to pedal up a blue whale's back on a treadmill. I get creative when I'm ticked, and I was ticked because some days
I became convinced that hated my bike. As evidence, I began telling my dream - the one that burns the bike like an effigy. What I would neatly leave out is that each morning, when I wake up, I picture that same bike, intact and horseshoe-locked to a white wood banister, expectantly presenting its seat. I know I need it. How else am I going to win the breadcrumbs? But I ask you, shouldn't the bike treat me better?
Over the Transom
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