Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Phantoms (Part 1)

Wondering what this is all about? See this attempt at an explanation.

Bike season just ended.  Although I dutifully commute to and from work on two wheels well into the fall, when daylight savings time runs out I give up.  “Too dangerous,” I justify to myself.  “Pitch black when I get off at 6:00, isolated country roads, weather getting colder, asthma kicking in.”  My road bike now serves a six-month sentence indoors, bolted to a trainer in front of the TV for winter workouts.  I can’t stand to look at it.  A classic Schwinn Paramount, Italian steel lugs and tubes hand-brazed into long, traditional road racing lines, painted in thick coats of pearl white, hung with Campagnolo parts.  Decades of racing tradition, rendered in steel, aluminum, and rubber.  The bike wants to be on a road, diving through corners, attacking hills, rolling for long hours on endless pavement.  It seems offended, immobilized on living-room carpet, propped up and secured like nothing more than a hamster’s exercise wheel.

“At least I’m using you,” I want to say, trying to appease my guilt.  “And you get to stay in the apartment.”  In the garage, my mountain bike isn’t so lucky.  It hangs from an angular black storage stand, abandoned until the spring thaw, waiting impatiently.  It is big, loud, modern, ignoring the history of its older, more refined cousin in the living room.  Its brash blue paint bears the scars of past crashes, caked with the dirt of the just-ended season.  Even on the hooks, five feet off the concrete floor, the bike wants to run things over, deep knobbed tires longing to bite fresh soil.  I built it from the ground up, matching each part to my own preferences, choosing everything from the extra-durable wheels to my favorite saddle.  A small plastic Chuckie Finster (the redheaded toddler of “Rugrats” fame) dangles from the handlebars for luck, features frozen in his trademark apprehension, splattered with months of mud.  The bike’s shifters and brakes are now three seasons out of vogue, but I prefer these designs to their more cutting-edge equivalents, resisting the siren song of “new and improved.” In another two seasons, these parts will be old enough to be called “retro,” and both my bikes will have slid into cycling history, relics of another time.  In cycling, obsolescence can be quick and cruel. 

When I throw my leg over these bicycles, cleats on my shoes click into retention mechanisms on the pedals.  The handlebars rest naturally where my arms fall.  The grips show wear in the spots where my gloves rest.  After years of bearing my weight, the saddles have shaped themselves to my contours.  These three parts -- pedals, handlebars, and saddle -- are called contact points, the three places where the rider’s body touches the bike.  After years of connection -- the sound of my cleats snapping in, the shape of my palms pressed into the grips, the relief outline of my pelvic bones on the saddle -- these bikes can no longer be entirely separated from their rider.  Without their reassuring familiarity under my body, a part my identity seems absent.  They are part of their owner, my attempt to define and redefine myself.  When I hunker down on my road bike into a low aerodynamic crouch, hammering along an empty country road, I can momentarily forget that even in peak condition, I am thirty pounds heavier and ten miles per hour slower than the professional racing legends I pretend to be.  And when I crest a hill on my mountain bike, slicing between trees, my tires sliding through corners and banging over logs, sometimes I forget that I am afraid of crashing.


Pondero said...

Enjoying read, Jason, and am looking forward to what's next.

Steve Fuller said...

Awesome start so far

Anonymous said...

Good work! I was sort of expecting to hear of broken femurs mentioned as a reason to not ride in marginal weather, though.

This is indeed a tough time of year for those of us not located in the temperate climates. Having just had an encounter with some wet ice on a well crowned road, I do indeed feel at least some of your pain!

Steve in Peoria

Iowagriz said...

Keep it coming. Good stuff