That grey 830 went from first love to rusted beater in the span of four years: accessorized, stripped, cared for, neglected, covered in stickers, abandoned in Dad’s garage, abused, left in the rain, and taken to college because it was finally too ugly to steal. In 1991, when my affections were finally stolen away by a big, tennis-ball yellow Trek 6000 with its three extra gears, ultralight aluminum tubing, stop-right-now brakes, and (finally) quick-release wheels, I stripped my first love bare, painted it black, swapped out the teal stem because it didn’t match the new paint, reassembled it with some help from Roland, and sold it to my then-girlfriend’s father. He rode it a few times and hung it in his garage, too polite to admit it didn’t connect for him like his old Schwinn three-speed. I don’t doubt it’s still there, hanging from the rafters. I’ve considered calling, perhaps offering to buy back his piece of my cycling past, but I can’t figure out a polite way to say, “This is your former future-son-in-law... I know I’m no longer in love with your daughter, but that bike...”
A true bike nut remembers them all fondly. Each bike sticks in the mind like an old friendship I’ve grudgingly outgrown. The orange-and-red banana-seat Murray. The chrome Huffy BMX bike. The royal blue Murray mountain bike knockoff. Dad’s brown Free Spirit ten speed. The sky-blue hand-me-down Schwinn Continental from Dale. My blue Schwinn World Sport. The grey 830. The yellow 6000. Schwinn 974 racing bike. Cannondale M400 mountain bike. Cannondale T700 touring bike. Specialized Epic racing bike. Schwinn DeLuxe Twinn Tandem. Nishiki Citysport cruiser. GT Slipstream hybrid cruiser. And finally, my current friends, the Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike and Schwinn Paramount road bike. I learned to ride a bike twenty years ago. Seventeen bikes in twenty years. And I remember them all, because every one helped me live out a fantasy of who I wanted to be. At seven, I carried the absolute conviction that my banana-seat Murray looked just like a California Highway Patrol motorcycle. As I cruised the long gravel driveway of my parents’ farm, twisting the plastic grip like a throttle, I was Jon from my favorite TV show, “CHiPs.” I chased down the car thieves, rescued children from burning buses, wrote out speeding tickets. On my bike, I was the hero. It sounds funny to me now, but even today, when I shift into the big chainring on my road bike, somewhere in my mind I see Greg LeMond tucked low, methodically making time on Laurent Fignon to take the 1989 Tour de France. Different bike, different fantasy, but I’m still trying on identities, wanting to be more than simply me.