Open-Road Freedom

Friday, January 24, 2014


When my sister invited me along on her bike trip, I realized I was going to need a good bike. What I didn't realize is just how attached I would get to the bike.

My boyfriend spent several weekends driving me across Eastern Iowa, browsing through bike shops, until finally we found this guy selling bikes out of his living room on Craig's List. When I called the guy about this bike, the first thing he said was, "How tall are you?" I told him and he said, okay, you're tall enough.

I learned to ride a bike when I was little, real little. My dad held the back of the seat and ran down the street with me a few times before letting me go off on my own. I fell a lot and had perpetual scabs on my knees. When I was eight my dad bought me a pink and white bike I cherished, but I dreamed of the day I would inherit my older brother's beautiful royal blue Schwinn five-speed. It looked like a mini ten-speed, just my size, and I've never seen one before or since. I rode that bike until we moved to the country where the thin tires weren't enough to handle the gravel roads. I switched to a hybrid when my oldest brother gave me one he'd picked up at a police sale.

When I started looking for a bike for this trip, I thought I knew a thing or two about bicycles, but it turns out I basically knew one thing: bicycles exist in different forms. By the time the guy selling bikes out of his living room asked how tall I was, I knew that I needed a bike of a specific height, and this bike was one of two bikes of that size within my price range and within a hundred-mile radius.

I took the bike for a few rides around the block, feeling awkward riding with curved-style handlebars and toe cages, and then I bought it. It's a Schwinn Voyageur, circa 1984. The guy selling it was the second owner and the first owner had taken good care of it.

Even so, every day on the trip I would hear a new ticking sound or a clicking sound or a clank. Every. Single. Day. Something new. I spent hours of riding time trying to isolate the sound, trying to figure out what to tighten or loosen or fix, but eventually I gave up and just surrendered to the bike. I also surrendered to the road several times before I took the toe cages off.

It's funny because before we left I never once thought about how important this bike would become to me. I'm not sure I really thought about it at all until I had to leave it behind in Germany with my youngest brother, who would ship it when he returned to the US. I'd spent nearly every day on this bike for over two months. It had carried me through countries, rainstorms, and hail. I'd protected this bike with my life, and when I had to walk away from it I felt a deep sadness, not unlike the sadness I feel saying goodbye to someone I love.

I miss this bike terribly. Tonight I am aching a little for the open-road freedom a good bike gives, so unlike the freedom of a car or a motorcycle simply because it's powered by little other than your own strength. My bike is now on the East Coast, and you can bet I'm thinking of riding it home.

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