8 Million Stories: When a man loves a bike

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By Adam Garrett-Clark

You don't know me, and you don't know my bike, but the story of my bike and me is too beautiful not to be told. It's a story of defying expert advice, of loyalty to inanimate steel and of creating my own personal mythology.

It was probably once blood was drawn and the emergency room bill was in the mail that I realized that my bike and me have an unhealthy yet mystical attachment to each other.

I met my bike on the edge of a curb on W.178th Street. I had just moved to the city with little more than a duffle bag and a $1,000 loan from dad. At that point the exploitative sales job for peanuts and sketchy roach apartment were scratched off the list and all that was left was a cheap dependable ride. There it was, one morning, strewn like a piece of trash, dusty, a bent wheel, kinda Schwinny but not, with a thin grass green road frame and yellowing white taped handle bars. It was perfect. The two people on my stoop, agreed it was probably trash, but I thought it was good enough for me. Before someone else realized what a steal it was, I rushed it up four flights to my apartment.

With the exception of the roaches that kept me up at night, my bike became my pet. And despite my better judgment I would do or pay anything to keep it alive. Most mechanics hated us because the bike was so old and obscure. "You're better off buying a new bike with the money you're going to pay me to fix this," was typically what I'd hear from them. "Its trash." But trashing my bike never crossed my mind. That is, until the night of the missing tooth, but we've put that behind us now.

After hundreds of dollars and hours arguing with mechanics in broken Spanish my bike developed a problem in the bottom bracket that could not be fixed with money and insistence. Not taking "no" for an answer I yelled, and pleaded with the only mechanic in Washington Heights who could stand me, until somehow I managed to convince him to think creatively and find a way. He ended up welding parts together that normally wouldn't fit which resulted in a working bike that could never be disassembled without a saw.

A few months later the crank completely seized and would no longer rotate. Every mechanic I talked too said the same thing, the bike was too old and the parts weren't made any more. It's over. Say goodbye. Time to get a new bike. Depressed and riding the subway now, I gave up.

I started shopping Craigslist and eventually found a guy who sold and repaired used bikes out of his garage deep in Brooklyn. He claimed he could fix it. I told him about the weld, sent him pictures, told him about all the other mechanics that said it couldn't be done, he said no problem. Come on down. So I did.

It was an ominously cold Saturday in February, Valentines Say. I remember because I was hoping to get my bike fixed in time to make a 6 o'clock Valentine's Day ride from Union Square that I saw on FreeNYC.

We sawed through the crank arm, he took it apart and inspected the hub. The bike was much older and rarer than he thought. It would be impossible to find replacement parts, he said. No hope. I bought a bike from him and left my bike in his back yard, strewn on the ground again, naked and exposed, like a piece of trash.

No time to mourn my loss, I was late for the ride. I raced to the subway. The train was pulling in on the elevated rail above me as I get there. I raced up the stairs as fast as I could. Fantasies were swirling in mind of meeting a pretty cycling girl on the ride, falling in love and spending our free time gliding through Jackson Heights, occasionally stopping for curry, in love with each other and our bikes. But none of that would happen if I missed the train.

I trip. My new bike jams against the stairs as I fall forward. My face lands directly into the sharp angle of the handlebar stem. One tooth is sheered off, another chipped, as I stand dazed, lips bursting with blood; just another Crazy on the subway to the indifferent New Yorkers rushing past me on the stairs.

Later I went back for a refund. This foreign bike isn't for me, I thought. Out of pure stubbornness I decided to take the corpse of my best friend along with me, maybe I could get something for the salvaged parts I figured.

Bruised and dejected, we headed to the Village where I remembered seeing a vintage bike shop near the Nuyorican, maybe they'll give me something for this. They didn't. But the mechanic gave me a small drop of hope and rough directions to another shop that might, maybe, possibly have some parts for the bike. It was a tiny shop near the Brooklyn Bridge, or was it the Manhattan Bridge? I couldn't tell you how to get there now and I'm not even sure if it was the one he was talking about, but they knew their bikes and they had the parts.

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