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This sign usually, and more accurately, reads, “Back up your truck here and deposit your money, all of it.”

Several years ago, when my bike needed some repairs and maintenance, I told Kevin O’Connor, the owner of Gear West, our local triathlon shop, that it cost me about $400 a year to keep my bike going. He looked thoughtful for a moment, as though he had never really attempted to come up with a number and a rule. (Secretly, Kevin was thinking, “$400? My kids can’t all go to Stanford on that. How can I sell bikes that need a lot more maintenance and upgrades than $400 a year?”)

Those few tortured souls who had nothing better to do on a Saturday and read my post entitled “7:20” learned that I broke the handlebars on my bike. Brute force upper body strength has not been entirely ruled out as a cause but each person to whom that explanation has been proposed has doubled up and after regaining their breath said, “That’s a pretty good one.” See? Not ruled out.

31,915 miles ago, when I bought my bike new in 2005, I had a pretty high end machine. The titanium frame was attractive because, unlike aluminum and steel, titanium doesn’t fatigue and wear out with use. Times have changed. The vast majority of bikes are made of carbon fiber and shaped in wind tunnels for minimum aerodynamic drag. Not so mine. While sleek and reasonably aero, my bike frame is about durability; it’s about the long run.

I took my bike and its broken handlebar to Gear West and spoke to Shaun. Shaun is typical of Gear West’s employees, friendly, knowledgeable and willing to spend whatever time is necessary to help, no matter how small the sale may be. Shaun regretted to inform me that the world had moved on since I bought my bike. Many, maybe most, “base bars” were now made of carbon fiber. Instead of a $40 to $60 part, a base bar was now $250. For that, a triathlete could expect something extremely light and aerodynamic but maybe not so good for grasping when hill climbing. “How much time is a really light, aero base bar worth in a race?” I asked. “Seconds,” he said, “And only if you are in a relatively flat time trial setting.”

Shaun did some research and found an “old school” aluminum base bar that would serve as a good replacement for the one I had broken. $55. It wasn’t in stock but he would order it and call when it arrived. I thanked Shaun and wheeled my wounded bike back to the car. I pitied anyone who would try to compete with Gear West; they always do a great job for me.

But Gear West couldn’t stop the clock. Seven years, 31,915 miles. Stuff gets old. Stuff breaks. Everything is impermanent. Maybe even one day, the “lifetime” titanium frame will give way or cease to be repairable. Maybe it will be me that gives way. One day, I may not answer the alarm clock. Everything breaks. Nothing I see around me every day is forever.

I did what I could to make the $400 rule immutable. No $250 carbon fiber base bar for me. Despite my thrift on this one purchase, Kevin should have plenty of opportunities to enlist my help keeping his kids on course for Stanford – all of them.


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