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Those of you who read last week’s entry entitled “7:20” recall that I broke the left handlebar of my bike during a six-hour ride last weekend. You may also recall that I had tried to replace that aluminum base bar but had run into troubles because my 31,945 mile-old bike was built with components that no longer match the modern standards for stem clamping circumference. A part had been ordered but, by Friday noon, it had not yet arrived because it had been shipped from Utah during a holiday-shortened week. I was worried about being able to do my four-hour ride on Saturday and had been calling the shop, Gear West, daily to get an update. With my noon call on Friday, I had determined that I would have to ride my Saturday workout with my road bike, a bike that does not have the aero bars and, while a very good bike, it would not accustom me to riding in the position on the bike that I will ride in Kona.

On my way back from lunch, my cell phone rang.

“Scott, this is Luke at Gear West.”

“Hey, how is it going?”

I was pleased, thinking that the part may have arrived and that installation was in process. It was, sort of.

“I’m afraid that I have bad news,” Luke said.

“Rats,” I thought. I speculated that the part was back ordered.

“We were installing that base bar and we noticed that your bike’s frame is broken,” Luke said. “I’m sorry.”

Initially, I was shocked. Titanium frames like mine last forever. I am a relatively light and power-free rider, notoriously easy on a bike. Could he have confused my bike with another? I have been a customer at Gear West for more than a decade and I know the guys there pretty well. Then I figured it out: Kevin and Drew had put poor Luke up to it. This was a practical joke. I was silent for a moment trying to figure out how to play along.

“You may think that this is a joke or a mistake or something but it’s not. Your frame broke right by the cable routing openings on the downtube near the head tube. It’s one one-inch crack and another one that is almost the same length,” Luke said.

I had to admit, the kid was good if he was pulling my leg but I had a sinking feeling. Luke was serious.

“Kevin told me that I probably shouldn’t tell you over the phone but should get you to come in and look at it yourself,” he continued. “I am really sorry.”

By this time, I had figured out that this was no joke. Luke was serious.

“I’m shocked,” I said.

“You sound shocked,” Luke said.

My head spun. I had three weekends to get into shape, to do the long rides and long runs that are critical to adapting to the load that an Ironman imposes. Worse, I knew that there was absolutely no way to repair a broken frame in time for Kona, much less for the following day.

I went into the office. It had been slow. I told my friend, Vicki, that I would likely not return that afternoon. I needed to go buy a new bike.

I loved my bike. I loved that the model name, Tiphoon, a clever spelling that emphasized the frame material, titanium. I loved the symmetry with the model name of my first “adult” bike, a Schwinn Typhoon. I loved that childhood bike, too, with its chrome fenders and metal-flake gold paint. Then I began to think back on the memories that I had formed on my titanium triathlon bike, now, apparently, deceased. I thought about riding up the biggest hill at Ironman Wisconsin with a guy in a colored wig, sunglasses, a Speedo and tennis shoes running along beside me. “Rick and Annette Krause told me to come and run with you and help you up this hill,” he said. I didn’t know him at all but I was extremely grateful. He really did help. That help and support made me feel better than I can say.

I also remembered riding my bike in the rain at Ironman Wisconsin. The electronics on my bike got waterlogged and quit. I got so cold that I couldn’t use my hands to unbuckle my cycling shoes.

Then I remembered plunging down the long, steep hill at Wildflower at speeds around 43 mph, scared stiff.

In each case, my bike had done really well. The bike was totally outfitted for me with a customized, computer fit, blue handlebar tape and a little container of Purell swinging from the under seat bag. (Yeah, I know, a little OCD.)

I didn’t treat my bike like it was a person or even a pet. I had never named my bike. I didn’t think that it had some sort of soul or was anything. It was just an inanimate companion for 31,945 miles when I had fun, suffered, got wet, got hot, and acted out who I am in a way that is strangely discordant with being almost 54. Now that looked like it was over. I didn’t really mourn the bike but I had bought it with the intention that it would be until death did us part and I was betting that I would be doing the parting, not the bike.

When I got to Gear West, I looked at the cracked frame and felt grateful that they had discovered the problem. To have that part fail when racing Kona or, later, when riding on a steep downhill at speed. It made the backs of my knees feel watery to think of how everything would have come apart if that crack gave way. My chin would be the first thing to contact the pavement racing by beneath me. While that broken frame was appalling, the broken handlebar might have been even worse. Cracks radiated from the break point in four directions from beneath a thick crust of salt that had accumulated beneath the handlebar tape over seven years. It was a wonder that the bike had held up as long as it had. When discussing the damage, Kevin O’Connor, the owner of Gear West, said, “All bikes break eventually. Titanium, carbon fiber, steel. Nothing lasts forever.” Here I had clung to the notion of something lasting forever. Nothing does.

I spent about 3.5 hours with Drew at Gear West selecting a new bike. Drew had all of the measurements of my bike and used those to select a new bike that would need minimum customization to fit me as my old bike had. I settled on a Cervelo P3, maybe the most popular bike in all of triathlon. The frame is carbon fiber, which is lighter, more shock-absorbent and less expensive to manufacture. Many of the components of my old bike that were made of aluminum were now carbon fiber. Many other parts are similar, just modestly updated. The bike was less expensive than the one I bought seven years ago and probably better for the advances made in materials and construction techniques.

I took the bike out for a short ride after it had been completely measured and tailored to fit as my old bike had. There was a strong wind from the west and some of the season’s first leaves skittered across the street. When I rolled over the leaves, they gave way with a reassuring crunch. Fall had arrived. The wind pushed waves up from the western shore of Long Lake and gave the surface a matte green appearance. Several people carried rowing shells to the dock for a late afternoon row. I turned up the street and there was no traffic. It was just me, a man in his early 50’s on a high tech bike trying to hold onto a bright, cool and clear early fall afternoon and the memories that had accumulated on the saddle of many bicycles for nearly 50 years. I really was sad, sad to say good bye to a bike that I had loved. I pedaled up a hill and turned around in a bank drive through. Then it occurred to me how similar this ride felt to what I would have been doing in Madison on State Street, the wind blowing through the vents of my helmet and the air so clear. I felt for a moment like I was in Madison one more time. I knew that everything would be just fine.

Postscript: I rode the new bike today for 73 miles in a strong wind. I started skeptically and a fierce headwind did not make my new bike seem like much of an improvement in any way. Then I went across a bridge expansion joint that I had ridden countless times. On my old bike, that expansion joint made it feel as though my prostate had been plunged into liquid nitrogen and then hit with a hammer. On the new bike, I felt the bump but it was dampened through the frame and not pounded into my privates by a sadistically narrow saddle. “Well, that one thing is better,” I thought.

In the end, the bike still requires adjustment. It is only an acquaintance and not yet my friend. But we have a good start. I put some spare blue tires on it, then replaced the handlebar tape with some of my favorite blue (after the picture below was taken). One day and 73 miles; it’s a good start. Let’s just hope that I outlive this bike, too.


One Comment

  1. It’s a nice looking bike. I hope you have lots of happy miles on it. XO Mom

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