Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

Last week I said goodbye to an old friend of 30 years.

I made my first bicycle tour in 1989, two years into college. I took a year off from college  to cycle across Europe (after working to earn some money). Knowing nothing of cycle touring and how to get a bicycle to Europe, I planned to buy a bicycle in Europe. I landed in England at the end of April, tired and scared—a small-town boy in one of the largest cities in the world. I struggled to find budget accommodation in London, spending three days searching for a bicycle. The Internet didn’t exist then. I could find bicycle shops, but everywhere sold high-performance bicycles, for thousands of dollars. After much searching, I found an “inexpensive” $600 no-name bicycle, a random collage of parts on a Reynolds 531 steel frame. She was red, and many miles later I named her Christine (after the Stephen King car), a bicycle that wouldn’t stop. I cycled across Europe on that generic bicycle.

Paris to Madrid
After almost a decade, we returned to Europe, crossing France and Spain together. I dented her frame—the first of many—rattling against a pole during the ignominy of riding on a train. We broke three  brake cables on the descent across the Pyrenees. Then on my flight back from Madrid to Paris, the airline lost her! It was a long three weeks after my return when she showed back up, with her tattered cardboard box.

Relationships aren’t perfect. Packing up for a trip to England, when  removing the pedals I sliced my hand open on the front chain-ring. On my first day out of London, I crashed after sliding on wet leaves, badly bruising my leg. Nonetheless, we carried on. After cycling across England, she and I returned to London to meet up with Marnie and cycle from London to Brighton—Marnie’s first exposure to cycle touring.

Amsterdam to Copenhagen
We spent several days holed up together in a hostel in Kiel, Germany, waiting for a jacket to arrive because I hadn’t realized just how cold it would be cycling from Amsterdam to Copenhagen.

She and I went to Ireland together in 2004 for my first time. The most castles I’d ever seen in a day before that was three. My second day in Ireland I visited or cycled past sixteen!

We rode many miles together. We broke two axles together. We wore through the rear rim. As time passed, the strain of cycle touring took its toll on her frame. At high speeds downhill, the entire bike would shimmy. As we aged together, my back would ache from the bicycle’s geometry. Still, she never snapped a spoke, or broke badly enough to leave me by the side of the road.

I (perhaps appropriately) replaced her for my honeymoon tour in Ireland in 2006. Since then she’s hung in the garage. I kept thinking, “we’ll ride together again.” But that’s simply not true. There are too many memories there to risk losing her just cycling about town. My new touring bicycle is a much better bicycle. And now that I have an “around town” bicycle, there’s no justification for leaving another bicycle in the garage gathering dust.

I spent a couple of days stripping her down for parts, so in one fashion or another she’ll live on in other bicycles. I covered the frame with stickers from all of the countries we traveled together. Ride on.