Every Bike Has a Story. What is Yours?

My first bicycle had two bald tires and one training wheel. Carlotta, our socialite neighbor, discovered it abandoned on Columbia Beach in Rogers Park and presented it to me as a special treat. I was a four-year-old tow-headed kid and it made my summer.

I’ve had about half a dozen bikes since that very first found-me-down. For the most part, I am just a casual rider. No long trips, no biking vacations, no daily use. I know I must have taken occasional bike rides with the kids, but have no memories of them.

The one exception to my limited riding was the spring of 1981 when I bike-commuted to my pathology residency — a ten-mile excursion from our townhouse in Niles to Evanston Hospital. But several flat tires and a low-speed bike-car collision that ended with me in the Skokie Valley Hospital Emergency Room of Skokie Valley Hospital put an end to that experiment after only a few months.

We were bike-free when we moved to our current Home on the Pond. When my 65th birthday “rolled” around Barb suggested I buy one. As many of you know, this was not the easiest task during the pandemic, with most bike stores vastly understocked and understaffed.

On a day off from work that we had designated as “Buy a Bike Day” Barb and I visited four local bike stores. None of the first three shops had a bicycle to try, buy, or be available before the end of the summer. But at the final store, a store closely affiliated with a bicycle manufacturer, we were told we could get a bike within about six weeks. Success!

The kid working the counter asked me how I planned on using the bike, took a few measurements, and using a formula based on the Pythagorean Theorem determined the appropriate model and size to order. We were set! And driving home that day I got the good news that the bike would be ready in three weeks instead of six. Even better!

The bike was available when we came back from our California vacation. We stopped in the shop to pay the final balance, buy a helmet, and arrange for delivery. I asked the sales clerk, another kid, for any bike maintenance tips but was told to just go and ride and have fun.

Since then, I have ridden the bike as expected — lots of trips around our Riverwoods neighborhood and a few careful rides through Deerfield. Some short jaunts with neighbors who share my riding patterns.

I have learned how to work the front wheel quick release and stuff the bike into the trunk of my sedan. Lots of friends have offered to go for slightly loner rides, and I supposed I would get to that too. In other words, I thought I was doing great. Until…

Last week I received an email from the shop telling me it was time to bring in the bike for a free check-up. I loaded the bike into the car and brought her in. I was sent by the kid at the counter to a severe-looking man with closely cropped hair and a Teutonic accent. This is how I recall our interaction.

“Why are you here?”

“I got an email saying to come in for a bike check.”

“How much have you ridden? Have you ridden hundreds of miles?”

“I-I-I don’t know. I haven’t been keeping track–but not that many. And the bike shudders when I shift gears.”

“Less than 50 miles? Then why are you here? Why did you buy a bicycle? It must be ridden. You should get up before the sun rises to ride. You should leave work an hour early every day so you have time to ride. You must do these things. You will be less tense. Now go out into the parking lot so I can watch how you ride.”

I took the bike out of his caress, put on my helmet, and rode a few laps around the edges of the tarmac. On my return to the shop entrance, I received the review.

“You don’t peddle hard enough, you are too lazy. And your tires are not inflated enough. Do you know anything? Come back when you have driven hundreds of miles. Now go!”

Does anyone want to buy a barely used bike? I will even throw in one training wheel.

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