As far as loss in real life is concerned, all this is nothing. As a Cyclist, however, I found two emails waiting together in my inbox one recent morning hard to take. The first, from my brother over in Holland, reported that I was about to lose the storage shed I've had across the street from our apartment—it had to be empty by the end of the month. It is where I've kept my older bikes, and now the only feasible solution—given that I'm still in the U.S. and someone else has to deal with this on my behalf—was to get rid of these bikes. The second email was from a frame builder, also in Holland, whom I'd asked to look into some small fractures at the top of the seat tube on my titanium Colnago Lux Oval Master frame. His report was that the damage was more serious than revealed by a cursory examination; that he would be unable to repair everything; and that, given the risks, I should not ride this frame anymore.
That's four bikes, together representing countless rides, races, memories going back to the 1980s. In recent years I did not use these bikes much, except for the Colnago, but the memories alone would have caused me to keep them around. But there was also the knowledge that eventually a new purpose, however infrequently pursued, will always present itself for a bicycle. The purposes had become fewer and farther in between, but about once a year I rode each bike up and down the dead-end road bordering the shed, just to confirm they were still in working order.
The oldest of the four was a steel Dutch-made Koga Miyata Roadwinner. I got it in 1986 or 1987 for 700 guilders as a student in Amsterdam from Cycles Brands, a reputable place back then, since gone out of business. The bike was only one year old. It had toe-clips, down-tube shifters, ten gears, one bidon cage, and I loved riding it. I had been a runner, but knee trouble forced me into cycling—such a drag. I actually did my first race on this bike: the 1988 Dutch championship for journalists, a flat crit where I got 12th in a 90+ rider field. I suppose that's also when I discovered I can't sprint: I came out of the final turn in second place but then watched all these intense people (sprinters) pass me left and right. This being my first real road bike, there were many other firsts: first mountain pass (Simplon, Switzerland, 1987; the next day, I had to dismount and catch my breath five times tackling the much tougher Nufenen); first cycling shorts and jersey (but initially I'd still wear cotton t-shirts underneath); first town line sprints (on evening rides north of Amsterdam); first time around the Liège-Bastogne-Liège course; first Rule #9 rides, coming home through blowing snow or freezing-cold rain with summer gloves and not enough fuel in the system on what in the morning had looked like a pretty good March day. This bike also provided the first brush with disaster on a self-organized week of racing in the Cevennes and Alpes Maritimes in 1992. As I lifted by my bike out of the van in Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée on the final day, preparing to race my friends up the Cime de la Bonnette, half of my fork stayed behind on the floor. That was the same fork I had used the day before, when we logged 160 kilometers, including up and down the Col de la Couillole and the Col d'Andrion. The last ride I remember doing on the Koga Miyata was in 2008, on an early spring visit to my mom in Holland, when I still lived in the U.S. Just a flat little windy and damp loop close to home--but it was a bike, and you could take it for a ride.
In 1994, living in Athens, Ohio, I bought the second bike I have owned in the U.S.: a 1992 lime green/yellow carbon Trek 2300. A friend urged me to consider buying it from him. It had been left behind by a guy who still owed him the rent for one of two months. The seat stays on my 1987 Fuji Team had just separated from the seat tube, so I was in the market. 800 bucks did the trick, and I think that over twenty years of ownership I got my money's worth. The first time I showed up on it on our Sunday ride, one of the guys asked: "is it as fast as it is ugly?" Even though in hindsight I could have done with a smaller size, I think I was pretty fast on it. This was my main bike for seven years, and I used it as I became a licensed racer living in New Mexico, started getting into breaks as a Cat. 3 at the weekly crits in Pittsburgh, and hung on in the Master's races during Superweek after we moved to Milwaukee. By then, the technology had become quite dated. I remember a guy at the starting line at Alpine Valley waxing nostalgically over his own, long since deceased Trek 2300. This did not put me in the right frame of mind for this tough road race. But I won my first prize money on this bike (not that day), and also recorded the highest speed ever to appear on any of my bike computers (57 m/h, coming down Pajarito Rd in Los Alamos one day after work). After replacing it in 2001 with what is now the good old Klein Quatum Race, it became my winter bike, decked out with a seat-post rack for 50 minute rides bookending 90 minute speedskating work outs at the Pettit National Ice Center (warning: this is too much exercise all at once, at least if you have to go to work the next day). Over in Amsterdam, I used the bike for four years to commute an hour each way to Amsterdam, until one dark and stormy night in 2012—it was my birthday—I took a left turn without looking back and another rider rode straight into my rear wheel. While, unlike him, I stayed upright, I had to open the brake all the way (unscrewing the nut) in order to be able to ride home, and the rim still rubbed up against the fork in two places. This particular night also happened to see the most intense rain showers in six years of doing this commute. But I made it. In these conditions, on what has turned out to be its final ride, the badly maimed Trek got me home, as it always had.
In Pittsburgh our first winter, it started to snow. And so it became impossible—certainly irresponsible—to ride my old Atala beater around town. Alan at the old Pro Bikes shop on Murray sold me a nice red Trek 930 mountain bike, used, which through the years has been a pretty good winter bike. When it became impossible to do our Sunday rides on the road, I would actually use it the way a mountain bike is supposed to be ridden. We'd go off-road starting in Schenley Park, also exploring the trails in Frick before finishing on the slag heaps overlooking the Monongahela river (now reportedly a classy new housing development) for our own triple crown. Spending the fall semester of 1997 in Leipzig, Germany, I brought this bike with me (slick tires replacing the original knobby ones) and not only rode it all over town, but also used it for my own solitary Sunday rides southeast of the city. In Milwaukee, every winter provided more than enough snow for the bike to get its work outs on the short commute to campus. The rust, thanks to road salt and sub-par maintenance, took its toll, however. Still, after the move to Holland the bike always got me to the train station or to area lake ice when called upon. And now it too is in the dumpster.
Finally the Colnago, with its beautiful Mapei paint job, showing tumbling colored cubes on a white background. I'd like to think that this is not the end of the line for it, but the guy who examined it knows what he's talking about. So here we go, for a fourth obituary: I was so pleased with this frame and the way we built it up in 2006. "We" were Mike Weber, the owner of the IS Corp Cycling Team, and I. The team was still riding Colnagos, and Mike thought I should have one too. We found this particular frame among the many that the team owned, and for the time being I would rent it, building it up with my own stuff. I especially liked the Ksyrium SL wheels we got for it, and even more exciting was that I had chosen, for the first time in my life, to ride sew-ups. They were very fancy Vittorias. It only took a week for me to learn my first sew-up lesson: you do not warm up on them, certainly not outside the course. The learning happened during the Waukesha Superweek criterium, when my rear tire began deflating slowly, almost taking me out a few times before I realized what was going on; the next morning, the front tire was flat too. I had picked up several pieces of glass, warming up in Waukesha traffic. The tires had been expertly glued to the new rims by the team mechanic, and I spent an agonizing hour trying to pull them off. But I'll never forget that first week racing on the new bike with the supple, brand-new, and firmly attached Vittorias—so maybe in the end they were worth the money. For the next six years, the Colnago would be my racing or summer bike, usually not brought out until some time in April and retired for the winter in late October. The Ksyriums I'd only use for racing until, living in Holland, I asked myself why on earth I would not ride my nice stuff, given that there seemed to be no racing in my foreseeable future. In 2009, it was the Colnago I used for my first ride up Mt. Ventoux. Did I look fantastic on it, wearing my IS Corp kit? You bet I did! Still, in 2012 it became time for a lighter and, I have to admit, slightly more comfortable carbon frame (the "Nikor"/Bonetti that helped shave almost nine minutes off my personal best on the Ventoux). Now the Colnago spent its time stored away, though still in sight. Almost every day I’d look up at it, admiring the paint job and feeling uneasy about never riding it any more. Late last summer I broke down: I should just use it and look fantastic. Because if you look fantastic, you'll feel fantastic, and then that's how your ride will be. I rode it all winter (now using a set of old clincher wheels), with as the final highlight—We Now Know—the first Dutch Midwinter Velominati Cogal on December 21 (sun-up to sun-down in wind and rain and good company; espresso prior, apple pie during, triple brew after!). More and more, however, I was aware of the creaking sounds emanating from underneath my seat. They had persisted after I took the seat apart to clean it and grease it up a little, which should have been an omen. The inside of the tube feeling perfectly smooth, however, I kept riding. I always thought that I'd keep the Colnago forever, as one of those beautiful classic bikes you take on a coffee ride on a sunny Saturday morning in the early spring. I suppose there will be new ways to look and feel fantastic. After all, it still is, and always will be, cycling.