Chances were fair that I would not see that bicycle again. It was a gift after all, and what of giving grants us the right of keeping?
I'd bought the Frankenbike long ago from the man who'd built it for himself out of parts from several cast-off bicycles—an old AMF "Sky Rider" coaster bike paired with a generic mountain bike fork and new Schwinn chrome fenders. A single speed with a moderately low gear that allowed you to climb any hill in the city, with fat tires that made it stable on snow and ice.
I kept it at the office for errands and downtown client meetings and once rode it home in a blizzard that locked down city traffic. Later, when we moved to a building that didn't allow us to bring bikes inside, I took it home, outfitted it with a newsboy basket and used it for grocery and beer runs. One spring I stripped it down to the bare steel and repainted it, but the rust from winter riding crept back again.
Adorned as it was with lost toys and stuffed animals I found on my rides, the bike never required locking when I went into a store. Who would want it? Or would risk the wrath of the crazy guy who rode it?
The bike had served me well, but a few weeks ago, I decided to part with it.
A fellow we'll call Marsh was looking for a bike to transport his stout self and shifting daily inventory of belongings. His previous one had either disintegrated or been sold for a few dollars. I told him I had an extra I scarcely used any more, and I showed him a picture. He was interested in the bike but not the rubber alligator, baby shoes and Barney Castle I employed for security.
He didn't have lock right now, he said, but he'd take the bike into his building at night. I knew he lived in a tower about a mile away and I warned him that the bike was heavy.
He told me he had an elevator, no problem, so we arranged for him to check out the bike the next week.
Without its decorations, The Sky Rider still looked cool, though Marsh was not particularly into its more subtle features, such as the rotary bell I bought from a Chinese street vendor, the vintage Mesinger seat and the front wheel's spokes braided by Namond, the Satanic Mechanic. I told Marsh the basket could haul forty pounds of groceries. He wanted to know why it was set at an angle and whether he could level it.
After cautioning Marsh to remember the bike had coaster brakes, I watched his slow test ride down the alley and back.
Yes, I thought, I'm ready to let it go. But I also realized I wanted to pass along the bike's history as well as the steel. I had loved that bike and I wanted it to have another loving home.
Duh. It was going to a former homeless guy, not a bike geek. To Marsh, my rolling repository of stories was a caravan of compromises.
A few days later I saw Marsh and the bike.
That bike bloodied me up five times! he said. My face, my leg, my arm.
You've got to remember to use the foot brake, I said.
You'll get used to it, I said.
He said he was taking it to the hardware store to raise the basket and get a hand brake installed on the rear.
After a week and half away from Peace House, I saw Marsh but not the bike. He wore dark wraparounds so it was impossible to make eye contact, and the fact he was avoiding me told me the bike was gone.
Calvin filled me in. He said Marsh complained the bike was too slow. Calvin said he told him, it's not the bike. You're too fat and carrying all that stuff.
The Sky Rider had passed through several hands already, Calvin said. He'd seen it on Lake Street the other day, still bearing the basket and fenders but without its Sky Rider gas tank. Marsh could never hold onto anything, Calvin said. He'll buy a bike or a DVD player in the morning and get high and sell it that night for a fraction of what he'd paid.
One day years ago I was riding the Sky Rider down Lake Street and I ran into the Satanic Mechanic himself. He told me he'd had no intention of selling the bike and now wished he'd kept it.
I don't regret giving it away. I knew this outcome was a possibility, although I'd hoped to follow the bike's adventures for awhile longer. I'd hoped it would give the next owner pleasure or at least make a small difference in his life.
But this is a story I can only tell. I don't get to write it.
Maybe the former Sky Rider will survive. Maybe it'll come back into Namond's hands as junk and he'll resurrect it once again.
The universe is an unpredictable place where things sometimes work out on their own.
[UPDATE: This story has evolved since I posted it. For more, read The Peripatetic Bicycle.]