Ghost Bike

By Joe Kurmaskie

It fit me like a glove. As if I’d worked with one of those professionals who sizes riders, matching them to the perfect bike for their height, weight and bone length. Meticulous, exacting, often humorless. I’ve heard that a good fit consultant is akin to a fine Italian tailor. Maybe I could be a contender if I put myself and the checkbook out there, kept my mouth shut and acquired a top-notch bike tailor.

Not an option this time. The Bianchi arrived unannounced — a solid cardboard box on the porch and a formal envelope sporting a return address from a law firm out of the Midwest. My heart skips a beat whenever lawyers get involved ... in anything. We call this the Shakespeare reaction. “First, kill all the lawyers!” The same reaction happens when a cop pulls behind me in traffic, even when I’ve done nothing wrong, I suppose it has something to do with an outlaw heart.

Despite this vague unease, I opened the letter. It puts me on the floor. I stay there awhile, then touch the box gently before working my way into the plastic lawn chair on my porch. I read parts of the note again while a murder of crows go ballistic in the 100-year-old Chestnut across the street. It’s the last day of summer and the crows know it. Bright, warm, glorious and about to change.

Clipping in to the pedals of this sublime machine, all I can think is that it most certainly deserves better than me. Carbon fiber, high-end components and a paint job that screams, “Steal me!” The type of rig that launches off the line with the slightest breath of effort. Most bikes you have to make go fast, a few become partners in grime over the long haul. It’s the rare piece of shaped metal that lets you simply hold on with a shit-eating grin plastered across your face. No one will ever mistake me for fast on a bicycle, but possession of this Bianchi and a bit of time with it might let me form an alter ego.

The Sellwood Bridge in Portland is a death trap, never mind that engineers are in a race to retrofit the thing before it falls into the Willamette River. The lanes are thinner than a runway model, with messy patches, scary potholes and wide gaps between the slabs. I usually ride haltingly or get off and walk the narrow sidewalk, which is dotted with light posts positioned to fuel showdowns between cyclists and pedestrians on a regular basis.

On the Bianchi I take the lane ... for the first time ever. The bridge is behind me before anyone can close in on my rear wheel, honk or even notice me. Moving up the hill through the cemetery it dawns on me that I’m not just riding a bike willed to me by a fan of my stories — by someone who didn’t want his ride to end even though he’d taken his last breath; this is a ghost bike.

The romantic in me decides it’s a bike straddling two roads, the one I can see in front of me and the unseen path he’s gone on ahead to explore. The only real way to honor this gift would be to ride the Bianchi like a pack of hellhounds chasing something stolen from a deep place, a fox running flat out to stay ahead of the hunt, or a man in his full effort seeing how much beating the heart can withstand before it breaks. If I can’t ride this bike as if its wheels barely touch the ground, then I’d better leave it in the garage or forward it to someone who will.

I’ll fail of course. This is a given, but when I don’t, when I find the feel and pulse and push through to the path unseen, maybe I’ll get lucky and out of the corner of my eye I’ll catch a glimpse of the bike’s rightful owner, of all those ghosts, a parade of riders, light and fast and unbound now by limits, exploring the road ahead on two wheels.

You Might Be A Cyclist if... is Joe Kurmaskie’s latest book — a collection of inspiring and humorous affirmations that every cyclist will recognize themselves in. Joe’s book collection also includes The Metal Cowboy; Momentum is Your Friend; and Mud, Sweat and Gears. When he’s not traveling the world, he resides in Portland, Ore.

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