I have a memory from when I built my bike in 2009. My friend Matt–the bike mechanic behind this operation–and I were sitting on the floor of the mudroom I rented. We sat excited, scrolling through eBay listings on a brand new mini Acer laptop that I’d return to Best Buy later that day. We were looking for rims worthy of my Trek carbon fiber frame, which had been found by “Captain,” our homeless friend, in a dumpster behind an abandoned gas station in Salt Lake City, Utah. On this particular day, we were stoned and $800 seemed like a reasonable price to pay for a set of like-new wheels.
Building this bike felt like the ultimate DIY project at the time for a few reasons. First, Matt would do all the actual work, meaning all I had to do was supply the cash to get the job done. Second, it meant I could sell my 1970’s steel-frame Nishiki 10-speed (a bike that in retrospect, I should have kept) and upgrade to a full carbon fiber ride that would zip through the wide Salt Lake City streets in the middle of the night. I spent summer nights that year stoned and plugged into Daft Punk on my old iPod, racing myself down the quiet Utah landscape or up the Canyons and away from It All. This bike felt like a ticket to smooth freedom and the fact that I could custom build it only heightened its appeal. It also gave me bragging rights, although those rights really belonged to Matt.
During its time with me, this bike is one of the few possessions that traveled with me as I moved in my early 20s (the others being a blanket I made when I was 6 and, strangely, an adapter from the late 90s for splitting speakers). Despite its full carbon fiber makeup and inability to carry much of anything besides my spandexed self, this bike served as my primary form of transportation in Salt Lake City, Honolulu, Wrangell, and Sacramento. It is the bike I rode down the coast of the western US in 2012 when I embarked on my solo 1500-mile cycle tour from Alaska to Sacramento (I still haven’t made it to Texas, the actual end goal of that journey). It’s also the bike that gave me my chronic knee pain, which is why, since 2012, it has seen more days in the garage than on the road.
Today at 3:45pm I am trading in that same bike at Performance Cycle in San Mateo, California. Worth well over two thousand dollars when I built it, I don’t have high hopes for its trade-in value ten years later. It’s bittersweet to upgrade my ride, but I can no longer ride in a racing form on drop handlebars, clipped into pedals just a little too narrow for my hips. It’s time to reclaim my biking self and settle with a ride a bit more reasonable for my current landscape. I’m thinking aluminum frame, multipurpose, comfortable, durable, and fun.
My husband, in his characteristic helpful and amazing way, used a hair dryer to peel a decade’s worth of stickers off the frame yesterday afternoon. Cleaning the frame finally forced me to say goodbye to the Human Rights Campaign stickers from my college exploratory years, the yoga stickers from who knows where, the Alaska Marine Highway sticker from the ferry system that carried me out of Alaska in 2012, the Ocean Concepts Hawaii sticker from a dive shop I worked at in 2009 that no longer exists, and backcountry.com and rei.com stickers from a life lived well. So many memories and past definitions of myself, finally gone and off the bike that will hopefully find a new home with a petite-framed young woman who wants to zip through the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area.
I guess I just needed to process this transition, which brings us to right now. This bike feels like a part of me. But looking at it now, naked, leaning against tubs of beans and oats and grains in our tiny apartment kitchen, I feel ready to release and move on. More importantly, I am ready to let go of the pressure to go fast on that racing frame and instead welcome a new era of easy, sustainable biking!