The Red Bicyclete

I left work late today under a moderate amount of stress.  Nothing unusual, just a number of items beginning to stack up.   Probably not much different than your day.  But it was exacerbated by a prior poor night’s sleep.  I woke early in the morning with chest pains.  Not the  heart attack kind, rather the type of pain due to the consumption of a poorly vintaged pinot noir with one of those memorable labels- The Red Bicyclete.  Realizing that I was not dying, I walked around the quiet house checking on the kids.  My dog and cat were both asleep on my 10 year old’s bed.  The dog thumped its tail a few times when I peeked in through the darkness.  I made my way down stairs and slipped into a quiet chair, opened a book and fell back asleep.

All of this got me thinking about my mortality, not in a philosophical way, though I am not sure there is any other way to look at it.  So when I finally left the office today I knew that I had to get on the bike.  My Cannondale Six13 is out for repairs and my winter bike has a chain-skip issue.  But, in the corner of my garage, bathed in florescent light was my 1988 red Raleigh, Reynolds 531, double-butted steel team bike.  This was the bike I rode when I was racing in New Orleans.  I had just returned to the States from Belgium and the team I was racing for was sponsored by Raleigh.   I remember how beautiful, almost delicate, it was with a red main triangle and black stays and black steel fork.  I’ve got a couple of pictures of me on it racing on the streets of New Orleans and later, set up as a time trial bike.  Back then, we would just add a disc wheel and some clip-on aero bars.   I had recently retrofitted it with a single 44 tooth chainring and an 18 tooth 3/32 fixed gear.  I had glued on a couple of old Vittoria Corsa tubular tires last year and I have been using the bike to get around town during the day.   I put a small front hand brake on for safety.  It’s also equipped with vintage Campagnolo track pedals and toe clips and straps.   It seemed to be calling me.

I put on my kit and changed out the pedals so that I could use my current shoes, determined to get on this bike.   As I was making the pedal change, I remembered the days when I would actually nail my cleats onto my new Duegi Italian shoes.  They all had wooden soles then, just for this purpose.   We would ride for a couple of hours without cleats to see where the ‘line’ would form on the wooden sole of the shoe and then align the slot of the cleat along this impression.  The double Alfredo Binda (3 time world road champion) leather toe straps still had a little button on the end so that you could reach down at the end of the race and cinch-down the straps tightly for the sprint.  I remembered how my feet would ache on long rides.

It was less than a week ago that I had another, less visceral but closer brush with death.  It had just rained, but the forecast was for clearing as I headed down to the Sample Gates for last week’s Wednesday Worlds.  Steam was rising from the road as I crested Old 37 at the southern end of Cascades.  Realizing that I wouldn’t make it to the start, I waited at the Showers’ park for the group to appear.   Two riders approached from the IU Stadium.  I turned with them and we headed out to the pre-determined course.  The posted route would take us through the Morgan Monroe State Forest, then down Beanblossom to Anderson road.  We switched it up and went the opposite way in the event that we missed a larger group and we could intercept them along the way.   My two partners were Kevin and Mark, two very capable riders who do most of their training alone.  We chatted for a while and soon settled into a brisk but comfortable paceline.  3 minute pulls, 20+ mph, perfect for a low-key WW.  We made it up Beanblossom and through the Forest.  the roads were damp but of little concern on this road course.  We made it through Hindustan, over the top, down through the descents to Anderson without complication.

We were still single file climbing out of the small valley near Anderson Road and heading for home when we heard that sound that every cyclist dreads; the sound of screeching tires just behind you.  Now, I would like to tell you that our trained, cat-like reflexes saved us from being road-kill, but it was just luck.  The climb is a little bit blind as it curves gently over the top.  You’ve ridden this a hundred times.   We had just crested and were still hitting it pretty hard when we heard that terrible sound.  It happened so quickly and it was over as soon as it started.  This small blue pickup was traveling at a high rate of speed in the same direction as us.  For whatever reason (I would later discover that the driver was drunk), the driver hit the brakes and turned to the left to avoid us, the rear of the truck got ‘loose’, he slid past us at about 50mph going sideways in the wrong lane then launched into a mailbox and ultimately a solid pine tree, which abruptly ended his trip to the Porthole.

I went to the vehicle and yanked opened the door. The  back window and windshield were blown out, no seatbelts for this fella, but the airbag saved some future cosmetic reconstruction.  A bloody nose and what looked like a busted hand was evident at first glance.  He was breathing, alert (for someone drunk) and mad as hell, apparently at me.  I helped him out of the car, but he was already preparing his defense.  I called 911, stepped far away and gave a description of the situation and location.  Within 5 minutes, 2 State Troopers, 3 Sheriffs, 2 ambulances, a fire truck and a tow truck were on the scene.   A 6 foot tall State Trooper took our information and statement.  But it was clear that he knew the score.  I heard him say to his partner as we were walking back to the bikes, “This one’s gonna be trouble.”  I snapped a picture of the three of us, nervous smiles at the scene, more as a test or proof that we actually survived.  We rode back in a strange silence as darkness was descending.  

I thought back on this incident for the first time as I stepped out into the first warm rain of Spring tonight to get back on the bike, to do the only thing that I know to do.   I was greeted by the reassuring hum of tubular on pavement, unencumbered by complications as I turned toward the Forest.


  1. Yikes. I’m glad to be reading about this as a blog post and not an H-T story with a different outcome. May the fates always be on your side.

    446 this week, and remember, life’s too short for cheap wine!

  2. Wow glad he was alert enough to turn the wheel and no-one was added to the stats. Scary!

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