Last week I bought myself a brand new bicycle. It came about fairly quickly – I was frustrated with my old bike (a dark green Windsor Tourist affectionately named Mike the Bike), I saw a good review of a decent workhorse bike in Bicycle Times, I found a similar bike in my size on clearance at the local REI, and I bought it within an hour of testing it. I LOVE the new bike, but it wasn’t until I was riding to work the next morning that I realized that an era had come to an end. For nearly five years, I rode Mike the Bike at least ten miles almost every day, and then as suddenly as he came into my life, he and I were over. I’m not ashamed to admit that it made me a little emotional. And on that note, I thought I’d clack out a little tribute to Mike the Bike.
The San Francisco Years
I first rode Mike to work on December 1, 2011. I couldn’t come to a complete stop, I went downhill slower than I went uphill (due to terror), I couldn’t take either hand off the bars (sorry, signaling!) and I absolutely couldn’t stand up on the pedals. That first commute was rough, and my heart started pounding that afternoon at the thought of having to make the return trip home. But Mike was a solid bike, and he stayed in tune despite my newbie efforts to kill him. I quickly improved and started to look forward to riding. Before long, my commute was my favorite part of each day.
Together, Mike and I completed the classic San Francisco cyclist’s hat-trick from hell: We were hit by a car (not our fault), hit a pedestrian (NOT OUR FAULT) and bit it over the Muni tracks (totally our fault), all in the space of a calendar year. For our final San Francisco performance, Mike and I were severely right hooked by an unmarked van, leaving both of us dented and shaken up, but undeterred.
The San Francisco era also ushered in our first long-distance bike trip, from our San Francisco apartment along the coast to Morgan’s childhood home in Santa Barbara. I fell in love with bike touring and Mike fell in love with his granny gear.
The Auburn Experiment
Auburn was a wacky place to live, but damn, was it a fun place to ride a bike. I worked 16 miles north of home, so twice a week Mike and I would enjoy the 32-mile round-trip commute along gorgeous Placer Hills Road, with a total of 3,000 feet of climbing. Our fastest one-way time was 1:21, after which I nearly ralphed. We often rode home in the dark, getting spooked by the roaving packs of deer lurking just beyond the road’s edge (record deer sightings for a single home commute: 32). Once, we were about to roll through a desolate three-way stop when a crashing sound made me jam on Mike’s brakes. A second later, two enormous bucks careened down the roadside embankment straight into the intersection, horns locked in epic combat. Mike and I escaped to higher ground to watch the fight play out.
During our time in Auburn we were gifted a Burly trailer and watched our leg muscles quadruple in size as we hauled Banner back and forth from the dog park. Mike and I would frequently coast down the hill to meet Morgan pedaling up from his office in Lincoln, stopping a couple miles from home to get dollar ice cream cones to fuel the return trip. Due to our almost complete lack of a social life in Auburn, I was in the best shape of my life and I think Mike was among my top five closest friends.
Getting it Right in Reno
We moved to Reno in July 2014, and Mike and I immediately fell into a groove. Bike to work, bike home for lunch, bike back to work, bike back home. Bike to get groceries thanks to that sweet Burly trailer, bike to the bar, bike to the river. We quickly discovered that almost everywhere in town was super easily bikeable, and Mike’s stout construction and zillion gears made short work of any stray trips up into the hills.
Since moving to Reno, Mike has been able to indulge his inner traveler a little more with tours through Oregon (amazing!) and Utah (less amazing!). Mike currently lists Bend, OR as his favorite city on earth and earned his beastly stripes on the 26-mile climb up to Crater Lake and the 20-mile, 4,000-foot climb out of Utah’s Cedar City.
Mike has kept me fit, happy and not broke in Reno, but he’s really shined the most here in his ability to attract friends. Thanks to the Reno Bike Project’s repair class and group rides, and to the somewhat small but very active group of cycling enthusiasts in town, my introverted self has been able to forge more genuine friendships with fun, like-minded people than I ever thought possible.
Sadly, in late May of this year, Mike’s (mil)age and my admitted total neglect of his care and upkeep started to catch up with him. One of his wheel rims exploded, he began shifting like a garbage truck and eventually lost his ability to shift at all. As is the fate of so many bikes, when it became apparent that it was going to cost more money to fix Mike on an annual basis than to replace him, I decided the time for his retirement had come.
Mike and I traveled around 15,000 miles during our years together. He put dollars in my pocket that I didn’t spend on gas and allowed us to become a one-car family. He let me consume literally thousands of slices of pizza while steering clear of obesity. He transported me to some of my favorite places and best days and nights on this earth through the magic of bike touring. Most importantly, he put me in contact with great friends and brought be closer to my husband and to both sides of my fantastic bike-friendly family. This little assemblage of steel and cables has had a more profound impact on my life than I could ever have imagined on that first December commute. Mike and I may have ridden our last miles together, but he’ll forever have a special spot in my heart as the bike that started it all.