2016 has claimed yet another hero: My bike

img_4347It’s no David Bowie or Sharon Jones, but in my heart my bike will forever be among the list of victims of 2016.

A 1983 Nishiki International, this high-tensile steel bike died doing what it loved: Carrying me around town safely and dependably. It’s last act was to limp all the way to my home where I discovered the fatal crack Saturday: The bottom bracket is essentially falling off, ripped from the seat tube. The bike was simply pedaled one too many times.

As Davey Oil said on my Facebook post, “It wasn’t bent by a bumper, or lost to a bolt-cutter. You didn’t (ever) toss it in the basement and replace it. It wasn’t trashed by abuse, or ill-repair. Your bike was simply, done. And so, it finished. Called it a day. But, it went out doing what it loved, bringing you home.”

The fatal crack, discovered in the comfort of home.

The fatal crack, discovered in the comfort of home.

Me shortly after buying it in 2010.

Me shortly after buying it in 2010. The crank arms, seat post, stem, shifters and rear derailleur are the only parts I never replaced.

Of course, a bike is just a thing. But this bike represents some very transformative years in my life. It was already old and rusty by the time I bought it in 2010. It was 27. I was 25. Perhaps due to the rust, the $175 price was right for someone with no savings trying to launch a journalism career in the midst of the recession.

This bike saved me enough money that I could start Seattle Bike Blog, floating me through some very meager times when even the bus was out of my budget. It was easily the best investment I have ever made and may ever make again.

Despite the tired and worn parts, this bike never broke down when I was too poor to fix it, and it never stranded me when I was too far from home. And through the process of fixing essentially every part over the years (usually with more used parts), it also empowered me to no longer fear working on my bike.

For two summers, I hauled Clean Greens CSA boxes around the Central District.

For two summers, I hauled Clean Greens CSA boxes around the Central District.

My friend Mark may note that this sounds a lot like the Ship of Theseus. What is a bike? How many parts can be replaced before it becomes a new bike? How many parts from this bike would I need to bring to a new frame if I wanted to keep this bike “alive?” No, best not to think this way. I should be beyond the stage of bargaining by now.

img_3528  img_1122As I learned more about biking through experience and through writing this blog, I gradually changed my bike into a versatile and dependable ride capable of climbing the steepest hills Seattle can throw at me, hauling very heavy loads in a Haulin’ Colin trailer, going off-road bike camping in the Cascades or zipping around town to cover all the bike news I can get to.

But most importantly, it carried me on a long bike tour around the Pacific Northwest, the trip where I knew for sure I wanted to marry Kelli Refer.

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An obituary for a bike is an odd exercise, I know. As Mike McGinn said on Facebook, “All that’s left is to send it off from shore in a burning boat.” That actually sounds fun, though I imagine the Puget Sound wouldn’t appreciate it very much.

But this bike was constant through some major changes in my life. And looking through photos of it reminded me of where I’ve been. A photo of this bike is nearly always a happy memory. Wherever I’m going next, I’ll be on a new bike. But in the fading memories of my late 20s, this bike will always be there.

Farewell, friend.

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21 Responses to 2016 has claimed yet another hero: My bike

  1. Gary says:

    I’ve ridden to death two bikes. Both died of frame fatigue and cracks not worth repairing. The first was regretted loss, the second a squirrelly ride I hope never to have again. I appreciate your loss.

  2. PSJ says:

    Well written! My condolences (or perhaps congratulations at wresting every bit of life out of your faithful steed). Looking forward to hearing about your next new friend. :-)

  3. MJ says:

    I just shot half a can of T-9 into my late 80’s Miyata 1000, hoping to buy it another 10 years. Something very satisfying about using up something durable, so rare these days.

  4. kommish says:

    What a sweet tribute. Farewell, great ride. Hope your next one is awesome too.

  5. Svend says:

    My first road bike was a 90s Nishiki International. I got it used, and rode it for over ten years, until the frame broke at the downtube. It was nice to be able to put modern components on the frame as the original parts wore out. Yay for standards!

  6. Al Dimond says:

    Sorry to hear. I haven’t had a bike break under me since a garage-sale Huffy when I was 8 or 9, but I had my main ride stolen a couple months ago. By now the new bike (actually a little older than the old bike) is just my bike. I guess that process doesn’t take too long when you do your own maintenance — any bike you touch quickly takes on your character.

  7. Anthony says:

    Reduce, reuse, and recycle! Take it to a local builder and have them put in a new down tube unless there is mkore to it than that. My right rear dropout on my Surly CC broke a week and a half ago and yesterday I just finished brazing in a new Suntour Superbe Pro I had in the toolbox since 1991 and it was itching to be used.

    Steel is by far the best frame material for repairability, so that thing isn’t done yet. I have brazed in new seat tubes, down tubes, etc and the life of the frame is extended, which it should be.

    We all feel your pain, but it isn’t over until you have given up on it and thrown it into the recycling pile at Seattle Metals.

    Best of luck!

  8. Bryan Willman says:

    Tom – you have joined that elite group of cyclists who have actually worn out a frame! (I wore out one as well… Also cracks in the bottom bracket…)

    While sad, it will be OK. The steel will be recycled to some new mission, and the world is full of bikes abandoned long before worn out, one will serve you well for another long tour..

  9. Virchow says:

    Sorry for your loss and congrats on finding such a friend.

  10. Jim says:

    Sad but perhaps inevitable. It’s looks like it’s seen some noble use.
    Can you commission some yard art or apartment art to be made from the remains?

  11. Law Abider says:

    Condolences. Losing a bike, either to old age or unexpected breakage, sucks. Good luck on the replacement search!

  12. Morgan says:

    Have you found the replacement? What size? I have a nice steel Bianchi (downtube shifters) that I no longer ride. 58 or 59CM, I think.

  13. Clark in Vancouver says:

    Well, check out this blog post about the same thing.

    https://chillikebab.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/wearing-out/

  14. Dave says:

    Hey, it just needs an organ transplant. There are a whole lot of frames that can absorb some portion of the parts from your Nishiki.

  15. Doug says:

    I’ve lost three frames to this this same failure. All 80s/early 90s lugged steel bikes.

    Methinks that mass-produced lugged frames aren’t terribly durable. Lack of brazing penetration into the entire bottom bracket, leading to independent flex of the different tubes, being the chief result.

  16. Apu says:

    Aww, sweet post! I loved reading this.

  17. George Harvey says:

    My condolences. My good old Trek 520 suffered the same fate. When the bike shop told me it really couldn’t be fixed they asked if I wanted them to junk the frame. I couldn’t live with putting it in a dumpster. I took it home and removed all the parts, remembering how excited I’d been to upgrade the brakes or the crank, and all the other items. I remembered how thrilled I’d been to finally buy a “good bike” and all the STP’s and Chilly Hilly’s and other rides I’d done. After I stripped it I waxed the frame. A few days later when it was dark and blowing hard (yes, a dark and stormy night), I took it down to Puget Sound and consigned it to the deep. I know it’s a rusty hulk now, but somehow the thought of liberating the atoms of steel to flow the oceans makes me feel pretty good. Ride on.

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