Carmen's Silvered Straggler

by Igor Shteynbuk
What have bikes brought me? I've fallen in love on bikes: my city, with danger, with my own legs and shoulders in the sun turning slow circles at sunrise, at sunset, in snow, in rain. When I got this bike I wasn't living here but we roamed far and wide. Like any wanderer, I named this blue steel steed Helplessness Blues. What's my name, what's my station, oh please tell me what I should do. I love the speckle still glittery and pretty in the twilight paint. I stripped it of decals and enjoy the simplicity and, hopefully, it's camouflage to defend it from thieves and rogues. 
I bought this Surly Straggler with my own pennies, despite having the ability to discount it, and I'll always know and love that. We pushed through snow on minimum maintenance roads as I ballsed up to do Mid-South on a balmy day, me staring down Indian Meridian where my uncles lived, where my grandparents were buried. We barreled together through Minneapolis, the River Bottoms, the falls, the races. We ate dirt skidding down a hill and leapt back up to finish, we slammed into black ice and collected a bruise the size of Saturn. We crossed the Badlands overwhelmed by the ability to be lost and pretending we were on other worlds. 
This bike and I crossed the country, exploring and riding through Montana's mountains, the steep Seattle hills, islands and rainy portland. When tragedy struck and Helplessness Blues busted its chainstay in a rear-ending, my heart broke. Weeping inconsolably on Telegraph Avenue after the diagnosis, I could not bear to abandon this bike. When the bike went into the depths of not riding, some sort of Hades, so did I. 
One day we went to Blue City Cycles in Bridgeport and I timidly approached Owen, the owner, master of steel. I left that frame and when I returned, there was the chainstay: shiny silver patina, gold at the joins, and my heart leapt. It took time and it took swaps from the junk piles at my house. 
Still, something had been lost. We'd been apart too long, my heart was tired, Chicago felt both too flat and too far. I'd been grounded, relegated to a winter. When we finally repaired it back together I rode down to a Big Marsh, an incredible park of singletrack and gravel and birdsong, and I reveled in the October sun, the way we clipped down the Lakefront. We were back. 
I know it's a small thing, but some of us get to approach bikes like that, curious and tentative and not understanding. I'd never known what Velo Orange was until I saw a friend's Piolet and swooned a little bit. I wondered if that sort of thing would ever be in my reach: I'd perhaps stumbled into bike cliques and clubs that weren't for me, where I felt less than, where I felt like what I didn't know mattered more than my miles and miles on two wheels. When I worked in a warehouse, I fondly admired the packaging and class of Velo Orange components I picked and packed out into the world. 
There's pretty little stock left on this bike: not tires, not saddle, and now not a beautiful stem. I have changed, my bike has changed, the world has changed, and with the little I have and had I knew it was time to adjust my cockpit. It's taking me time: I'm just a guy who wants to ride a bike and this is my steed. I sent off for a beautiful silver Happy Stem to match the scarred chainstay I dutifully sand and wonder if I should paint. Next to come is handlebars, I hope, the stock drops never quite fitting my broad shoulders. 
When I slid the stem on, adjusted my bars, carefully rewrapped my tape I was so charmed by how the bike became new to me again. Like a patched skiff, like a stately thoroughbred with pretty tack, it felt new. Like me, hyrbid, halfie, often blue, with a disco sparkle laugh, a penchant for leather, tenacious, adaptable, broken but back, sturdy. We're going the distance, me and Helplessness Blues, dancing down the street, bushwacking down by the river, slowly but surely making our comeback. It ain't much, my stem, but it's a start. I gaze at other components to adorn my beloved bike with, and one day it'll get what it deserves. She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts. 

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