Ode to The Beast
My old REI touring bike is made of sturdy steel (chromoly if you’re into metallurgy) and weighs about 35 pounds with the rack, water bottles, bell, lights, etc. Strap on two packed panniers and we’re up to 55. That’s over twice the weight of one of those $4,000 carbon fiber bikes that our affluent brethren ride. When I hoist my bike up to the car’s roof rack, I grunt like Serena returning a hard shot, and sometimes feel a troubling twinge in my lower back. He’s bulky and brawny and black with weirdly curved moustache handlebars and I call him “The Beast.”
His tires are immensely wide as befits a big bike, like size 17 Nikes on an NBA forward. I sometimes imagine that, were I stronger and braver, I could pedal The Beast from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego and encounter no mechanical problem worse that a slipped chain. He has never had a flat in five years of riding. If carbon fiber bikes were a comic book character, they’d be The Flash; my ride would be The Hulk. He’s my Conestoga wagon to their Pony Express, my Clydesdale to their Arabian. Indeed, his antique Brooks saddle gives him a certain equine feel. Unlike any horse, though, The Beast is indestructible and perhaps even immortal. He will certainly outlast me.
Monstrously heavy, he takes serious effort to pedal, especially uphill, even on very minor inclines. I take pride in those heart-pounding slogs, even as my girlfriend effortlessly zips past me, not a hint of sweat on her brow, astride a featherlight road bike. Sometimes little girls on sparkly Barbie-themed bikes with training wheels give me a run for my money. And recently I was handily passed by a cheerful teenager on a unicycle.
I’ve ridden The Beast on any number of rail-trails. We’ve done the Great Allegheny Passage together, and the C&O canal many times, often on perfect spring days but we’ve also been thrashed by ugly downpours. We’ve been chased by farm dogs and buffeted by the slipstreams of semis. Through it all he has confidently rolled over ruts, pounded past puddles, mushed through mud and mire, and endured the grit and gravel in his gears, all without missing a step. This means all I ever have to do is hold onto those goofy handlebars and enjoy the scenery, unconcerned by almost anything in our path.
Being paired with The (admittedly plodding) Beast means I can’t take part in group rides, which honestly is just fine. Joining a group of middle-aged men in far-too-tight spandex for some passive-aggressive pack riding down the center line of the road is an experience I’m happy to forgo. In the time they bang out a century followed by a couple of IPAs, I will still be on my two-wheeled equivalent of the Bataan Death March, happily puffing and wheezing like a freight train going through the Rockies.
If it’s not obvious yet, let me state plainly that The Beast is much more than just a simple conveyance; he’s my alter ego. His reliable fortitude, endless stamina, and uncomplaining nature are all traits I deeply admire. He’s as stoic as Russell Crowe’s Gladiator and as unstoppable as DiCaprio’s Revenant. Now, you may well be thinking to yourself, does this guy not understand that his passion, his ardor, for an inanimate object is by definition unrequited? Maybe, but I’m not willing to concede that point, not just yet. After all, you can’t spell love without velo.
Cover Photo: Courtesy of the author.