fiction, short story
23 March 2003
Riding in a car with his family, young Richard and his brother Bobby look out the window at the cyclists as they pass by.
He dreams of himself one day touring.
His father mentions the fact that roads were initially paved due to demands of bicyclists, not automobiles.
At age six, Richard’s parents bought a 3-speed, a Raleigh.
As he outgrows his own little bike, they offer the seldomly used Raleigh as his next bike. But he wants his own. He wants a cool bike. He wants a racing bike.
Old men and women, he argues, ride 3-speeds. And so, he does odd jobs like mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, helping neighbors and saves his money. He goes to buy a modern road bike.
While at the bike shop, a framed poster illustrates the Raleigh as the workhorse vehicle built to outlast its original owner.
He rides his new bike with much pride. His bicycle is admired by all his friends and his little brother.
One day while basking in the attention of friends, he’s upstaged by a race team that silently whizzes by with perfect synchronicity in their pedaling cadence.
So, when will he put that racing bike to its intended use?—one friend inquires.
He wants now to race. Right now!
He starts to train. He rides everywhere and anywhere, rain or shine. He reads cyclist magazines and books. Months go by. He continues to train.
Finally, the day of his first race arrives. It’s 100 miles, a “century” in cyclist parlance.
As the race begins, he’s off to a strong start. He keeps up with the pack. He takes his turn as leader while others draft. Shortly after, a couple of others pass and take the lead position.
But there’s a gap. They didn’t just pull in front of him, they pulled away. Then, another cyclist joins them. Then three more. He shifts into a tighter gear. They keep passing. Before long, he’s at the back of the pack.
This is embarrassing.
He gets up out of the saddle to give more oomph to his cranking.
Yet, they’re still pulling away. Further and farther, they’ve increased the gap.
Now having just crested the hill ahead, they’re no longer in sight.
As he too finally crosses the hill, the other cyclists are nowhere to be seen.
At the next fork in the road, he slows then continues. A short distance later, he looks back and sees the next pack go whizzing by... down the other direction!
He comes to almost a complete stop, then awkwardly makes a u-turn and backtracks.
By now, stragglers of the chase pack have already gone by.
Like deja vu, now the second pack is almost out of sight. If it wasn’t for the relatively flat stretch, he’d have no idea exactly how big of a gap stretched out between them and him.
Just as they finally disappear, he becomes disillusioned and his pedaling slows to a crawl.
He stops and finds it difficult to get off his bike. His legs have cramped up. Remembering what he read, he tries his best to walk it off.
As he’s pushing his bike, walking slowly, a couple rides towards him. They have bikes similar to his parent’s but with baskets. They see the weary racer and offer food and water from their picnic sack.
They pat him on the back, bidding him well and watch him get back on his bike to finish the race.
Hours later, he crosses the finish line. The winners have long since gone home. In fact, the “sag wagon” follows him across the finish line, and other racers even more weary hobble out.
The man with the clipboard, checks his name off the list— the last empty checkbox to receive ink.
Back home, he reads a book from his stack on the bicycle industry. Among the titles like “bicycle maintenance” and “Tour de France.” He reads to his brother, “After over 100 years, Sturmey Archer— makers of the classic 3-speed hub used by generations of bicyclists throughout the world— was bought and its assets sold to turn a quick profit. A sad day in history, indeed.”
While riding to school, his backpack unwieldy, he stops to adjust it. A cute girl on a 3-speed approaches. She smiles, waves and says, “Bonjour!” Then, an older gentleman gracefully rolls by with a package nestled into the basket fastened to the handlebars of his 3-speed. He— apparently— is without worry or concern!
As he gets back on his bike, a thought occurs to him, “Was she saying hello to me or the old guy who shared the same style of old bike?”
Just then, he takes a spill. Getting up, his real wheel and handlebars are bent.
He takes the damaged wheel to the bike shop and notices a poster for the new models: 4x10 gearing! “A gear for every occasion, all forty of them!”
While working on his bike back at home beneath his Tour de France poster, his parents lend him the Raleigh. He points to a magazine ad version of the poster, then quietly closes the magazine and puts it into the bin.
He rides the Raleigh to school, covering his face while passing his friends. But his brother is sure to point him out and reveal the identity of the loser on the old bike.
Skidding to a stop, he looks both ways, throwing one leg over the saddle to a standing position just before the bike comes to rest. Like a quick-change artist, he puts the lock on probably even before momentum subsided. Then, without skipping a beat, he shuffles away.
Looking back to verify he wasn’t seen, he collides with the French girl as she locks up her Raleigh.
He’s blushing, mortified!
She eases his pain by pointing out, with an endearing smile, that they have similar bikes.
She kisses him on the check, and they walk off together.
At a theater, the movie they’re watching includes a clip of a romantic couple riding side-by-side on Raleighs.
Together, Richard and his new girlfriend ride their 3-speed bikes, go on picnics, go to the public market, etc.
But all good things come to an end. Graduation has arrived, and so her visa has expired. She must return to France.
In her absence, he finally fixes his racing bike.
He longs for her. He writes, looks longingly at pictures she sent from Paris.
He races again and wins. But it’s unsatisfying because she isn’t there for him to share it with.
He carelessly sets the trophy down, and without even noticing that it fell off the shelf due to too many other trophies, he returns to gazing at his collage of favorite but now well worn photos of her.
There’s an air-mail letter sitting on his bed. It’s from her! He tears into it, excited to read about her latest adventures. A photo with a couple of people falls out. He starts to read with a big smile.
Then, his smile slowly fades.
He sets the letter down and looks at the photo. It’s another man holding her in his arms. Worst of all, they’re at the finish line of the Tour De France— the race he’s always wanted to see, if not eventually compete in.
He drops the photo.
He wheels his bike over to his brother and gives it to him.
Now walking with a cane, Richard’s father tells him to keep the Raleigh.
Once again, he rides around on the Raleigh— does everything he used to do with his former French girlfriend— but now alone.
One day, while placing a few groceries into the basket of his bike at the public market, a woman approaches him. She points to her own Raleigh nearby with an endearing smile.
They ride together and picnic with those items he just bought.
They ride their Raleighs together into the urban horizon.