I am no cyclist. Anyone who has witnessed me ride a bike can attest to this.
Nevertheless, my brother (a bicycle mechanic) and my father (once a bicycle mechanic) insisted on sending me off to college with a custom-built bike, lovingly assembled from the junk laying around the garage. In this particular garage, my brother found some aesthetically pleasing pieces to put together with some magic I don’t quite understand to form a functioning machine. He even included pedal retention, which, for the uninitiated, means some strappy things designed to keep the rider’s feet inescapably attached to the pedals, presumably so they can apply upward pressure as well as downward when pedaling.
For me, pedal retention just guaranteed that I would fall with my bike every time I hit a bump in the path, struggling to detach my feet and jump clear of the wreckage all the way down. Other fun features included a hip ombre-painted frame and a bright, purplish-blue wheelset.
As a final gift before I left, my brother gave me a bike lock. Among its many features, it boasted a hardened manganese steel chain with a Kevlar sleeve around it and a patented, super-secure locking mechanism. Ostensibly, it would be enough to fend off those who might wish to do harm to my best way of commuting between Joss and Skinner Hall.
My dad made getting this bike to Vassar unscathed his mission during our road trip here from Michigan. Every few hours, we’d have to stop, just so he could check on the straps affixing it to the car roof. He couldn’t even wait for someone to need a rest stop; the bike was too precious for us to dawdle.
The very minute the team of enthusiastic, tie-dye clad House Team members finished moving my boxes, Dad needed to make sure my bike got locked up. He needed to check that I had the key, that the seat had been properly adjusted, that I could see its place on the bike rack from my window. The man was seriously projecting his concern for his youngest child going off to college onto this undeserving hunk of metal.
Just as we finished locking up the bike, a kind officer of Safety & Security who had been helping park cars happened to walk by and commented that they usually they suggest U-Locks. Ah, but did they know my lock was hardened manganese steel? Certainly it could withstand petty theft attempts.
Furthermore, my dad suggested that I put it in indoor storage for the night. Even as my family prepared to embark on the long journey back home, he gave me a parting reminder to take care of the bike, tacking on the afterthought to take care of myself.
During the first three weeks of classes, the bike served me well. I made it between Kenyon and Rocky in record time, and I always remembered to lock it up. When it got dark, I didn’t bother to put it inside. After all, it had a super great lock.
It wouldn’t even be worth the effort of stealing. A thief would expend so much effort to break my lock, only to find the seat lowering incrementally as he pedaled his wares away from the scene of the crime. Then, as he tried to turn a profit on the stolen goods, he’d be unable to sell it because of its bizarrely sized special-or- der.
That fateful Friday morning, as I walked back from my morning class, I talked with some friends about the benefits of having a bike on campus. Yeah, it’s a bit annoying to take the time to lock it up, but zooming across campus in under five minutes more than compensated for that inconvenience. Over those few days, my bicycle had become an invaluable resource. It allowed me to sleep in 10 whole extra minutes. An hour and a half before, I’d decided to walk to class instead of riding the bike, so I could drink my coffee on the go.
As Joss came into view, I did a double-take. I didn’t see my bright wheels. I thought to myself that maybe my eyesight was going. After all, it’s been a while since I got new classes. I tried not to panic.
I got closer, willing my eyes to be wrong.
Over the next hour or so, I rapidly advanced through the five stages of bicycle loss.
I told myself it couldn’t really be gone, that maybe some friends had thought it would be funny to somehow break my lock and hide my bike. Like just for the jokes. Of course.
I told myself that if I found the thief, I would beat them up and take it back.
I told myself I should’ve listened to my dad and put it inside overnight. This was all my fault. I told myself that really, me riding around campus on the bike posed a safety hazard not only to myself, but also to anyone who might be walking in my path.
And with that, I accepted that I had to walk all the way to Safety & Security to report the theft. After a few minutes of waiting in the lobby, an officer emerged.
“Bicycle larceny?” I nodded.
“Did it have a purple Kryptonite Keeper on it?” I nodded more dejectedly.
The kind officer led me into the office, where he took out the desecrated remains of my hardened manganese steel lock. A link had been snapped in two by some very dedicated thief in the night.
Over the next few days, I found myself repeatedly retelling my sad tale of bicycle larceny. First, I called the architect of the masterpiece, my brother. He lamented his choice of lock, clearly caught up in the bargaining stage. He seemed to think that if only he’d sprung for a slightly more expensive model, all this could’ve been prevented. Dad, on the other hand, took approximately no time at all to remind me that I should’ve locked it up inside. However, even he agreed that the world might be better off with me tripping over my own feet than with me catching a crack in the sidewalk at just the wrong angle and toppling over like a fainting goat.