Friday, March 7, 2008

The Indy Fab is flying solo somewhere....

After a long hiatus from bike postings (since the end of the tour)! I feel compelled to write an ode to my recently stolen bicycle, my amazing Indy Fab: my one and only road bike, the gal I was committed to spending the rest of my life with, my most trusted (and most sexy) steed. But first the story. On February 13th, in the afternoon, some asshole bike thief took advantage of a small mistake on my part, which was only bringing the thick cable lock to school rather than both the cable lock and u-lock (which I do 99% of the time). I came out of school after class to see only the cut lock and my helmet sitting sadly on the ground. My chest tightened and I had a moment of denial before realizing that my favorite material possession was gone.

I've spent the last two weeks frantically looking everywhere for the bike.
I made a bunch of fliers and posted them up all over campus, near where the bike was stolen. I posted a stolen ad on craigslist, emailed every friend and begged them to keep an eye open, then pulled the ad thinking the theif might post the bike on craigslist if I just would lie low. I posted a "bike wanted" ad instead. I filed a police report the night it was stolen- got out my- sniff- IF owners certificate and recited the handwritten serial number to the officer taking the report. I posted notices on every bike website-- Cascade Bike Club, .83, Team Estrogen, Serrotta, Backcountry Trails-- and even on Myspace and Facebook. I called every bike shop in the Puget Sound with my serial number and a description, and emailed the same to every bike shop in Portland. I registered the bike on and National Stolen Bike Registry, made a donation, and am waiting for my sticker that says "death to bike theives!" I even made friends with two other gals, Jocelyn and Joan, who also had bikes stolen recently. We put all three of our bikes on a flier and passed almost 300 of them out to people waiting in line at the bike swap. Then I made a list of every bike swap on the west coast and have been emailing the organizers beforehand, asking them to keep an eye out for our bikes (so far swaps in Boise and Vancouver have not seen our bikes). I've set up automatic searches on ebay and google alerts for "independent" and "indy fab". I also figured out how to do a nation-wide search of craigslist (hint: use google advanced search) and I do a quick check, nationwide, every day. One day, I got a tip that the bike was seen in lower Queen Anne-- so I changed my study habits to study there. I passed out more fliers to the cops patrolling Queen Anne, also chatted with the Real Change vendors. I asked messengers downtown to spread the word on their radios. The last five people I've talked to about it have said, "oh, I heard about that bike." The word is out- about as far out as I can hope- and I am finally at the point where I honestly think there is not much left to do.

I'm acknowledging that it has become a bit of an obsession-- at this point I am only spending about an hour a day looking for it, down from the countless hours it took to accomplish everything listed above. And I am embarrassed that I am putting so much (probably futile) effort into recovering an object that, as wonderful as it is, is still only steel and is much less precious than a dear friend or an animal or a family member. I mean for fuck's sake-- it's a damn bike! So I've stopped telling people how much effort I have been putting into this and have started instead to moan about how busy with school work I am.

Two weeks out, now that I'm calm and slightly less self-righteous, I'm gaining perspective and am seeing the why in my madness. I can't deny that that bike was a part of my identity- I saved my money for so long and COMMITTED to a custom bike, sight unseen,took measurements, and tolerated the guys at Independent Fabrication making fun of my goofy body proportions (actually, I kind of actually secretly found amusing). I painstakingly picked out the colors for the paint (after obsessing for hours while on the clock at the bike shop I was working at about what color to pick), selected every single part, and finally, when everything arrived, put it together piece by piece, all the way from the bottom bracket up to the bar tape. I built the wheels, chose the hole pattern of the hubs and the cross pattern for the spokes-- I even ordered special triple butted spokes. This ride was a symbol of the highest ideals in the bike world- great labor practices, stunning design, sexy graphics, a beautiful, fast, bicycle that fitted its owner perfectly. More important it was a symbol of who I was, the kind of transition I had been going through. The frame arrived about a week after I broke up with my first serious boyfriend, and remained steadfastly by my side as I rode my way through new relationships, many rather undefined, all in some way or another connected to bicycling. I fell in and out of love with men in the saddle of that bike.

 I also became a pretty decent hill climber on that bike- I rode it on countless rides in the Berkeley Hills, up a very difficult climb to the top of Mt. Diablo, on a century out to Davis, and nearly to Yosemite with a group of crazy friends.  And those were only the "unorganized" rides-- I also rode it in countless organized centuries. I became an empowered woman on that bike, comfortable with pushing myself physically, happy with my body, happy with my identity as a "bike chick," even if I couldn't always keep up with people I was riding with. I learned how to eat before I was hungry and drink before I was thirsty, and learned how to keep enduring through physical pain- knowing to relax,  to be patient, and having faith that it would soon get easier.

When I left California, I packed the bike in a special place in my Jeep (worth only about a fifth as much as my bike) and said goodbye to the beauty and tragedy, delirious happiness and gnawing pain that I saw as the main components of my life in the Bay Area. Spending a winter in Jackson Hole and a summer in Whitefish, I also came to understand that a life rich in culture, intellect and friendship had also been left behind, and though I was in beautiful surroundings with a new and exciting love, I felt isolated and missed my people in the Bay Area fiercely. The bike remained my connection to that part of my life and to my identity then, and also a source of escape and fun, bonding, with my new man. Just the two of us in Montana on bikes, no bike culture to speak of, just us and the mountains kicking our asses. We did a nutty ride around Flathead Lake and twice nearly got hit by lightening while on our bikes. We rode all the way up Going to the Sun Road shortly after sprinting away from a grizzly bear encounter, one of the craziest days I've ever had on a bike.  We also enjoyed more mellow evening rides near the farm, surrounded by  hundreds of deer. We also got in a confrontation with some assholes who didn't like bikes one day. Somewhere along the line I traded in my fancy racing tires for some cheap $12 Verdesteins (we were so broke that summer!). The Chris King hubs got pretty sticky, and at some point the flashy carbon seatpost and handlebars were replaced with less-expensive, yet better-fitting aluminum parts. After awhile the heart rate monitor and computer, past symbols of my regular training routine, disappeared from my handlebars.

In Spokane, I commuted on that bike nearly every day, even in the winter, through Riverfront park to my job at a bike shop. On dreary winter days I would only see a handful of riders braving the elements to commute; yet as the sun started to come out in the springtime, I was amazed at how many commuters appeared in the bike lanes. When I was stressed out, I would ride my bike up to my mom's, or sometimes out to Greenbluff during the long, warm evenings at the end of the summer, glancing across the prairie up at the house on the hill I grew up in, pondering my existence and what I would do with my future. I visited Seattle a couple of times to figure out if I was going to come back to school here, and of course the bike came with.  On Sunday mornings during those weekend visits, the bike I would reunite with UW bike shop buddies to spin out to Seward Park and back. 

When we did move back to Seattle later that year, the bike took me to my first classes in grad school, studying urban planning. Our adventures were definitely a little less sexy- just commuting back and forth to class with the occasional Chilly Hilly mixed in, the bike, I'm sure, longing for more exercise.  On days when I commuted to Pioneer Square along the Elliot Bay bike trail I felt like I was really justified in riding her.... beyond that, save semi-regular Magnolia bike loops, I felt a little unworthy to be riding my fabulous bike just for commuting.

I started riding my old single speed to class so that I wouldn't have to worry about bike theft, but it just wasn't quite as comfortable or as fast as my Indy, so I soon lapsed to regular commuting on her and got a little complacent about security. On the day she was stolen, I stopped an extra moment as I was locking her up to  look at the brake hoods.   I realized how worn they were getting, and how many scratches I had put on the frame since she was new. I felt a little sentimental, a little worn out myself, but overall a happy member of a successful relationship. I didn't realize it then, but I was saying goodbye.

For how long this goodbye lasts I don't know.  At some point I may have to give this chase up and face the fact that she's gone for good, , but I'm holding out hope that someday the indy fab will return. Who knows? Maybe a year from now or even sometime this summer I'll see some unsuspecting tiny woman rolling down to Seward Park. I have a plan all worked out in case that happens-- a quick dial to 911 and then I'll whip out my u-lock (which I have gotten in the habit of carrying with me wherever I go) and lock the bike to something so that no one can keep me from recovering it. Or maybe it will be more clandestine-- someone will post it on the internet, or someone will post the wheels or the cranks on the internet, and I'll be involved in a glamorous sting operation that brings down an entire ring of bike thieves and makes the front page of the PI, or maybe just the UW Daily.

Until that happens, though, I've come to the realization that I need to build up another bike. I recently acquired a mid 80's bianchi volpe frameset that will do quite nicely- I plan on decking it out with stickers (the "death to bike theives" will go down the downtube) and building it with old shimano or campy parts.  Until now I haven't had much desire to undertake this process, still being in mourning and all. But recently the sun has come out, and it occurred to me that if I have any chance of seeing someone riding my bike, I will need to actually be out riding quite a bit myself. 

In the meantime I've of course been reflecting on lessons learned. The most obvious one is that I should be more careful with my things, and also keep in perspective that they are just things, really. Perhaps amazing things, but when it comes down to it I still have a bike to ride, I still have the ability to ride. All of my memories are still with me, they didn't leave with the bike- the bike was just the vehicle (a beautiful vehicle but one that never pedaled itself).

The most surprising thing, though, has been the great people I've met through all of this. I mean great people. I probably have had 100 responses to my bike ads and postings-- people offering free bikes, loaner bikes, pro deals on new bikes, help finding new bikes. this one guy Charles from the bay area sends me bike posts every day that he thinks I might be interested in; another one, John, gave me lots of advice about how to go about finding my bike then asked me to meet him for lunch (I declined this date, however). The cop on my case has been nothing short of amazing, either-- he has been three times to the coffee shop on lower Queen Anne where someone saw my bike, and was also at the bike swap looking. The bicycle cops in Queen Anne and downtown have been more than happy to help out, and the bike messengers have all been friendly and empathetic, too.

And then there's my own friends-- my wonderful boyfriend who spent Valentine's day fliering Capitol Hill with me, and who hugged me when I was crying about this on the night it happened. My amazing friends keep inviting me on rides and have offered me loaner bikes, and they are amassing an amazing arsonal of bike parts for my use. The online communities have been just wonderful, no one judged me for using only a cable lock on such a nice bike, and in all of my searching endlessly on the internet I have stumbled across some indisputable evidence of thriving, vibrant bike culture in Seattle. 

This has all  inspired and impassioned me to raise the level of my own involvement in our bicycle culture here -- in traditional ways, like volunteering, and in not-so-traditional ways-- for example, maybe participating in a dead baby race or doing more to keep up my own blog here-- developing a space online for women who want to feel more empowered about bikes. Maybe I'll host the occasional women's bike ride or bike clinic, maybe I'll volunteer at one of the new nonprofit bike building organizations that seem to be springing up around here. I decided that if my Indy Fab comes home, I'm throwing a party and inviting everyone who I've met during this process.

In the meantime, I'm going to build up the bianchi and get back in the saddle. Chad is talking about a New England bike tour, and the days are getting, maybe someday soon I'll catch a glimpse of my starry lady riding around the Emerald City. That I don't know- but I do know I gotta ride a bike.

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