He stared at the dimly lit corner of the shed. The broken outdoor umbrella lay slumped against the rusted handle of The Golden Dragon, his old rotary lawnmower whose once-fearsome roar had long since died in its corroded metal throat. Behind the dead mower was an equally dead car battery. And propped against the shed wall was the bike.
With some effort he lifted the stiff steel skeleton over the mower handle and wheeled it into the centre of the shed. The bike shuddered with rigor mortis.
Its rear brake pads gripped the rusted wheel rim like a dead man’s hand. He left a black line on the shed floor as he dragged the creaking machine into the light beside the window.
The buckled front wheel gave him a painful flashback to the day a decade ago when he had swept triumphantly past his son on a downhill track in the forest park. His moment of fleeting victory over the nine-year old boy cruelly snatched away by a pine tree stump which had sent him cartwheeling initially into a bed of pine needles and branches and eventually into a hospital bed for a week.
His heart sank as he surveyed the bike. Both tyres were beyond flat, their perished treads oozing over rust-freckled rims. The handlebars were at right angles to the frame. The torn seat faced to the rear.
Unlike today’s ultra-sleek machines, his bike had only three gears – two in fact because the lowest gear had kept slipping, resulting in several crippling groin injuries.
In three weeks’ time he was to join friends in a Sunday ride around one of Hawke’s Bay’s cycle trails. It had seemed a good idea at the friend’s dinner party that night after a couple of bottles of Craggy Range reds. It seemed a really bad idea now. He stared at the bike again.
He’d have more chance doing the ride on the lawnmower, he thought glumly.
Late that afternoon he gingerly pushed open the door of the bike shop. Rows of gleaming bikes stretched either side of the aisle. It puzzled him that none had mudguards. In fact they looked only partly assembled. One caught his eye. It reminded him of a racehorse waiting to burst out of the starting gates. A tag on the low-slung handlebars said it was made of carbon fibre. Apparently some of its metal bits were titanium. Its price tag was $800. He whistled under his breath. Then he counted the noughts again. Good God, it was $8000!
“Nice bike,” said a voice. He jumped.
A lean young man in a bright lycra shirt covered with logos looked at him doubtfully.
“Do much riding?”
“Not a lot these days,” he murmured. “Probably need something more basic really.”
The assistant nodded and took him to the far end of the shop. He stopped beside a bike with big fat knobbly tyres and a thick metal frame. It was bright red and was emblazoned with the name Crimson Sun.
“Made in China,” said the assistant. “We sell lots of them. Normally they’re $345 but it’s on special for $300.”
An hour later he wheeled his new bike self-consciously into the street. In a bag he carried a lycra shirt with an unpronounceable French racing team’s logo on the back, lycra cycle shorts with padding in the seat like a baby’s disposal nappy, a bright red helmet, heavy duty combination bike lock, a bike pump, water bottle and both front and rear lights, batteries not included.
The next day he rode to Clive. He didn’t ride back. Luckily he had taken his cellphone. His wife found him walking like a Sumo wrestler along Farndon Road. His thighs were chafed raw. His backside numb with pain. The Crimson Sun was draped over the edge of the car’s boot. They didn’t speak on the way home.
Two weeks later he was at the parking lot by the river ahead of the others. He suffered the hoots of derision with a thin smile. His time would come. He let them ride ahead while he sorted out his multiple gear options. Then suddenly, everything clicked. Man and cycle were in perfect synchronization. Crouched over his handlebars he watched his speedometer break through the 20 and 35 km/h barriers. He swerved past his lumbering mates, showering them with a rooster-tail of limestone. Their shouts were ignored as he savoured his moment of glory. Then he looked up to see a frozen tableau of dad, mum and two small children stopped in front of him behind a wooden fence and metal gate across the trail. A sickening crash of metal and they were above — then below him — as he cartwheeled through the air.
“You have a visitor,” said the nurse as she closed the door behind her. He opened one eye and saw his wife framed in the vee of his upturned, plastered legs.
“I’ve sold what’s left of the bike on TradeMe for $50 and that ridiculous cycling outfit has gone to the op shop. I hope you’ve learned a lesson,” she snapped.
He tried to nod but the neckbrace stopped him. He waggled an acknowledging finger out of the plaster cast on one of his arms then lapsed back into semi-consciousness. Suddenly a vision of himself clad in black leather hurtling down the road on a big noisy Harley-Davidson swam into view.
Beneath the mummified blank exterior of his bandaged face, he allowed himself a secret smile.