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(Andrea Wan for The Globe and Mail)
(Andrea Wan for The Globe and Mail)

My bike has stood by me Add to ...

"Hi Ryan, just wanted to let you know that your blue Schwinn mountain bike is tuned up and ready to ride - good as new."

Good as new. Ha! Obviously the repair shop knew nothing of my long history with the bike. For 17 years, through periods of use and abuse, neglect and storage, blue skies and winter storms, it has been a patient and willing companion. We've dodged milkweeds thrown by brothers, pedalled to school and work, explored city streets and rural routes. On its handlebars I have balanced boxes of pizza and buckets of chicken. We have scarred pristine lawns with our high jinks.

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It hasn't always been smooth riding. A few years ago the bike was stolen, plucked from my place of work in Ottawa. I was disappointed knowing I'd never see it again, but not sad. "I've had it for so long," I thought. "Maybe it's time for a new ride anyway."

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But a few weeks later, from the passenger seat of my friend's car, I saw the familiar blue frame with lime-green lettering lumbering slowly down the sidewalk under the influence of a stranger. "Steve, pull over," I said. "That's my bike."

"Excuse me," I called out with a friendly cadence, cranking down the window. "Where'd you get that bike?"

"It's my friend's," she said tentatively, stopping.

"No it's not," I snapped. "It's mine, and I'm about to call the police."

I didn't have to. Her story was flimsy and she didn't want trouble. I gave her my phone number and told her to have her "friend" call me if he wanted to talk. "I have a ton of pictures of me with this bike," I lied. I pedalled home with surprising ease. The thief had greased the chain.

The bike was instantly identifiable, partly because of an octagonal red label stuck to the frame that reads "The Bike Stop of Orillia," where I bought the two-wheeler in the early 1990s. When my grandfather died, my sister inherited his car - a silver Chrysler Laser - and my grandmother, for whom fairness was on par with cleanliness, wanted to buy my brother and me something. He chose a CD player; I picked the bike.

My sister's car was sold for scrap in 1998, a heap of happy memories. The CD player didn't make it that long - too much Bryan Adams was my private theory.

Not long after the bike rescue, my wife and I moved to France. Before leaving we stuffed our possessions into a storage locker where the bike stayed, immobile, for a year and a half as we worked and walked around Paris.

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It's such a flat city, ideal for biking. When we were there they introduced an inexpensive city-wide bike-borrowing system, which was taken up by Parisians with enthusiasm. I always thought my functional mountain bike would have looked out of place among the stylish Euro-cruisers, instantly identifying me as North American. But I would have ridden it along the Seine with pride and a certain je ne sais quoi, my fleece flapping in the breeze.

In the past couple of years the pace of life has continued to accelerate. My wife and I returned to Canada, moved across the country to Vancouver, found new jobs, bought a condo and adopted a cat. My bike was carried out west in pieces in the back of a moving van, wedged between our barbecue and bed frame.

When my grandmother passed away two winters ago after a long downhill battle with Alzheimer's disease, I went back to Southern Ontario for the funeral. I have many keepsakes from my grandparents - dessert bowls, an RCMP salt shaker, a linen tablecloth - but none is more present in my life than the bike, a frequent reminder where half of me came from.

My wife bought a new ride recently, a light blue beauty designed in Canada. I entertained the thought of getting one as well, but instead opted to take my bike in for a tune-up. When I returned to the repair shop a week after dropping it off, the repairman was embarrassed to say he had overlooked it. "Come back in an hour," he said.

When I returned 60 minutes later he was eating an ice cream bar and spinning the tires of an unfamiliar new bike. Incredibly, he had forgotten my old friend again. Disgusted, I asked for it back.

That afternoon my left pedal fell off as I was about to enter a busy intersection. I pedalled home with one foot, limping like a wounded blue tiger.

The next day I went to another shop where I hoped the bike would be treated with the respect it deserved. The young repair guy looked it over. "Don't get rid of this frame," he said. "They don't make them like this any more." He said the tires and inner tubes looked dry and should be replaced. "They're 17 years old," I said proudly. We picked out new ones, the best quality.

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A few days later I got the voice mail saying the bike was ready. Walking it out of the shop into Vancouver's salty evening air, I put my left foot on the left pedal and swung my right leg over the seat, my briefcase hanging from the handlebar, a picture of balance. We were headed uphill but we coasted, old friends falling fast into casual conversation despite some time apart, a thousand shared tales and kilometres behind us, and more road ahead.

Ryan Abbott lives in Vancouver.

Illustration by Andrea Wan.

 

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