BERKSON: For Want Of A Rack…


For Want Of A Rack…

Terry Berkson, who has an MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College, lives on a farm outside Richfield Springs. His articles have appeared in New York magazine, the New York Daily News Sunday Magazine, Automobile and other publications.

I had it all planned. We’d fly to Florida on a Saturday, settle into the motel and then head for the flea market where, if lucky, I’d find a used bike to ride for the rest of our vacation. “What are you going to do when it’s time to go home?” my wife, Alice, asked.

“I don’t care,” I said, “as long as I have use of a bike while we’re down here.”

“Well, I’m glad I brought my paints along – to keep busy while you’re riding around.”

“If you didn’t have a bad knee, you’d get a bike too.”

The thing I miss most since we left Brooklyn and moved to a house on a hill outside of Richfield Springs is bike riding. On the farm it’s easy to leave but hard to pedal home.

Brooklyn was flat like Holland, where everybody rides a bike. Before we moved I’d use mine daily, often riding five miles to the seashore at Coney Island. To me, riding along a quiet side street without the assistance of a noisy internal combustion engine felt like flying. Many stories had been conceived along the way.

Unfortunately, the car we rented in Tampa was a Kia hatchback. I always ask for a smaller car and most of the time they’re out of them and we get bumped up to a larger vehicle for no extra cost.

This time they did have a compact, so besides a bike I’d be needing a bike rack.

At the flea market, Alice was looking at crafts while I searched for my wheels.

In a short time, I found a 10-speed in pretty good shape, but I didn’t want to buy it until I found a bike rack to mount on the diminutive vehicle.

There weren’t any racks on the lot, so before buying the bike I left Alice with the seller – for security – while I rode the bike back to the Kia to see if it would fit inside.

At first, it looked impossible. But then I found that if I moved Alice’s seat all the way forward I could force fit the bike in. It wasn’t easy. I had to twist the handle bars around and remove a pedal with a pair of plyers borrowed from a sympathetic guy parked next to me, but finally it was in the car. Now, for sure I’d buy the bike.

Getting it in the car had taken quite a bit of time and I felt pressured to get back to the vendor to release Alice from her hostage situation. When I pulled on the rear wheel the bike didn’t budge. I tried tugging from a different angle but no dice. A tire was resting against the side door so I went around to open it. Still the bike seemed locked in when I tried to get it out.

I was well aware of how long Alice was waiting to be freed and how happy she would be to see me.

Finally, I let some air out of the tires, which gave me the inch of play needed to get the bike out of the car. I quickly put the pedal on and straightened the handle bars before flat tiring back to the seller and my wife—who didn’t look too happy to see me.

I had been gone for almost an hour. The vendor looked suspiciously at the flattened tires, but surprised me when he agreed to my $20 offer. I thought it was a great deal and planned to buy a flea market wrench to remove the front wheel that would make the fit easy.

As I rode back to the car with the tool and re-inflated tires a man I was passing remarked, “Hey, your fork’s on backwards!”

I stopped to have a look and sure enough the guy was right. No wonder I got the bike at a bargain price. I felt deflated. How could I make such a foolish mistake?

I’ve been riding bikes all my life! Surprisingly, the 10-speed rode and stopped well.

I just had to keep my feet toward the back of the pedals while making sharp turns.

When next to the car, I turned the bike upside-down and loosened the nuts holding the wheel but it refused to come off. The hand brakes were holding on to the tire like a vise.

Meanwhile, Alice was back from browsing and watching my operation with her hands on her hips and a faintly repressed smirk on her face. “Seems like a lot of trouble just for a bike ride,” she surmised. Now I felt I had to succeed – but I’d need more time and tools.

To make it look like loosening the tire and not removing it was my objective, I proceeded to force the bike into the car. On the way back to the motel my wife complained about the handle bar grazing her ear when we hit a bump in the road. I later found that if I corrected the position of the fork the bike would be six inches longer. Maybe someone before me had deliberately reversed the fork to fit the bike into a small car.

I pictured poor Alice on the long cramped ride from Homosassa to Key West and knew I was in for trouble. To my surprise, she had a solution. She’d drive and I’d sit in the pinched seat!

When we got to Key West, Alice found that the bike was so comfortable and easy to pedal that I wound up trotting along while she toured around. Now up on the farm, I’ve been thinking about getting an electric-assist bike so that I can pedal back home.

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