Marolt: Renting a bike by the hour on the spur of a moment
Am I the only one glad that neither Aspen Ski Co. nor anyone else can keep track of the number of days I ride my bicycle this summer? I even threw away my handlebar odometer a few years ago to free myself of the digital coach daily urging me on to reach some mileage goal, along with recorded memory of my fastest times to the radar tower from town and the top speed reached on the descent from Sinclair Divide. Now, if I am able to pass a car along that steep downhill stretch of winding road, it is plenty thrilling for me.
I got my first ride of the season in on Saturday, and that is the last statistic about riding I will recite until I repeat festering the first saddle sore of the summer again in the year 2018.
I can’t remember the last time I went for a long ride in the spur of the moment, in the clothes I had put on in the morning, with the last thing on my mind being to sit on a bicycle seat in them for nearly five hours.
I faintly recall my wife mentioning the two-wheel excursion over a glass of wine the evening before as we marveled at the sunset from the Starlight Club on the 21st floor of our San Francisco hotel. But, under the influence of that circumstance, who would have thought she meant it? I took it for vacation chatter, the recitation of tourists considering the Chamber of Commerce recommendations of a million different things that might be crammed into a weekend in their city. I should have remembered that my wife, a genetically gifted vacation planner, does not engage in itinerary small talk.
I will say it appeared to me, of all those million things to do in the City by the Bay, approximately half of the hundreds of thousands of daily tourists line up to take the tour of Alcatraz Island and most of the rest head to one of two bike shops near Fisherman’s Warf to rent bikes.
And so, there I was, having been to Alcatraz the evening before, in a bike rental shop on The Warf at 10 the next morning being sized up for an appropriate cycle as expertly as anyone could do in 30 seconds. The employee then plopped a large helmet on my head, turned the adjustment in back until it cinched snuggly, put a map in the pack strapped to the front of the bike where a bottle of water was packed and pointed us in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge. His last words to us were, “Here are a couple of tickets for returning on the ferry if you happen to make it that far. If you don’t use them, bring them back and I’ll refund $22 to your credit card.”
We were about a half a block uphill from the bike path and I’ll be darned if he prohibited us from mounting our steeds there and coasting down to it. He demanded we walk the contraptions down the sidewalk and across the street and watched to make sure we followed through with the order.
Rental bikes are really heavy. Ours were put together with a weighty frame and components to begin with and a rack welded on the back and a bag strapped to the front. It had a sturdy kickstand. There also was a stout mounting bracket on the side for holding the gigantic lock that will deter any big-biceped thief from foolishly trying to steal this cheap, 50-pound bike that has the rental store’s name clearly etched in the steel frame in no less than twelve different places.
I’m sure the drive trains on these bikes are never cleaned. My rear gear cluster looked like a large blob of grease and the chain some part from a coal train’s caboose. Shifting gears took patience and ear plugs would have been nice. The brakes wailed mating calls to the seagulls circling above while the crank arms knocked out a rhythm I could hum familiar tunes to as I pedaled.
It was a liberating experience. It made me question the hours of care, tuning and cleaning I perform ritually on my lightweight, expensive pride and joy back home. There, I’ve had rides ruined by clicks so faint that I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t imagining them or shifts not precisely crisp enough.
We ended up riding the 18 miles to Tiburon in our cotton shorts and t-shirts and without toe clips. We took the ferry back tired, exhilarated and satisfied. I doubt I’ll have another ride as good the rest of the summer.
Roger Marolt wonders if he could get twice as fit in half the time riding a rental bike this summer. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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