Eddy the mechanic checked the couple in while I was in the back room catching up on some paperwork. Usually I'm the front-man; Eddy tends to scare customers with that twitch he picked up in the '69 Tour. "She was a real looker," was all he said to me after he'd sent them on their way. Through the window I could just see them pedalling out of the yard on Frankenbike, one of our tandems. We call it that because Eddy put it together over one long drunken weekend from parts he'd been scavanging. Also it's green and it's ugly, but it's got soul. The morning sun glinted off the rear reflector, I heard a woman's laughter, then they were gone.

About a half hour later I got the call. I reached for the phone and spilled coffee all over the desk. "Can I help you?!" I barked, doing my best to snatch invoices from the rapidly expanding puddle and instantly regretting my sharp tone. Business hadn't been so good lately; it wouldn't do to scare potential customers away.

There was silence on the other end of the line. "Look, I'm really sorry," I said. "I've just had a little accident with some hot java. Would you like to book a bike rental?"

The phone exploded into laughter. I yanked the receiver from my ear and held it at arm's length, waiting. It lasted a full minute. It wasn't the carefree laugher I'd heard as the couple had wobbled down the lane on the tandem. There was something strange and sick about it. Maniacal, even. It was so loud that Eddy heard it over in his workroom and wandered over, giving me a questioning look as he wiped his oily hands on a rag. Eventually it died down. "Is there something funny?" I asked evenly.

"So you've had a little accident," a man said, playfully malevolent. "Well I guess you'd better get used to that."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I motioned Eddy over, held the receiver so he could hear too.

"What it means, Mr 'Would I like to book a bike rental', is that nice young couple are about to have a very nasty accident."

Our business -- a shack with a couple of rooms, really -- sits on the edge of a pleasant park alongside the river. There's a sun-dappled lane, closed to traffic on weekends, which forms a mile-long loop through the gardens. Most of our customers aren't vastly experienced on two wheels, and few are brave enough to take the tandems and recumbents we stock out of the park and into traffic. They do a couple of loop-de-loops then come back, feeling brave for having tried something different.

As it happens, the couple, who had been our sole customers this morning, were just now completing their first circumnavigation. They'd been taking their time, enjoying themselves. Part of me was pleased to see them still on the bike; it isn't rare for people to give up halfway 'round and walk back.

"Look," I said, tiring of the joke if that's what it was, "I don't know what your game is, but I can see them right now, and they seem perfectly competent." I started to hang up.

"THERE'S A BOMB ON THAT BIKE," he said in capital letters as I was about to sever our connection. I fumbled; saved. A what? A bomb? This was crazy. I glanced at Eddy and saw his left ear twitching, like it does sometimes. The mechanic had a sixth sense about things.

"Now why would there be a bomb on one of our bikes?" I asked, far more calmly than I was feeling.

"Because I put it there last night," he answered, reason itself. I sat down. Stood up. Sat down again. "What do you want from me?" I whispered. "How can I stop this madness?"

"You can't. In fact the last thing you you want to do is to STOP it. It's a little late for that now."

"What do you mean? Why is it too late to stop?" The couple were coming around the bend now, picking up speed on the slight hill in front of the shop. I'd make it a 1 in 12. I was feeling dazed.

"You should really invest in a better security system," he continued as if he hadn't heard me. "I paid your corporate offices a visit last night. Altered the specs on one of your tandems. That big ugly green monster. Who put THAT beast together I wonder."

Eddy clenched his one good fist.

"Where is the bomb?" I asked simply.

"In the hub gear," he answered just as simply. "As soon as your fun young couple falls back below 12 mph, they go kaBOOM."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It simply failed to register. But if there's one thing the bike business has taught me, it's to think on my feet.

"What's your name?" I asked. On a post-it I scribbled 'Windcheetah', underlined it, and thrust it at Eddy. He raced from the office.

"You can call me Bob," he said equitably.

"What do you want, Bob?" I asked in my best soothing-the-customer tones. "What will it take to get you to disarm the bomb?"

"What do I want???" he asked himself mockingly. "What do I want? What I WANT is JUSTICE. I worked for a company for 40 years and they grab a hub from the production line, stick it on a cheap block of lucite and call it a REWARD for all my years of faithful service. Everyone thinks they're a good business, a HUMANE business, but they don't know. THEY DON'T KNOW."

"But why hurt innocent people?" I asked as I heard Eddy rumaging around in the garage. "It's common knowledge bike component companies can be ruthless. You knew the score going in. What has that couple ever done to deserve this? What have I ever done?"

"You put a hub gear on that frankenstein bike of yours, and I DON'T LIKE HUB GEARS," he roared. "This is just the beginning. I'm going to wire every hub gear I can lay my hands on. It'll be like Guy Fawkes Day every day. Hahahahaha! By the way, nobody gets off that tandem, or I'll blow it up. The trees have eyes. Bye-bye."

"Eddy!" I yelped as I raced out of the office.

"It's ready, boss," he said as he finished with the track-pump. "I've over-inflated the tyres to give it extra speed."

"Give me your mobile phone," I ordered. "I don't know a thing about hub gears. You're going to have to talk me through defusing this thing."

"All the more reason for me to go instead," Eddy said quietly.

"Don't be a fool. A good mechanic is hard to find. I'm just a paper-pusher. I've been a paper-pusher all my life. This is my chance to do something good. To lay it all on the line."

A tear formed in Eddy's eye. He wiped it quickly away.

"I'll be OK," I told him, touched. Was he feeling guilty I was going instead of him?

"It's not that,' he admitted. "It's just... it's just... I forget to take a deposit."


I caught up with the couple just as they were slowing down from the boost granted them by a 1-in-12 molehill. Tandem virgins, they were wobbling, threatening to tip over, obviously enjoying themselves hugely. Their momentum wouldn't last long at this rate.

"Speed up! SPEED UP!" I yelled.

They both looked my way and almost lost complete control.

"Don't look at me! Just go faster!" I urged them on.

"What's this all about?" said the woman. It struck me for the first time that she was the captain. A part of my mind also appreciated Eddy's observation: she was a looker. Sod's Law. The best ones are always taken.

"I don't know how to tell you this," I said, a little out of breath from all my desk-jockeying of late, "but there's a bomb on your bike. If you go below 12 mph, it'll explode."

They didn't need to hear it twice. They picked up speed, straightened themselves out. I was impressed.

The woman gave me a severe swipe of her eyes. "You guys never said anything about a bomb. Just that the brakes might be a little sticky." Talk about courage under fire. I liked her pluck.

Her partner was quite red in the face. In fact he looked about ready to keel over.

"You okay?" I asked, concerned that they keep up the pace.

"I think I'm getting a cramp," he grunted through clenched teeth. "I can't go on much longer."

I maneuvred the Windcheetah until we were almost kissing wheels. "You're going to have to jump off," I ordered, trying to quash the uncharitable hope that he'd muss up his pretty face in the fall. "I'll take over."

Suddenly I felt a vibrating in my pocket. It was Eddy's mobile phone. I plucked it out, looked at the screen. He was text-messaging me. 'U cant', it said. 'He might C U." The madman had promised to blow up the tandem if anybody got off. My mechanic must have guessed what I was planning; I told you he had a sixth sense.

'No choice,' I messaged back, wise to his intuition that the madman might have wired the tandem for sound. 'Well just hav 2 take tht chance'.

The couple were in trouble. I could see from my cycling computer that they were down to 13.3 mph, and slowing. "Jump off, Harold, you'll kill us both," the woman shouted over her shoulder to her deserate stoker, who despite his anguish was obviously reluctant to make the leap.

"We're going to have to time this exactly right," I told Harold. "Look! Over there!"

"What?" he said, jerking his head the other way. I gave him a sharp shove (he sprawled safely into a rhodondron bush) and hoisted myself onto the tandem in one fluid motion, just as if I did it every day at least once before breakfast. It was an amazing feat, really. I guess the madman was cutting us some slack; we were still in one piece.

"Thank you!" the woman shouted. "I thought my brother would never get off."

Her brother. Finally some good news. She twisted her arm around, offered me her hand to shake. No ring. "I'm Amanda. If I survive this I'll take you out to dinner," she said giddily. I couldn't blame her for losing it a little, under the circumstances.

"It's a date," I said with fake bravado. "But first I've got some business to attend to." I fished the mobile phone back out of my pocket, worked the buttons frantically. 'Wat now?' I messaged. I really hadn't thought this far ahead. Defuse a hub gear while it was on a moving bike? Impossible. If anybody was sectionable it was me for thinking I could pull it off.

"Amanda, you'll have to do something for me," I told her. "I can't stoke and take care of this bomb at the same time. You'll have to pedal for both of us. I'm sorry."

"No problem," she said. "I've got adrenalin to spare." She swerved to avoid a strange old guy on a skateboard. "Steady on, girl," I heard her mutter to herself.

"Just remember to keep it above 12 mph," I reminded her unnecessarily, then swung around on my saddle and somehow managed to scootch myself down so I was sitting on my stomach, as it were, with my legs dangling over one side and my arms the other. The saddle was a comfort-gel model, but still, I wouldn't be able to hold that position for long. I retrieved my multitool from my ankle holster where I always keep it for emergencies. Prayed to the blank phone screen.

'-- th blu wir,' Eddy suddenly messaged. Surely it couldn't be as simple as cutting the blue wire. Besides, there was no blue wi-- wait a sec. There it was, peeking out from below the right chain stay! It was twinned with a red wire. I couldn't believe my eyes. Thank God I didn't actually have to take the thing apart. I pivoted on my stomach for a better position, selected the most appropriate wirecutters from the array the multitool had on offer. The phone vibrated again. '-- wir is a dummy'. Then the bars went flat. We were cycling through the rock garden on the other side of the park now. I must be out of range. Had Eddy meant 'Cut the blue wire, the red wire is a dummy', or 'NOT the blue wire. That wire is a dummy'?

I could hear Amanda huffing and puffing. Then I remembered to my horror that the other side of the 1-in-12 was actually a 1-in-4. She'd never make it, I don't care how much adrenelin was pumping her up. I had a split-second to make a decision.

I cut the blue wire.

Suddenly the phone sprang to life, almost vibrating itself out of my hand. 'NOT TH BLU WIR' it read, almost accusingly. The rest happened so fast I didn't even have time to think about it. I instinctively unfolded the specialised jamming rod from the multitool and shoved it into the juncture of chain and sprocket. Amanda performed an elegant if unanticipated flip over the front handlebars and I somehow followed her, breaking a few ribs on the way. There was an almighty kaBOOM, as promised, and everything went black.

When I came to the first thing I saw was my mechanic's concerned face. "You did good, boss,' he said, soothing my forehead with his filthy shop rag. I tried to prop myself up for a look around. Eddy smiled. "They already took her to hospital. Don't worry, she's fine. And they caught the madman. He was trying to escape on a skateboard. Ran into the Windcheetah and fell off." He took stock of the wreckage around us, sighed. "Don't know if I'm going to be able to put Frankenbike together again, though...."

I patted his shoulder, collapsed back on the ground. Made a mental note to retire from the business. Passed out into pleasant dreams.

Cycling Plus, April & May 2002