When the editor of Cycling Today gave me this column a little over two years ago he reminded me that it could be used as a force for good or evil, and as it was to appear in a responsible magazine, I should generally hew to the 'good' line. He didn't use those exact words, but that was the gist of it. It's all a bit of a blur now.
What he might have actually said was: "An expense account? You're joking, right?", which I'll admit doesn't appear to address quite the same issues, but I think you'll have to agree that the sentiment is still there, lurking unspoken just around the corner, if you deconstruct the editor-speak and read beyond the nuances of the words themselves.
So with his incredulous but multi-layered query ringing in my ears -- which are able, much like a dog's, to capture sounds and meanings most people can't hear -- I accepted my mandate such as I understood it (no need to keep receipts) and opened the Avenue to the public.
Upon a critical self-review of my work, sparked by the sudden interest of a powerful and generous US media syndicate which has been showing a flattering interest in my modest efforts sorry, I'm making this part up my honest evaluation must be: not many column inches devoted to the eternal struggle.
Ah, well. It could be worse. In an alternate universe my mirror self, perhaps far more attuned to the needs of society, is slaving away for Rupurt Murdoch or rather his evil twin, Moriarty I believe his name is over there.
Meanwhile I've been satisfied to merely concentrate on keeping this space interesting to an influential minority.
It seems the time has come to write about good and evil after all. Specifically, evil. More specifically still, whoever stole my bike last May.
Unfortunately the thief had an accomplice: Me.
After all, I'm the one who secured a practically bonafide member of my family with a coiled cable lock hardly thicker than a few strands of incriminating DNA. I'm the one who left it alone with the wolves on London's Tottenham Court Road for 10 minutes, which was surely 9 minutes too long in that territory. Even as I was locking it to the crowded bike rack I knew it was the wrong thing to do. My instinct has always been there's no safety in numbers.
But the call of retail was loud that day, drowning out any frequency broadcasting danger. Several years of prowling through the thick of London untouched by the ravages of statistics had prepared me well for my upcoming victimhood.
So when I walked out the store and found my bike missing, it simply refused to register. Wrong bike rack? No, I recognised its neighbours, still snugly locked to the bars in a perversely irritating way. What's the standard advice if you and a friend find yourselves being chased by an angry bear? Don't worry about running faster than the bear, just faster than your friend. It was apparent from the forest of D-locks that I'd come in last.
I wandered up and down the block, feeling entirely lost. Kept glancing at the rack out of the corner of my eye, unwilling to accept the truth full in the face. Stumbled home, only to race back on my wife's bicycle as if the thief would still be in the vicinity, gloating.
It would not be an overstatement to declare that I loved that bicycle, whatever love is, as Prince Charles might say.
My ride was a charcoal Marin Sausalito which had seen some upgrading of its original specs, but really, nothing to get terribly excited about except in a you-don't-know-what-you've-got-till-it's-gone kind of way. Cro-moly, which is increasingly eccentric in a hybrid these days, it featured cheap but satisfyingly streamlined gripshifters and deeply unfashionable cantilever brakes.
That bike was my second home. Comfortable from the first mile, it stayed that way for the next 10,000+ (after a while I stopped counting). Bar-ends and foam on the grips coddled my hands. I'd finally found a dynamo system which worked. Added a useful little mirror. Splurged on a nice set of hand-built wheels, and lowriders for my forays into the wider world.
That was the bike which started me riding again, after a decade's absence from the saddle. It carried me from London to Ben Nevis shortly after we'd made our acquaintance, surprising us both with a century a day ("I'm a short-haul CITY bike,' it often complained), then followed up with my first end-to-end.
Perhaps most important, that was the bike which truly introduced me to London, and kept me fit almost as an afterthought.
As they say in New York, whatayagonnado? Buy another bike, withdraw your emotional investment from the old and deposit it in the new. This I've done. Hello, Litespeed. But the Marin remains, like a phantom limb, and I'm not going to give up without a fight.
That's right. I'm offering a reward for its safe return, and for the drawing and quartering of whoever stole it. Find it and point me in the right direction, and I'll sign over my cheque for this month's column to you. It's the least I can do for an old friend.
Cycling Today, October 2000