Fancy bike is no city ride

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The beast is constructed of lightweight aluminum and has shocks in the front and center. It has high and low gears and quick-release levers just about everywhere.

Officially, it’s a Mongoose Eliminator, but for our purposes, we’ll call it the Inner City Rapid Response Unit. Its purpose is to allow me swift mobility when the action is just around the corner or located in dark, narrow places.

It’s not that I want to beat the cops to the mayhem. It’s just that I’m tired of them hogging all the good witnesses and mucking up the crime scenes with their yellow tape and fingerprint dust.

The Inner City Rapid Response Unit (bike) is a great way to wheel into the fray without the hassle of one-way streets and cumbersome traffic. There are low gears for the rough terrain and rugged tires for the mud.

With this baby, I could fly down dark alleys and across back lawns. I could zip across the park in seconds or sail across the foot trestle like a rock skipping on water. I could get one of those goofy red horns and put baseball cards in the spokes.

Too bad the bike is still chained in the yard, with a thick film of spring dust over the shiny aluminum frame. If the Inner City Rapid Response Unit could talk, it would have nothing of interest to say.

They just don’t make bikes the way they used to. When I was a boy, you had your Schwinn with a banana seat and chopper-style handlebars. If you liked getting beat up every day, you had tassels dangling from your handle grips. Some people had sissy bars, but those stopped being cool when it was discovered that the word sissy wasn’t good.

After we all got used to our Schwinns, some marketing whiz came up with a new design and every kid, rich or poor, had to have one. Enter, the Huffy.

The Huffy had a muscular, square seat and handlebars that ran straight across. It had sturdy, rugged grips with knobbies. Woe be unto the boy who dangled tassels or anything else from those grips. The Huffy was not a bike meant for dangling.

It would be a perfect world if we never graduated, bike-wise, beyond the Huffy. I’d be out there right now patrolling comfortably upon that thick, cushiony seat and looking pretty cool all the while. But no. Eventually, the need to ride over greater distances became impossible to ignore. Specifically, every pretty girl you met in school lived on the opposite end of town and it was just not chivalrous to ask her to meet you halfway.

So you worked four summer jobs so you could buy what would be the most important object marking the transition from childhood into young adulthood: the 10-speed.

It was a strange creature: rams-horn handlebars that could be gripped at the top for casual riding or down low for frantic, high-speed escapes from your girlfriend’s brothers. There were two fairly simple levers located right before the handlebars. You did not need special schooling to learn how to operate them. One lever for the low gears, one for the high.

These bikes were simple and they were the height of maturity. You could ride your 10-speed wearing a pair of those athletic shorts with the stripes down the sides for added cool points. You know the ones I mean. Wear those today, you’ll get beat up by the same guy who thumped you for dangling tassels from your Huffy.

Regardless of what style bike you were riding, you could count on owning only pants that were chewed up around the ankles. Because no matter what innovations were spirited to the bike market, your pants would always get stuck in the chain. Sometimes, if you were going really fast, the chain would suck the pants right off your body. This would cause you to come to an abrupt stop, in which case your girlfriend’s brothers would catch you and give you the beating you so richly deserved.

Which brings me around to my point. Anything beyond the Huffy, including those mutant 3-speeds and 5-speeds, is just too complicated for inner-city use. And so is this new bike I meant to deem the Inner City Rapid Response Unit.

The gear shifters are discreetly hidden on the handle grips. There are numbers and arrows written on them in a language that appears to be extraterrestrial. I know twisting this way will make pedaling harder and twisting that way will cause my ankles to snap. But do you think I can manage the mental strain necessary to memorize that alien gear pattern while racing to the downtown firefight?

I picture it this way. Sweaty and panting, I make it to the scene of the chaos and wheel up to the first bloody man I see.

“Sir,” I’ll say, wheezing. “Marklaflammefromthesunjournal. Can you tell me what happened here?”

The bleeding man will look me up and down and take a look at my ride.

“Dude. Do you realize your bicycle chain fell off six blocks ago?”

“Yeah,” I’ll say. “I realize that. How do you think I lost my pants?”

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.

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