STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (VN) — The mechanic was visibly cynical about this machine and its ornaments, and perhaps rightfully so. It’s aging without the grace of classic steel, and it hasn’t been put to the Cat. 4 pastures and collegiate B races with the other carbon hand-me downs of its generation. He ticked off the laundry list of maladies: toasted chain, torched front rings, sagging cables.
He didn’t mention the worn yellow bar tape. He didn’t have to.
Services were arranged. Because this isn’t any 15-year old bike. This is the Hornet, an American-made machine of carbon and titanium that’s passed through my family to riders of varied states of ability and purpose.
It took the name of the Hornet for obvious reasons. A yellow front triangle, and some lamentable yellow tape my mechanic and friend found in the Telluride Free Box — a bin for outcast objects, one last chance before the dumpster.
It began its life as something I coveted immensely. A Douglas, painted in my father’s team colors for a club that’s gone the way of the dumpster itself, the Garden of the Gods Breakfast Club, out of Colorado Springs, it even had my father’s name painted on the top tube: “Chris Beaudin,” in silver upon a blue streak.
He raced it for a few years, and then relegated it to the trainer bike, where he talked to the top tube and to himself, as we all do when we ride both indoors and out.
It was eventually passed to me to ride in Telluride’s shoulder seasons, which are more like plateaus, and I rode it from time to time, more a flirtation with fitness for the trails than anything else. I think our third ride together was some 130 miles from Telluride to Moab in a charity ride in which I flatted on the first descent out of town, was dropped by the large group and rode 80 or so miles alone, just me and the Douglas, until I found a friend in Paradox Valley who’d promised to stay with me about 10 hours prior. We came to know each other that day, the bike and I.
But mostly, it sat unloved underneath my stairs, collecting dust on its ever-still cranks and once-coveted silver Mavic wheels. If a bike could cry, it would have. There’s no telling what it thought of me, though I’m certain it protested my inability to descend. The fact that people were able to ride 60 miles per hour on only suggestions of tires shocked me.
But last spring, when I took this job, I began to ride it, trying to stuff my eyes and legs with the language of the road. I’d been a mountain biker only, and lacked the literacy of the road. I was a fan and spectator of racing, but never anything more.
Slowly, I began to speak it. First in the lower back agony of a road rookie, then in timid descents, and slow progressions stalled by overestimations of my ability.
The Douglas never protested to these injustices, having gone from my father’s skilled hands to my bumbling newness, its only trepidations voiced in a creaky bottom bracket, or cables that had seemed to turn from metal braids to elastic bands.
I took care of it. My friend Max added yellow tape to its mélange of color last spring, and the Hornet was born. I showed up in Boulder with it — a kid on his first day at school in old clothes — but I threw it into the mountains here nonetheless. Its days were numbered in Boulder and we both knew it. I had a bike built for me by Independent Fabrication, a dream I’d had for sometime.
The Hornet returned to its yellow and blue still life, leaning against a wall in semi-permanence, its tires leaking their secrets over months, its stem still turned slightly upward, an imagined turning up of its nose at me and the Indy Fab, white as a cue ball. What the Hornet had in misguided color, the Indy had in understated elegance and a flawless new Dura-Ace group.
The Hornet had come to the end of its second chance, and its days on the road paused. And for once, the bottom bracket was actually silent.
But there was a need for it. My stepfather lives in Steamboat Springs and had never really ridden a road bike through the country he’s from, and one where snow often keeps the trails draped underneath winter’s modesty longer than it should. I asked my father if my pop — I’ve always called him pop — could adopt the Hornet, to see if he liked the road.
Eventually, the Hornet made its way north from Boulder to Steamboat. I breathed air back into its tires in the sunny backyard a few weeks ago; the dogs hung their heads in the way dogs of cyclists do, while the machine came back to life.
We made it out onto Steamboat’s ribbons of asphalt through the patchwork farms and yawning valleys of northwestern Colorado. The land here holds you inside of it, and doesn’t attempt to repel you as other parts of Colorado’s mountains do.
In our first road ride together, pop tucked right behind me, and I pulled him the 20 miles to Clark and back. Two days later, we took to a road that drops behind town and moves up and down with the gentle pace of a slow conversation.
I was happy to share the roads and a bike with someone who’d shared so much of life with me, and I was happy that in some way my father was there, too. We’re a family that even in fracture has grown stronger over time. The bike passed between us is only a bike, it’s true, but it’s one stitch that connects us further, as family and as riders.
A week ago, my pop sent me a picture of the bike draped over a mailbox out by the old red schoolhouse, 10 or so empty miles from town. “Buzzin like a Hornet thanks” was all he said. A few days later, another photo, this time farther from home, complete with time for the out and back.
He’s well on his way now, the yellow Douglas teaching him the prose of the road, one ride at a time. It has fresh, black tape and a new chain now, and is ready for another five years of time in the spring and fall. I suppose it is now to me as all things eventually become to all of us: better than it ever really was, gleaming in the alpenglow of memory.
But that’s no matter, how I recall it.
Because, finally, the Hornet rides again.