Once upon a time I had a beautiful bike. She was stolen. I cried. I came to Berlin. Trudel lent me her old bike, heavy, slow, upright, but a bike nonetheless and I made many journeys on it, riding most days for an hour at least from home to the west-end of Kreuzberg and back, all through winter even.

And of course I courted disaster. A misjudged curb outside the Bötzow Brauerei. Much skin missing on shoulder, knee and hip. Still a tracery of dark skin there. Of course like all old bikes and people it became slower and more decrepit. I searched for a new bike.

How I ever afforded my baby is a story I won’t write of here, indeed, I think I’ve seldom even mentioned how I came to afford such a joy. Sufficient to say by the time she departed I’d spent close to the mid-four figures on her. And yes, worth every cent.

I have my attention these days drawn to Cyclocross, and think it would be a fine way to spend a weekend or week. Fine and muddy. Even if I were utterly flagrant with euros though, I couldn’t afford such a bike. It shall have to wait. So I looked across Berlin for a new friend to take me speeding from Neukölln to Wedding.

Bikes here are mostly hideously expensive or hideous. Or both. A propensity for bespoke (harhar) Fahrrad Werkstätten with prices to match, sensible city bikes with ungainly accoutrements and weight, an obsession with putting shitty heavy and cheap shocks on all bikes under €600, and an aesthetics tax that says only ugly below that same price…

Emile was here last week, the first time we’ve seen each other in years. Much gravity sucking walls, pigeons of doom, languageeeaRRlugghhh!!!, and talking about narrow handlebars, Damon and the Melbourne Critical Mass, fixies in 2000 only for bike geeks and now as fashion instead of transport. The windows of Mitte shops full of these, ‘hey let’s put a … ‘Fixie’ in the window, they’re cool right now?!!’, ‘hey, yeah! A bike!’. Oh we talked about art too and went shopping.

Wandering around Neukölln I thought of Emile when I wandered out of a shop with about the only affordable and semi-attractive bike I’ve come across in weeks of looking. No, I didn’t want to buy secondhand or on eBay, and became so frustrated with the sea of hideousness and ++€€€ that I decided to buy the first thing that wasn’t repulsive or a heap of shit.

I spent today in the sun, after a visit to the laundromat. New brakes. It’s astounding what a set of €16 pads can do for a bike. I changed the cables around also, having an unconscious tendency to twitch with my left hand when I want to stop. Bad habit when that hand happens to rest on top of the front brake and I decide to have a panic twitch. Some adjustments to seat and brake lever placement also, with my new pocket-sized multi-tool.

No, the welds on the steel frame aren’t the prettiest, the components are mostly obscure-name or un-name, the tires need to be replaced with ones carrying a more useful tread and rubber compound, the wheels could probably do with being replaced altogether, and I can see myself over the course of the year buying new bits and pieces until suddenly I have two entire bikes. (And then decide to buy a second bike.)

But. She is fast, has some of that same slightly scary unpredictability and twitchiness of my baby that makes me think I’ll certainly have a gravel party sometime, but in the meantime I ride from Wedding to Neukölln and back, barely stopping, the gear ratio encouraging a trance-enducing rhythm… yes, the seat is up riather high, isn’t it?

my baby is gone

Before I came to Adelaide, I dismantled my beautiful aluminium bicycle and along with half of my hiking gear, put it into hibernation. I never enjoy doing this, it feels slightly cruel, a temporary euthanasia, and this time I’d also stripped off some parts in anticipation of a long overdue rebuild, new bearings, cones, brakepads, cables, a complete dissembling to force myself to clean and scrub and polish and love my baby.

I’d just bought new tires, the slick, road-suctioning Specialized Fat Boys, that are the final mark in the transition of what was a downhill racing mountain bike into a fleet and gymnastic street bike. I’m going to reminisce on fourteen years of joy with what I in no small part seriously described as my longest relationship, a bike that were it alive would be the most sublime Arabian mare, who always slept in my room, and with whom I shared adventures and loss of skin.

People would say, oh I saw you on your bike, speeding like, wooosh … so fast, but it was always only half me, my bike could never go slow and I climb through the gears struggling to keep up, pushed from behind. So I’m giving this some anthropomorphic quality, like it was alive, and sometimes I thought she’d roll off on her own, so well-balanced and eager for movement.

I have this rough scar on my left hip, from where my front wheel was ensnared in a tram track on Swanston Street, hurling me in a vicious arc at the road, in a hail of arms and legs, bouncing and cartwheeling, I could hear people exclaiming with horror at the spectacle of my disaster. My bike was a little shaken, and needed a trip to my favourite bike shop for some tenderness. I was mostly bleeding with a hole torn in my hip to opalescent bone, dripping blood from a bouquet of elbows, knees, ribs and other sharp bits, and a concussion looking like I was an undead zombie. Lisa and Luke will remember me stumbling into rehearsal at Chunky Move like this.

Eighteen months later, my fear of trams tracks surmounted through a slick little hop of the front wheel, I laughed as I slid on other elbows, knees, thighs and bits as my back wheel greased out from under me on a glassy wet Brunswick Street track. More leaking of fluids.

I have a decoration of faint and raised dots down my right shin, where the front chain ring bit me, an emulsion of black chain grease, dirt and once more, me. This is love.

There is a hill in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, along High Street somewhere coming towards town that starts as a long straight downwards incline, cutting a set of red lights to get a terminal velocity and then banking right across two lanes speeding over 60, hanging far to the right and pushing the bike upright, the camber of the road sloping away under each tyre promising a fast messy slide into an abrupt curb, then having taken up both lanes cars even opening space, an even faster stretch down to a long left curve, this time the road’s inclination pushing me deeper into its surface. Speed. Faster than cars. Both terror and utter wild exhilaration.

I never felt tired on my bike.

Of course this story has a bad ending.

My beautiful bike, all dismantled and folded together, shrouded in old sheets and padded with hiking equipment, sealed under layers of tape in its box is gone. Stolen.

I went to move last night and where the box should have been was only emptiness.

I feel … today … hungover. Also utterly heartbroken. This bicycle, for certain causes I won’t write of is so much a part of me. It is as though my child has been kidnapped, abused, slain, and dumped in a lonely field. And with that, I feel it is my fault, I didn’t protect her. Fourteen years of lives together.

Nothing much more to say, except a dread feeling of impending doom, and the revulsion at the thought of these thieves touching my baby. I’ve been crying a lot and really want to drink until I pass out. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.

So, being practical now.

My bike is very special. Unique. It is an early 90s Marin Rocky Ridge, a 15.5 inch polished aluminium frame with black forks, serial number ME2HA0233. It has ‘Marin’ in big black letters on the down tube. There were only a handful imported to New Zealand where I bought it, possibly none in Australia. I’ve never seen another.

Besides this rarity, it was heavily customised and unmistakable if you saw it. All the componentry was replaced with 2001 Shimano XT, and a 7-speed rear cassette and v-brakes. The handlebars are Specialized Tribars, curved like bull’s horns and wrapped in black cork tape, plus bits of gaffer on the left side. The seat post is Ritchie, and is raised to its limit, making almost as long as the seat tube. The seat is WTB with red kevlar patches on both sides, torn on the left. The rims are Mavic, the rear newer and deeper than the front. The chain stay has a blue velcro chain-slap guard attached. The tires are treadless Specialized Fat Boys. The pedals are Shimano SPDs. There were no reflectors.

Also in the box was a Mountain Designs one-person tent in bright orange. A brand new Korean backpack, I don’t think this brand is imported here, but I can’t remember the name. An MSR stove and pots, I think Whisperlite or XGK, but both look a bit different from my one. A bunch of other cold and wet weather hiking gear I haven’t had time to itemise until I go through the box they didn’t touch.

Altogether this weighed around 40kg, not easy for someone to carry around on their own in a large and cumbersome box. And the value? My bike was around $2500 when I bought it and I spent around $1500 upgrading it. The hiking gear round $2000.