On a nice crisp fall day, with leaves from overhanging trees falling gently to the cobblestone street
below, I walked outside, and there, in the middle of Grove Avenue was Howard, whom I knew, and
Dealer Le Veau, whom I knew of but had never before met. Between them was what anyone would
recognize as a bicycle. It had the shape of a bicycle. It was red. However, it was unlike any bicycle I’
d ever seen. The frame of the thing was much thinner than what you might expect, the tires looked
like they’d been extruded from the same device that makes erasers for the ends of pencils, the
seat was like a straight razor wrapped in leather, and the handlebars were a single straight hollow
tube wrapped in shiny white fabric. I like bicycles. I love bicycles. I think bicycles are one of the
cleverest and just plain goddamned most wonderful things that man has ever invented. They’re fun
too. A good bicycle can introduce a man to flight. So, naturally, I was drawn to these two guys
standing around in the middle of the street with this peculiar-looking, emaciated machine.
“Wow, that’s a pretty nice bike, Howard.”
“You just get it?” I asked Le Veau.
“Cost six thousand dollars,” said Dealer Le Veau with an Aristocratic indifference.
I gulped. “Six THOUSAND DOLLARS?”
In those days I was making something like…well we’ve been through that already. Telling me that
bike cost six thousand dollars was about the same as saying it had cost six million, or six trillion. Six
thousand dollars was about what it cost me to go to school for the year; food housing, tuition,
supplies, books, all in. Howard said, “Lift it.” I did.
“Wow. It must only weigh about ten pounds,” I said with admiration.
“Seven,” said Le Veau, and muttered the precise equivalent in kilograms.
“Bring it by when you’re done screwin’ around with it, Howard,” said Le Veau, and he turned, and
walked off. He went straight into the building, just as if he owned the damned place—which he did.
“Watch this,” said Howard and he mounted the bike and gave the sprocket half a crank. Howard
took off, floating quickly down Grove Avenue. He drifted sweetly, smoothly, swiftly for two, long,
treecovered blocks, then, he put his feet down and dragged them along the pavement. He turned
the bike around got situated, gave the thing another half crank and it came gliding toward me like
downhill on ice. It was lovely to witness. Howard was grinning like a maniac as he started dragging
his feet, soles flat and yelling, “Stop me. Stop me. Get in front of me!”
“Use the brakes! Use the brakes!” I yelled. Then, I threw myself in front of him to keep him from
going into the intersection. The impact almost knocked me down.
“Why didn’t you brake? What wrong with the brakes?”
“It has no brakes.”
“No brakes? Six thousand dollars and it has no brakes?”
“It’s a track bike, it doesn’t need brakes.” As he climbed off. “It’s made to go; it’s not made to stop.”
I hadn’t noticed that it had no brakes. I HAD noticed that the tires were tiny. And I HAD noticed that
the seat looked painful. I couldn’t get over it. “No brakes?” I said. “It cost six thousand dollars and it’
s got no brakes?”
“It’s not made to stop, it’s made to go.” Howard repeated peevishly.
“Where are the shifters?”
“It only has one gear,” said Howard proudly.
“No brakes, one speed…and a seat like a razor blade. This thing is absurd.”
“You want to try it?”
“ABSO-lutely!” I climbed right on.
“OK. Listen,” cautioned Howard, “Don’t give it more than one half crank or you won’t be able to
stop. I’m serious; one half crank.”
I promised. That razor sharp seat was every bit as uncomfortable as it looked, but I was anxious to
see what a six thousand dollar track bike with one gear and no brakes could do. Howard let loose
of the handlebars and I smiled an evil smile. “So-long, Howard,” I said and cranked that
goddamned pedal smartly.
Instantly, I found myself in a dream world with the parked cars and trees and buildings on Grove
Avenue slipping quietly behind me. There goes a dog. There go some passersby. The only sound I
could hear was the wind in my ears and the high-pitched whirr of the spokes. It was like riding
something shot out of a cannon. I was rapidly approaching the intersection at Lombardi—an
intersection where there was bound to be cross traffic--and started emergency stopping measures.
Now I knew why Howard was so quick to start dragging his feet. The damned thing didn’t want to
stop. You’d think that a machine weighing seven pounds would be a pushover but it was tricky
simply because it was so light. The damned thing was skittish. Anything less than perfectly-
balanced resistance applied equally on both sides and that bike took off in a new direction. I
started swooping in large switchbacks to control this tendency, but that only seemed to make it
take on speed; the damned thing was built to take turns practically lying down. In essence, I was
riding on a six thousand dollar gyroscope.
It was bullheaded and high-strung and frightening. The only thing I could do, while wobbling wildly
out of control, was to straddle the cross bar and thrust my feet straight out in front of me, while
praying. We came to a sudden catastrophic stop when one of my big stupid feet caught on the
pavement and turned under, nearly ripping my foot off in the process. The six thousand dollar bike
went flying into the air, I was heading face first toward the pavement…
The acrobatic maneuver that followed cannot, I think, be described, as I, with one hand still on the
handlebar, landed flat on my back, carried the bike in a large arc over my head and somehow
managed to bring it bouncing to earth, perfectly upright, without any harm. Had I practiced the
maneuver every day for a thousand years I never could have duplicated that move. It was like
something out of a cartoon. I looked back down Grove Avenue, to see if Howard was watching but,
thankfully, he was nowhere in sight. Quickly I got to my feet, and while shaking from head to toe,
straddled the bike just as though nothing had happened; just as though I had not almost destroyed
some drug dealer’s six thousand dollar track bike; just as if I hadn’t almost killed myself and twisted
my arm off in my efforts to save the damned thing. I stood there panting for a bit, thinking about
what kind of trouble I might have been in if I had destroyed Dealer Le Veau’s bike. I was gibbering
out loud, trying to convince myself that everything was alright. I put on my very best phony smile,
pointed the bike down the center of Grove
Avenue, I gave it a tender (a gentle little…) crank, the slightest little crank, a nudge, nothing more,
and drifted slowly homeward. In seconds I was back where I’d started and Howard was running
beside me to keep me from coasting into cross traffic at Harrison. Howard was laughing
I was still pretty giddy myself. He had no idea what had just transpired. “Where’d you go, man?”
“I just went down to Lombardi.”
I got off the bike and let Howard hold it up; my knees were wobbling.
“I thought you’d decided to take it for a ride or something.”
“Nope, just down to Lombardi.”
“It’s pretty nice, isn’t it?”
“It’s amazing isn’t it?”
“This could be yours, Edward, if you only got off your artistic ass and started peddling smack!”
Howard laughed loudly.
“Six thousand dollars, Howard.’
“For six THOUSAND dollars, Howard, it ought to be amazing.”
Howard was laughing as he lifted the bike with one hand and carried it away. As I watched him
enter the building, I was shaking my head in disgust, thinking,
“Six thousand dollars for god’s sake. One speed. No brakes. Tiny little macaroni tires. A seat like a
goddamned razor blade. My ass is already sore. It’s belligerent, it’s skittish, it’s impossible to
control. The damned thing is completely unpredictable and extremely dangerous and …six
thousand DOLLARS!” I snorted. “For god’s sake.”
Still, I thought, “Flies like a bird…
…worth every penny.”