Not so long ago, my pal Nick made up his mind that he was going to get himself a motherfucking Trek 970 if it was the last thing he ever did. And it was beautiful. Not the bike, mind you, but the pursuit of the bike. It was nothing short of Ponce de Leon searching for the fountain of youth, except instead of searching the ends of the earth for a font of eternal life, it was some dude in Denver hunching in front of a computer screen trying frantically to track down a fairly obscure, unspectactular bike frame. Used, of course.
We rather like our old steel bikes in central Denver. I mean, anyone with no taste and a decent-sized paycheck can walk into a Performance bike shop and drop a couple grand on a brand-new, light and fast road bike. But it takes a cultivated palate to drag some 20-year-old piece of shit out of someone’s garage, or a thrift store basement, and turn it into something really special.
Even if that “something really special” is just kind of still a piece of shit with updated components. I’m on my third one right now, a 1989 Raleigh Team USA, which had about 25 dings in the paint job when I bought it and decided to rebuild it and ride it across the country in 2010. When I got back from my trip in the spring, Nick had latched onto the idea of owning a Trek 970 like a crackhead latches onto the idea of smoking more crack.
Every time I met him for a cup of coffee, he would tell me that he had been scanning eBay, looking for 970s — lugged steel mountain bikes, which back in the early ’90s sold for about $500. Nothing special, not like Lance Armstrong was riding one. One problem with his search was that he needed the largest size, which seemed to be rare. I can’t even remember why this particular bike build was so special — something about one of the last great American-made Trek frames, whatever. Nick has such an obsession for bikes, he’s talking about the next one before he’s even finished rebuilding the last one. One month, he’s going to get a Mixte frame somewhere. Then he wants an Xtracycle. Then he’s going to build a Mixte Xtracycle. Then, one day, he tells me he’s going to find a new apartment in central Denver with first-floor entry so won’t have to lug an Xtracycle up the stairs when it’s full of groceries.
I say, “You are now talking about choosing your new house, based on a bicycle you don’t even own yet. That’s amazing and completely ridiculous.” Nick’s relationship with bikes is simple, pure, and refreshing. He loves two things in life, and one is his girlfriend, and the other is bikes. He also likes the Red Dragon Roll at Izakaya Den, but it’s way, way down the list. As one of his best friends, I believe I fall somewhere in between the sushi and bikes.
But I still don’t understand this Trek 970 thing. He couldn’t find one on eBay, so he started stalking people on Craigslist in other cities — which is pretty much outside the lines of ethics of buying something on Craigslist, telling someone in San Francisco that yeah, it’s cool, I’ll send you the money if you ship me the bike, totally not a scam. If someone wanted to ship a bike to another state, they would put it on eBay, Nick. Leave these nice people alone.
The Internet was a desert, with a few leads here and there, but no real available large Trek 970s. Then, one day, on the Pueblo, Colorado, Craigslist, one showed up for $70. Nick pounced, e-mailed the guy, saying I don’t even need to see the bike, I’ll give you 70 bucks for it right now.
For a whole week, no e-mail from the guy in Pueblo. Then, a phone message from him: I’m calling everyone who was interested in the bike, so let me know, you’re the first on the list.
Nick called back immediately. Can I take a look at the bike? Like tonight? I’ll be there in two hours.
So on a weeknight, a young professional lit out in a pickup from Capitol Hill, tore ass all the way to Pueblo, met a guy with a dusty old bike at 10:30 p.m., rode the bike down the street half a block in the dark, turned around and handed the guy $70. Back in Denver, he set himself upon building the bike into what he wanted: A commuter bike that was a tank. He spent $600 on new everything: cables, housing, handlebars, chain, pedals, rack, brake levers, et cetera, and he built new wheels himself, bolted fenders on it, and then wrapped the mustache bars in pink tape, to match the pink, the-80s-are-not-quite-over-yet splatters on the black frame.
You ever stand next to a friend in an art museum, looking at a painting, and they say, “That’s really incredible,” but you’re looking at the same painting and thinking, “Yeah, I’m just not that into it” ? That’s what I think when I look at Nick’s bike. I am happy for Nick and his dewy-eyed relationship with the Trek 970, and I don’t think the bike is that bad, but I don’t understand how he got so obsessed with it. I mean, it’s a black bike with pink paint splatters. It’s not exactly a Rivendell.
But I have my own ugly-ass old bike, my Raleigh Team USA, and around Denver, I lock it up with a four-pound chain at all times, lest anyone have the delusion to think it might be worth stealing. And I understand what love is: It’s in the eye of the beholder. Even though I give Nick shit about his bike and the nicest thing I’ve ever said about it was that it was “gangsta” (but other people have told him is “a nice build,” et cetera), I get it.
I’ve been living out of my car for two months now, and decided to not bring my bike with me on the trip — the rear wheel was getting pretty shot, and I didn’t make the time to work on some other stuff before I left Denver. Seven weeks into it, I got a completely random text message from my mother:
Do you miss your bike?
That ugly, dinged-up, 1980s racing bike with mustache bars and a broken pedal, that’s probably objectively uglier than Nick’s Trek?
Yeah, Mom, I miss my bike.
Semi-Rad is brought to you by Outdoor Research.