My Best Bike Friend

I have often likened a bikepacking trip or endurance bike race to pushing a small boat away from the shore, into the big water, and trusting the integrity and preparation of the small craft to meet with the challenges of the wind and waves.  In June, 1965 Robert Manry did just that, sailing his tiny boat Tinkerbelle singlehanded, from Falmouth, Massachusetts to Falmouth, Cornwall, England in 78 days.  I read his book back in my high school days, and I am reminded of his account sometimes as I push my own tiny boat, in the form of a bicycle, away from the dry land of the trailhead out into the desert for a trip of tens, or hundreds of miles.

The same attention Manry paid to the details on his boat is needed, I think, on this small wheeled vehicle that I’m going to depend on for the days and nights I’ve signed on for.  And, the devil is in the details.  It’s the small things that matter.  But, I never cease to be amazed that a device weighing thirty pounds or less can carry me over and through all kinds of terrain with little or no complaint or failures.

Manry originally planned to sail with friends on a larger boat.  But, when plans fell through, he modified his own 13.5-foot sailboat in his driveway, adding a tiny cabin atop the deck, and outfitting it to carry the water and supplies needed.  Once underway, he was dependent on his preparation and what he had with him.  There was nothing else.  It seems to me it’s the same with a framebag and a toolkit.

Tinkerbelle carried Robert Manry safely to England to great acclaim at the time.  His is the shortest (but not the smallest) boat known to have made the Atlantic crossing.  Surely this brave man was a famous adventurer, or extreme risk taker?  No, he was a copy editor for a Cleveland newspaper.  Six years after his adventure, he died suddenly from a heart attack at age 52.  Tinkerbelle, his best boat friend, lives today in perfect seaworthy condition in the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio.

My best bike friend, a 2015 Salsa Spearfish, hangs on the wall in my little shop in perfect riding condition.  He has carried me for over 2700 hard miles, about 3/4 as far as Manry’s voyage.  We’re not done yet, but I treat him very kindly these days.  It’s not that he’s any different, it’s because I am different. 

When Robert Manry smoothed the fiberglass onto Tinkerbelle’s cabin and deck, he introduced some of his energy into the wood and glue and nails holding her together.  That energy was there to see him through his long journey, by himself – but not alone.  I think it’s still there, in Cleveland, waiting for the next voyage.

‘Only 12 miles to go,’ I told Tinkerbelle.  —  Robert Manry, Tinkerbelle

I think when someone takes the parts of a bike into their hands, fits them together, takes care and fusses over the devilish details, then energy is infused into those parts, and now they become greater than their sum.  This is how best bike friends are created.  This is why we never really ride alone.

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