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Story of my bicycle by Marius Groenendijk


I have had many bikes. When I was a child, my first real bicycle (without training wheels) was a second-hand women’s bike that was much too big for me. “You’ll grow into it”, my Dad said. And I did. All that mattered was that I could ride this bicycle. Even if it was a women’s bicycle it was much
bigger than the puny (and shiny) bicycles my friends rode. At that age, being bigger and higher was important. I was literally looking down on them and leaving them behind too, because of the bigger wheels. So nobody made fun of me and there even may have been a bit of envy.

But that isn’t the bicycle I wanted to talk to you about. There have been many more and in the whole menagerie there has been one bicycle that has a story. A story I never got to see the ending of. But an open end to a story is an end too.

During my stay in the university town I had a decent second-hand sturdy holland-bike. In the place I was studying, this kind of bicycle was a rarity. Actually, at the time there weren’t that many cyclists (now it’s one of France’s favourite bicycle towns – I’ll let you guess the name of the town). So of course somebody just had to steal it. I walked through the whole town looking everywhere but to no avail.

An advert on the school’s pinboard advertised a cheap but ‘old’ bike for sale. I considered that nobody would want to steal an old bicycle and I was short for cash so I called the person. Yes, the bicycle was still for sale, in a village quite far away from the city. The price (the equivalent of 60 euros) was quite high and barely within budget. Yes, I could come and see it. The person explained in detail how to get there. This would be an opportunity for an expedition so why not? It ended up being a nice bus trip through a rural area I hadn’t been before. I got off in a nice typical village with
nice old houses and quickly found the farm where a bicycle could be waiting for me.

I had no idea what to expect but still was quite surprised to find out it was a nameless very old bicycle. But it looked very sturdy. It was very heavy (and heavy is durable so I thought). It had everything it needed, round wheels, functioning brakes, a saddle (leather). Now that I think of it, it must have been a pieced together bicycle and was really very ugly. It had some chipped paint and rust and all in all it looked worthless. At least, nobody in his right mind would want to steal it. I did a little test in the courtyard and we agreed on the price: 50-ish euros because it didn’t look too good and pretty old after all.

On my bus ride in I already reconnoitred the way back and had seen a cycling path parallel to the road the bus had taken. Cycling this heavy bicycle back to town over a certain distance was murder. It was very heavy and had this creaking noise that only started after a few kilometres. Clearly the previous owner hadn’t ridden it very often, nor was it well maintained. But it felt solid so I decided to keep it.

Next day I bought a pot of light yellow “radiator paint” for a few pennies. Probably it was so cheap because the DIY shop couldn’t sell it to anybody else (wrong colour, not the usual off-white of radiators). Some sandpaper, thinner, a brush, some grease, and I was all set for “renovating” this
ugly bicycle. There in front of the student housing I got carried away and just had to finish the pot of paint. The whole bicycle was now covered in a nice fat layer of undetermined yellow but super resistant paint. Actually, it’s easier to tell you what was not yellowish: tires, chain and saddle. All the
rest, the wheels, the spokes, the handle bar, baggage carrier and even the lamp bodies were now a strange gleaming yellow…

I was quite proud of the result that was butt-ugly (excusez mon français) but also very ‘original’. I managed to get it functioning reasonably well, but never got rid of the weird creaking noise near or in the drivetrain. It didn’t matter too much and my trip from home to school or to town were all very
short – but quick and a millions times better than walking. It has served me well. During a few longer trips I discovered some really nice places outside town. These, I would really like to go back to one day.

Given the weird colour and sound, my comrades in the student housing quickly agreed on a
nickname for this bicycle. I suppose this is one of the few bicycles in the world that actually has a nickname bestowed upon it by unanimous agreement:
“Le fantôme” (the ghost)

All in all it was a horrible bicycle. Clearly because of its ugliness and quality, it never has been stolen.
I’ve lend it quite a few times to my colleagues. Usually thanked me with “thanks, but no”. After a
while I left the bicycle unlocked more often and always found it back where I left it. Sometimes I would meet other students I didn’t know and they’d say “oh, you are the owner of the ghost?”. And we’d laugh. It was a famous looker all right.

When I left town for good, I left “the ghost”, unlocked, of course, at the student housing. My Dad who had come to pick me up asked me whether I was sure. We both laughed.

I’ll never know what happened to it.

The only thing I really regret about this bicycle is that I don’t have any photos of it.

Its only pictures are in my mind and I have a truly fond memory of it and am happily smiling as I tell
you this true story.

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