Farewell to a friend

15 04 2011

Today’s ride was one of mixed emotions.

It almost didn’t happen. After all, we had snow on Thursday, mixed with monsoon rain. And the forecast for today promised more cool temperatures but dry.

But with the bike bits now in, and the Lapierre frame at the shop to be transformed into a proper bike, I felt I owed my trusty Orbea one last ride together.

She’s been a great bike.

Ours was an accidental union. Literally.

While watching the 2002 Tour de France I decided to fulfill a longtime dream to see it live. Some impulsive surfing and a leap of faith later, I’d signed on with an Australian company for a 10 day cycling holiday that would catch up with ’03 Tour in the Pyrenées to the finish in Paris.

It was kismet; the Centenary Tour, Lance going for his fifth.

In anticipation of some of those long, arduous alpine climbs, I got my beloved Columbus SLX steel road bike outfitted with a triple crankset and started training.

The day before departure, I needed some help breaking the bike down for packing in my bike travel box, so I loaded it onto my car’s roof rack and headed to the shop. In my excitement, I also decided I needed to stop at the mall to pick up a couple of little travel items.

I turned into the mall parking lot and heard a tremendous bang above me. My heart sank. I’d forgotten about the bike on the roof and driven under one of those low arches that prevent trucks from entering the customers’ lot.

The damage was devastating. The seat had popped off the post, the top tube was mangled, the front forks bent over. With just over 24 hours to my flight, I no longer had a bike. I was crushed.

But there was little time to mourn.

I headed into Vancouver to the pro shop that had built up the Columbus bike for me 12 years prior to see what they might have on the floor. There was no time to kick tires, compare brands, read online reviews, do test rides, dream. If it fit, and I could afford it, I had to buy it.

Fortunately, they had a funky Specialized Allez in Acqua-Sapone zebra stripe colors that was my size. I asked if I could swap out some components, and, after explaining my plight, the shop committed to try getting it ready by the end of that day.

It was, and I was able to take it for a quick shakedown ride that evening before packing it into the travel box. Its maiden ride would be in France.

The Specialized was my first aluminum bike. It was stiff, and I wasn’t thrilled with the Body Geometry seat and rather flimsy carbon seatpost, but the bike was quick, climbed like a demon, and turned heads. In fact, when people kept yelling “Allez Mario!” as I climbed the switchbacks of Luz Ardiden, I wondered how they all knew my name; then I realized flamboyant sprinter Mario Cippollini rode for Acqua-Sapone.

My Cippollini Specialized at the summit of Luz Ardiden

I bonded with my Specialized on that trip, we made some beautiful cycling memories. But 10 days after I got home, on my first road ride since France, I got hit by a car.

I broke my thumb, got a small pneumothorax in one lung, plus sundry scrapes and bruises. The bike sustained a crack in the carbon fork, and the frame was bent out of alignment. In other words, a write off.

As I healed and awaited an insurance settlement, I properly researched a new ride. I’d seen a number of Orbeas while in the Pyrenées, where they’re built. When I read they were a co-op, owned by all the workers, my mind was made up; an Orbea would be my next bike.

I loved the orange and blue XLR8R the minute I saw it. I got the shop to salvage some of the components from the Specialized and an eight-year realtionship was forged.

The first few months were rough though. I struggled with creaks and groans and a floppy seatpost that turned out to be cracked. But once I got everything dialed in, we became a team.

I’ve always formed a bit of an emotional connection with my bikes. Spend a lot of time on the saddle, and you can’t help but feel it become a part of you. Every nuance of the ride becomes like a well-worn shoe. You learn how it reacts, whether it prefers to climb or bomb down hills. You settle into the sweet spot on the seat. You know every squeak and the moment you hear something unfamiliar, you know something is wrong.

The Orbea and I rode more than 30,000 kilometers together over eight seasons. It took me to my wedding and to Whistler in last year’s Gran Fondo. We rode on warm sunny days and on cold wet ones. We even got caught in the occasional snow flurry. One year, we rode on Christmas day.

So as I wrestled this morning with the decision whether to bundle up in tights for a ride, I felt more than a little guilty if the Orbea and I didn’t share some favorite views one last time.

On our last ride together, the Orbea and I enjoyed some favorite views.

I’ve decided not to keep it as a winter bike after all; I really don’t ride the road that often in the winter season anyway, preferring instead trail rides on the mountain bike. And we just don’t have the storage space.

Instead the Orbea is going to a new home, a buddy eager to improve his fitness by riding the road. Another MAMIL is born.



One response

3 08 2015

Hey Mario,
I just got an Orbea that I thought was a Starship frame, but the guys at Orbea informed me it’s an XLR8R. I’ve ridden it every day since I got it last Thursday. What a great bike. Maybe it’ll make a better climber out of me. Anyway, I can hope. Cheers.

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