Monday, January 16, 2006

No Bike Left Behind?...

Pedaling the streets of DC and its suburbs, I'm always struck by the number of bikes that appear to be abandoned, shackled to bike racks, signposts, trashcans, fences, parking meters, etc., then left to the elements like so many unwanted mongrels. It's one of those unyielding mysteries that refuses all manner of contemplation and logic.

Take the Bianchi (Bergamo? Avenue? Boardwalk?) pictured above. It's parked in DC about midway between the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station and the US Department of Education (on whose hallowed grounds stand several colorful, cartoonish schoolhouse modules, each bedecked with a plastic sign proudly proclaiming in mock children's handwriting "No Child Left Behind," and each as empty inside as the policy it represents; but I digress). Not a bad little commuter, by any definition. Sure, it's not a high-end frame, doesn't bear the boastful Reparto Corse descriptor, was, in fact, constructed in Taiwan, but it is made of quality steel tubing, is spec'd with a parts mix wholly adequate to its purpose, and can lay claim to Italian heritage and over a century of technical refinement from a highly esteemed framemaker. It's even got a rear rack, a saddle cover, and, for those who like them, bar ends. In short, it's solid, reliable, respectable, utilitarian, and not bad-looking, as townies go.

Now, notice the pains taken by the owner to secure the bike. First, there's the ubiquitous u-lock deftly looped around the rear wheel and left chainstay and hugging a signpost of admittedly dubious permanence. Then there's the real kicker: five pounds of steel chain that snakes through the front wheel, front triangle, rear triangle, and rear wheel, encircles said signpost, and is joined by a Master padlock. It's clear from the evidence that the owner expected to return to pick up the bike and, except for the poor choice of mooring, took appropriate measures to guarantee its security in the meantime.

But there's no question that it's been abandoned somewhere along the way. There's the tell-tale rust on both chains, the greaseless gear cluster, the saddle cover that the bike seems to be sloughing off like dead skin, the eclectic bric-a-brac (oil-filled milk jug, mouldering newspaper, cafeteria glass rack, construction flag) assembled around the wheels like oblations to a decaying idol, the leaves tucked under the tires by wayward winds, the temporary fencing enclosing the whole spectacle like crime scene tape (the crimes being abandonment and neglect).

What happened with this bike? What set of circumstances led to this scenario? How many of these exhibits are stationed around the cities, the suburbs, each linked invisibly to the next by a common bond of neglect? Are they reluctant symbols of a disposable world? Artworks of entropy, maybe? 3-D graffiti of sorts, effaced only by the occasional and seemingly random application of boltcutters? Or are they simply the embodiments of life's vicissitudes, the unfortunate victims of unforseen factors in the lives of their owners, each with a story all its own?

In Arlington, outside the GMU School of Law near Balston, a steel road bike kneels on its fork legs in the cold glare of a streetlamp, not twenty feet from the bike lane, dreaming of motion past. Forlorn and homeless, stripped of its modest possessions, ignored by passersby and police alike, it's been there for almost a year now, quietly succumbing to a virus of rust. No cure in sight.

I remember as a young child seeing abandoned bikes in varying states of disrepair, littering the concourses of Metro stations and the like, and feeling a profound sense of sadness and pity for these orphans, as if they were sentient creatures. But maybe Nietzsche was right (although on a different subject) when he said there's too little compassion in this world to waste it on imaginary beings. I guess the real issue here is that most of these bikes aren't removed until long after they've passed the point of being salvageable. Which means they end up interred in a landfill instead of under the ass of a needy cyclist.

And that's a shame.


gmr2048 said...

next urban night ride we pull, i could add the weight of a spraypaint can to my pack if others would do the same. we could add a bit of color to those left behind.

gmr2048 said...

oh and...

iconoclasst said...

Black would be good, symbolically speaking, since these bikes are mere shadows of their former selves.

White is already taken for the ghost bikes that honor fallen cyclists.

gmr2048 said...

I can see the logic of black as symbolism. But I'm partial to brighter colors, hopefully giving the forgotten bikes new life as street-brightening pieces of artwork (at least until the city wisks them away to the local landfill).

Olaf Vanderhoot said...

alien abductions.

Yuri said...

libertad! libertad!
find a hacksaw.

gwadzilla said...

the idea of liberation was the first thing that came to my mind....

not sure if that is fair
as a rusty chain may be a sign of neglect/poor maintenance rather than abandonment

many people who live in small apartments have little other choice than to leave their bike outside

I have seen bikes that I had assumed were abandoned
get unlocked
front wheel replaced
ridden away