We all have stories we wish to forget. This is one of them.
Long time ago when I graduated from college my sister bought me a brand new mountain bike as a graduation gift. It was a Cannondale F400 with yellow lettering on black TIG-welded aluminum frame. Still handmade in the USA back then.
It cost $600 which is equivalent to $870 today according to the US inflation calculator. I’ve been drooling over it for a long time and to get such an amazing gift from my sister was very special. She had two young kids and was not exactly rolling in the money – they were renting a small apartment and trying to save up for a down payment on a house.
That Cannondale bike was THE nicest thing I owned at the time. I had no car so I rode it everywhere. After riding junky hand-me-down bikes for as long as I can remember, riding the F400 was a revelation. It was a light, fast, precise handling machine that would never let me down no matter what terrain I chose to follow.
I understand there are even better mountain bikes out there. For me though, my Cannondale was a pinnacle of what a mountain bike should be like. It was like stepping out of my 1993 Toyota Paseo and getting into my 2004 BMW 330i Performance Package. Sure, a Ferrari 458 might be even better but in the real world the BMW was everything a car enthusiast would ever want.
I had this bike for 15 years. It survived many moves after college. It went through a couple of sets of knobby tires but that’s about all it ever asked for. The F400 came along on many vacations waiting patiently in the bike rack until we reached the final destination.
Unfortunately, one of those trips became THE final destination for the Cannondale.
It started out innocently enough. I loaded the F400 along with my wife’s Huffy Walmart Special (a gift from her company for all the hard work) on to the roof rack. Pretty, isn’t it?
With the car packed for a 7 day vacation we drove to the beach house that we rented together with my sister and her family. They live 6 hours away from us so we were looking forward to a relaxing time catching up at the beach.
When we arrived at the house we saw that my sister was already there. They were all up on the deck waving to us. Excited to see them I hurried to pull into a shady spot under a beautiful house on stilts…
I totally forgot about the bikes on top. I set there for at least a minute in denial.
Here is the scene of the “accident” and the shady spot I was gunning for under the house…
I got out of the car and checked the house first – not a scratch. So far so good. Car – $&#$%!!! The roof rack was bent on impact but more importantly there was damage to the roof of the car where the rack attached.
At first glance the bikes did not look bad. The Huffy, naturally, escaped completely unscathed. Probably because it was dead last on my list of things to be concerned about.
The Cannondale looked OK at first glance. When I took it for a quick spin later it felt all messed up. The steering was loose and the bike was pretty much unrideable. Way to kick off our vacation! Nursing a beverage in a hot tub that night helped to dull the pain but I was not in my happy place.
Hot tub and a drink can only do so much…
When we returned from the vacation I was lucky to find a great body shop that fixed the car damage for $500 cash. (His estimate if I were to go through insurance was over $2,000 – funny how that works, huh?) They did a superb job – it really did look like nothing happened! I sold the car soon after the repairs to get the MINI Cooper.
The bike rack was trashed. Actually, I saved the square aluminum rails and use them as tree stakes in the yard. They work great.
The bike was haunting me for almost a year. I really wanted to fix it and first thought that a new fork would fix a wobbling issue. It looked like the old one was bent so I got a used RockShox fork on eBay. After installing I still couldn’t tighten it enough for the wobble to go away.
I took the bike to a local shop and they concluded that the head tube was mushroomed at the bottom due to impact and there is really no way to fix it. “Common, there’s gotta be something you can do?” “Yes”, they said. “Get a new frame and transfer the components”. Since the bike was 15 years old it didn’t make much sense to do this.
After hearing this painful verdict I decided it was time to say goodbye to my beloved F400. Every time I looked at it hanging lifeless in my garage (several times per day), I’d remember the incredibly stupid “accident” that lead to the bike’s untimely demise.
I put the bike up for sale on Craigslist along with a short version of this story.
The last picture…
It was on there for a couple of weeks when someone contacted me to set up a showing. The guy came and we settled on $150 cash. I was curious what he wanted to use it for and it sounds like the F400 will become a parts donor for another bike that the guy is building. Well, at least some parts of this bike will live on.
When I started writing this post, the F400 story was going to be a segue into a review of its replacement but it looks like it turned into something else. What exactly – I don’t know. A bike eulogy?
I think this is the first time that I went through the 5 stages of grief when it comes to losing a thing: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Rereading the post I can see where each stage starts, ends and when the next one begins… It’s a little weird to realize that a broken mountain bike could trigger this roller-coaster usually reserved for catastrophic events.
We all make stupid mistakes. Forgetting about the bikes on top and slamming them into a house hurt more than expected. Looking back it’s almost as if, subconsciously, I wanted to erase all mementos from that fatal day. I sold the car, threw out the rack and got rid of the bike.
The roof rack tree stakes and now this blog post are the only mementos I feel comfortable keeping around. Even after Acceptance.
P.S. Recently I came across a picture that proves that it could always be worse: